‘Goal is destruction of Ukraine’: ex-defence minister warns west of Putin’s aim

<span>Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine’s former defence minister has warned his western counterparts that negotiations with Moscow will not bring peace, and that Vladimir Putin remains determined to destroy Ukraine entirely and to “assimilate” its citizens into the Russian Federation.

In an article for the Guardian, Oleksii Reznikov says any “deal” with the Kremlin would not end the conflict. “Russia demands the recognition of the occupied territories of Ukraine as its territory in exchange for the end of the war,” he writes.

“However, this is obviously for the sake of one thing only – to buy some time, regroup and ‘finally solve the Ukrainian issue’ using new resources. Russia does not recognise the existence of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.

“Its goal is the destruction of Ukrainian statehood and assimilation of Ukrainians.”

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Reznikov – who was removed from his job on Sunday by president Volodymyr Zelenskiy – likened calls for Ukraine to make territorial concessions to international demands in 1938 that Czechoslovakia give up Sudetenland to Nazi Germany. The transfer happened, at the behest of the UK and France.

“We know from history that this did not stop Hitler. Soon the Third Reich had complete control over what was left of Czechoslovakia, including its military arsenal. Putin’s actions follow a similar pattern,” he writes.

Reznikov resigned on Monday. His departure follows procurement scandals at the defence ministry. He was not personally involved in corruption schemes, and was moved on because of PR failings, it is understood. Diplomatic sources say he may become Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK.

The ex-minister’s remarks came as Ukraine’s counteroffensive makes slow progress. Despite some recent successes, its troops have yet to liberate a large swathe of southern Ukraine, occupied by Russia since last year’s full-scale invasion. The war grinds on. There are heavy losses on both sides.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken – who visited Kyiv on Wednesday, pledging $1bn (£800m) in new military aid – has said there is little prospect of “meaningful diplomacy” with Moscow. Blinken held talks with Zelenskiy and praised Ukraine’s success on the battlefield. There had been “real progress in the past few weeks”, Blinken said.

But some western allies have suggested Ukraine will have to compromise. In August a senior Nato aide, Stian Jenssen, prompted fury in Kyiv when he said Ukraine might have to give up some land to Russia, in return for peace and Nato membership. Jenssen, chief of staff to Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, later apologised.

In his Guardian article, Reznikov says that Putin, unless checked, will not stop at Ukraine. “Letting Russia obtain Ukraine’s resources … will only increase the Kremlin’s ambitions and lead to a new big war in eastern Europe, which will inevitably involve Nato – with all the resulting risks,” he writes.

Ukraine’s own “recipe for victory” is clear, Reznikov says. It includes the restoration of Ukraine’s 1991 borders, the withdrawal of Russian troops, reparations, and “the punishment of war criminals”. He wants Ukraine’s integration into security pacts and “amendments to international law” to prevent “similar aggressions” in the future.

Ahead of the US presidential election in 2024, and the possible return to the White House of Donald Trump, Reznikov calls on friendly defence ministers to continue their military support to Ukraine. “I urge unity, bravery and consolidated action. That is the only way for us to save this world from the catastrophe of world war three.”