West Must Stop Pretending Putin Is Reasonable: Ukraine Ambassador

West Must Stop Pretending Putin Is Reasonable: Ukraine Ambassador

A senior Ukrainian diplomat who once led peace talks with Moscow has warned Kiev’s foreign partners not to count on rational dialogue with President Vladimir Putin as the Russian leader is “irrational” and increasingly isolated from reality.

As Ukraine seeks international support for its 10-point peace plan and proposed summit at the United Nations in February, Kiev is casting Moscow as unreliable and out of touch with reality, a conclusion Ukrainian leaders say is supported by the offer of Putin’s fake ceasefire and the Kremlin’s rejection. to lower its war objectives.

“There is still the same expectation that he can be dealt with,” Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, told Newsweek in an interview at Kiev’s embassy in London, just hours before Putin announced a unilateral 36-hour ceasefire. , rejected by Ukraine. — to mark Orthodox Christmas, which his forces then repeatedly violated.

“He’s still perceived as a reasonable guy to talk to because people want to believe he’s a reasonable guy,” Prystaiko said. “They are not analyzing that he is completely unreasonable,” the ambassador added, noting French President Emmanuel Macron’s repeated and failed attempts at dialogue with Moscow, which have been roundly condemned inside Ukraine.

In this combination image, Vladimir Putin seen during the Informal Summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) on December 26, 2022 and Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko pictured visiting Downing Street, London Getty

The war in Ukraine will most likely end with a negotiated settlement, as Putin himself has admitted. But the two sides remain divided, with the Kremlin demanding recognition of the alleged annexation of Ukrainian territory and Kiev calling for all Russian forces to withdraw beyond the country’s 1991 borders.

Moscow quickly rejected Kiev’s 10-point peace plan, whose demands include full Russian withdrawal, reparations, war crimes prosecutions of Russian leaders and permanent security guarantees with NATO membership.

Prystaiko – who led the Ukrainian delegation negotiating the Minsk accords, which halted fighting in eastern Ukraine after Russia’s 2014 invasion but ultimately failed to end the conflict peacefully – said there is no indication that Putin is ready for compromise and little hope that he will compromise. respect anything agreed in future talks.

“Unfortunately, there are people who still believe that they can negotiate with Putin, because in their minds he must be reasonable,” said the ambassador. “They just don’t want to face the reality that he’s not.”

Newsweek has contacted the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.

Russia’s all-out invasion has deepened hostilities between Moscow and the West, with senior Kremlin officials framing the operation as a pre-emptive strike against Ukraine and its NATO partners to prevent an attack on Russia. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last month that Russia is already at war with NATO.

A “Crazy Bunch”

The “special military operation” – now in its eleventh month – has also drawn new forces into the domestic scene, with powerful Kremlin figures maneuvering for greater influence.

Among them are Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Wagner Group oligarch boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, both of whom boast tens of thousands of fighters under their personal command in private armies that have reportedly clashed with regular Russian troops.

Prystaiko described such figures as “a bunch of lunatics” and said they are evidence of the revanchist kleptocracy that controls the levers of power in Russia.

“The system made it this way,” the ambassador said of Putin. “They allowed it to bypass democratic cycles, showing that there is no rule of law. There is the rule of whoever rules.”

“He’s getting older, he’s getting strange people around him because the system is tightening. The bubble is growing.”

A change in leader would not necessarily change Russia’s trajectory, Prystaiko said. “It reminds me of an old saying: when you throw a fresh cucumber into a bucket of pickles, the cucumber also becomes a pickle.”

“I wouldn’t bet on a change,” Prystaiko said. “I’d rather bet on a system change; that’s our only chance. If we can, together, show the Russians that there’s a better way for them, maybe they’ll find someone who will understand his/her place within the system and will allow change”.

Hoping that Putin will be dethroned or die suddenly — as a flurry of unconfirmed rumors about Putin’s failing health have suggested — is not an effective strategy, Prystaiko said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting with members of Russia’s Security Council at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, April 5, 2019. ALEXEI DRUZHININ/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

“Remember how many years we have already discussed this, and he is still quite dangerous,” Prystaiko said in response to reports of Putin’s ill health. “Some people are hoping for the easy way out, that…something will happen with Russia or Putin,” he added. “What happens if he retains power or is replaced by someone even worse?”

Even if Putin falls, those most successfully building their political tapestry in Moscow are cultivating ultra-nationalist pro-war — not moderate pro-dialogue — personas.

“There have been so many cases in history when political leaders become leaders after campaigns, and not necessarily successful campaigns,” Prystaiko said, pointing to the examples of generals turned president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who took power in Turkey after the fall of the Ottomans. and Charles de Gaulle who became a national hero after the fall of France in 1940.

“We’re not out of the woods”

Overall, the military momentum appears to be with the Ukrainians, although the onset of winter has forced a pause in Kiev’s counterattacks. Meanwhile, the Kremlin is rushing hundreds of thousands of mobilized troops to the front to stabilize the lines and is said to be making progress around the Donetsk towns of Bakhmut and Soledar after a months-long push.

Ukrainian leaders have warned that Russia is looking to revive its offensive capabilities this year. “We don’t want to understate,” Prystaiko said. “I expect they will try, for sure,” the ambassador added when asked if a new Russian offensive is on the cards. “They can mobilize significant numbers. That number can run into the millions.”

“I’m not one of those Ukrainians who will tell you we don’t care, we’ll crush and grind as much as they send. No, that’s dangerous… It could happen. We’re not out of the woods yet.”

The threat along the Belarusian border remains, with Ukrainian officials warning that Minsk could finally throw its troops into Putin’s mud in Ukraine. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko has offered his territory, bases, airports, hospitals and military reserves to support the Russian invasion, but has so far refused to send his soldiers.

Any Belarusian-Russian invasion force from the north would face the same challenges as the Moscow invasion group that was overwhelmed and destroyed in the spring. This could prove fatal for Lukashenko’s regime, which – with Moscow’s help – only narrowly survived a popular uprising in 2020.

“Belarus is over,” Prystaiko said when asked about the threat from the northern border. “As a system — not as a people — but as a system, it’s in decline. And sooner or later they’re going to face it.”

“The attack from Belarus is possible, therefore it distracts some of our forces because we have to keep some of them there,” said the ambassador. “Perhaps they are only doing this to keep some of our forces from the east.”

“Some people are arguing that [Lukashenko] you’re not doing it because you don’t know where they’re going to turn these rifles…you give them live ammunition and maybe they start shooting at you.”

Ukrainian soldiers play chess while sitting in a school gym on January 4, 2023 in Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Yan Dobronosov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images

Whatever the outcome of the conflict, Prystaiko said the events of the past eight years have irreversibly poisoned Ukrainian-Russian relations. “What is also dangerous is that by turning so many civilians into conscripts, they are alienating the two nations, to the point where it will take not decades to find reconciliation, but centuries. But that is their job. Unfortunately , we can’t help much here.”

A frozen conflict also worries Kiev, and Prystaiko urged Western partners to provide all possible military assistance to avoid an endless war.

“It may be the case that something decisive like an attack in the south will be enough for them to move the leader or do something else,” Prystaiko said of the Russians. “Kherson [withdrawal] it was quite clear, they called it a ‘difficult decision’. Why wouldn’t they make another ‘hard decision’?”

“Or maybe something like the attack in the north, which will be part of military textbooks because of how fast and how big it was; hundreds of kilometers,” he added, referring to the surprise operation that liberated most of Kharkiv Oblast in September.

“If at that time we had more missiles – missiles with a longer range, not just 80 kilometers [50 miles]”These hundreds of kilometers would not have been our stopping point, we would have been able to move to the end,” Prystaiko said, referring to ATACMS long-range munitions fired by NATO’s multiple launch missile systems -s, including the American HIMARS. .

The US has so far refused to supply Ukraine with ATACMS despite repeated requests from Kiev, fearing the move would be seen as an unacceptable escalation by Russia as the missiles would allow Ukrainian forces to strike sensitive targets deep inside Russian borders. .

“We just had to hit further than our troops were advancing,” Prystaiko said. “And that was something that was actually hindering our success.”

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