Thursday, January 20, 2022

Ukraine Fears Minor Attacks Are in Russia's Game Plan

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba's not too pleased with Slow Joe.

At WSJ, "Foreign minister says President Biden’s ‘minor incursion’ comment plays down Moscow’s intentions, which Kyiv sees as destabilizing country, not invading":

KYIV, Ukraine—Russia wants to destabilize Ukraine using a variety of attacks, Ukrainian officials said, pushing back against a suggestion from President Biden that the U.S. and its allies would respond differently to a small-scale incursion than a full-on invasion.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Thursday responded to Mr. Biden’s comment suggesting that Western nations weren’t in tandem on how to respond to Russian President Vladimir Putin in the event of a “minor incursion” on Ukraine. His statement was later clarified by the White House.

“Speaking of minor and full incursions or full invasion, you cannot be half-aggressive. You’re either aggressive or you’re not aggressive,” Mr. Kuleba said. “We should not give Putin the slightest chance to play with quasi-aggression or small-incursion operations. This aggression was there since 2014. This is the fact.”

Ukraine, already unnerved by the presence of almost 100,000 Russian troops near its borders, was shaken by the comments from Mr. Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron Wednesday that raised questions about the West’s unity and conviction in helping the country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky went on Twitter Thursday to “remind the great powers that there are no minor incursions and small nations. Just as there are no minor casualties and little grief from the loss of loved ones.”

Mr. Biden, speaking at a White House event Thursday, didn’t directly address the Ukrainian criticism but said he has been very clear with Mr. Putin about an invasion.

“Let there be no doubt at all that if Putin makes this choice, Russia will pay a heavy price,” he said.

Ukrainian officials are touchy in part because their analysis is that a large-scale attack isn’t Russia’s probable course. Stiff Ukrainian resistance to a direct assault and pressure from the West would act as a deterrent, they say. Instead, the Kremlin would probably deploy more covert measures to destabilize its neighbor and remove its leadership, top Ukrainian officials say.

As a result, Ukrainian officials want Western leaders not to play down apparently less-lethal aggression by Moscow.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said in an interview that a military invasion would be very costly for Russia, given the size of Ukraine’s army, the population’s will to fight and pressure from the West. More likely, he said, Russia would seek, at least in the short term, to intensify a campaign of cyberattacks, provocations, disinformation and economic pressure.

“It will be very difficult for them to achieve their aims by military means. I think, impossible,” said Mr. Danilov. “They have a multifaceted plan to destabilize the domestic situation on the territory of our country. That’s the number one task for them.”

Mr. Biden, at a news conference marking his first year in office Wednesday, said Russia would be held accountable if it invaded Ukraine, adding, “It depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do.”

He said that if Russia invaded Ukraine, “it is going to be a disaster,” and the U.S. and its allies would respond with measures including economic sanctions.

The White House said in a statement following Mr. Biden’s remarks that if any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, it would be regarded as “a renewed invasion” and met with swift consequences from the U.S. and its allies.

Ukrainian leaders are trying to reassure citizens and stave off panic as the number of Russian troops around the country, already in the tens of thousands, continues to swell. Mr. Zelensky in a televised address Wednesday noted that the country had lived under the threat of war since 2014, when Russia first invaded.

“The risks have been present for more than a day, and they haven’t grown,” Mr. Zelensky said. “The hype around them has grown.”

Mr. Kuleba, the foreign minister, said that despite differing threat assessments, he believes Mr. Biden sincerely wants to help and work with Ukraine..

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