VLADIMIR PUTIN will ignore the ceasefire in Ukraine and continue his military advance until he takes control of the entire country and “redraws the map of Europe”, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the Ukrainian prime minister, claimed yesterday.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Yatsenyuk accused the Russian president of trying to recreate “something resembling the Soviet empire”, which would mean the end of an “independent” Ukraine.
“Putin wages a war against the free world and Ukraine has become a battlefield,” said Yatsenyuk. “His goal is to eliminate Ukraine, take control of its entire territory and show the West that his world of autocracy, dictatorship and kleptocracy has succeeded.”
Likening Ukraine’s position to that of Britain during the Second World War, Yatsenyuk said the West should brace for a “long-lasting” conflict in his country that could spill over into the EU if left unconfined.
“Today Ukraine is defending Europe, we are defending Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Hungary — even France and Germany,” he said.
“Putin is in full confrontation with the West. He wants to split the European Union, escalate tension among its member states, and split the unity between the EU and the United States.”
Yatsenyuk, who rules in an uneasy coalition with the party of President Petro Poroshenko, insisted that despite any agreements signed by Putin, the Kremlin strong man would use “every tool at his disposal” to defeat Ukraine.
During the interview in his office in a fortress-like, Soviet-era building overlooking the Dnieper river, the beleaguered prime minister appeared visibly distressed.
Fearful of infiltration by the Russian security services, his security detail searched the room before the interview and switched off two landline telephones to stop eavesdroppers.
Yatsenyuk claimed that a terror attack last week in the eastern city of Kharkiv, which killed three people, and a simultaneous anti-government protest in Kiev were examples of Putin’s “hybrid war”, which includes military action, economic pressure and covert secret-service operations to cause social unrest.
“Militarily, he will supply lethal aid and troops. Economically, he will blackmail us with gas, electricity and coal supply and halt the entire trade with Ukraine,” he said.
“He will try to instigate political turmoil and political clashes in Ukraine with his agents, even with some MPs in the Ukrainian parliament.
“He is also doing this in the EU. He supports far-right parties in a number of member states and has his grip on a number of media.”
Yatsenyuk criticised the West’s silent acceptance of Russia’s forceful annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. The takeover took place after a mock referendum last March, overseen by armed Russian soldiers, and precipitated the war in east Ukraine.
“The only option is to act in concert and respond to Putin’s aggression in a very bold, strong, solid and tough way — this is the only language Putin understands,” he said.
At 40, Yatsenyuk, a trained lawyer and economist, is already a political veteran. Prior to leading the opposition at the Maidan uprising that ousted Viktor Yanukovych, the kleptocratic, pro-Russian president, last year, he served as foreign and economy minister, as well as Speaker of parliament.
There are widespread reports of tensions between Yatsenyuk and Poroshenko, said by some to arise in part from the prime minister’s own presidential ambitions.
For his part, Poroshenko, an oligarch turned politician, is believed to want to oust Yatsenyuk by pinning on him the blame for the collapse in the Ukrainian economy.
The country now survives on loans from the International Monetary Fund and its western partners, while its currency, the hryvnia, has plunged by half.
Yatsenyuk denied claims of a rift, saying that both he and the president were “in the same boat”.
“We can either steer together or sink together — and we will steer together,” he said.