ISSN 2330-717X

Ukrainian Officer Says Kremlin Plans To Split Country As New Talks To Begin

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(RFE/RL) — The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence has said Russia hopes to split the country in two as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy again pleaded with the West to send jet fighters to his besieged country.

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General Kyrylo Budanov said in a statement on March 27 that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trying to partition his country much like the Korean Peninsula after World War II

His comments come just days after Russia said it was changing its military strategy to focus its campaign on the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine, where Moscow-backed separatists have controlled swaths of territory since 2014.

Budanov said that Ukraine would conduct a “total…guerrilla” warfare campaign to drive out the Russian forces and maintain the country’s territorial integrity.

“There are reasons to believe that he may try to impose a separation line between the occupied and unoccupied regions of our country. In fact, it will be an attempt to set up South and North Koreas in Ukraine,” Budanov said.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 after massing about 150,000 troops on the border as the Kremlin seeks to keep the former Soviet state within its sphere of influence.

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Ukrainian armed forces, civil defense forces, and volunteers have put up staunch resistance against Russian troops, even retaking some cities, in part with the help of Western weapons.

However, NATO has refused to intervene or impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine, despite pleas from Kyiv.

Some of the war’s fiercest fighting is now taking place in Mariupol, a key port city in the Donetsk region. Russian troops are trying to encircle the city, whose loss would be a huge blow to Ukraine’s defense of the region.

Zelenskiy cited the fighting in Mariupol as he pleaded with the West to supply his country with jets and other weapons.

Russia has control of the skies over Ukraine and is using its air supremacy to decimate Ukraine’s military and civilian infrastructure, hampering the country’s ability to defend itself.

The West has refrained from sending MiGs to Ukraine amid concern it could provoke Russia and widen the war beyond its current boundaries.

“I’ve talked to the defenders of Mariupol today. I’m in constant contact with them. Their determination, heroism, and firmness are astonishing,” Zelenskiy said in a video address.

“If only those who have been thinking for 31 days on how to hand over dozens of jets and tanks had 1 percent of their courage,” he said, referring to the West.

Peace Talks

Meanwhile, peace talks between the two countries are set to continue this week.

David Arakhamia, a Ukrainian negotiator, said that a second round of in-person talks between Kyiv and Moscow would take place in Turkey starting on March 28.

The two sides have held several rounds of talks via videoconference, but little progress has been made.

Zelenskiy said in an interview on March 27 that he was willing to discuss his country’s neutrality and nonnuclear status if it would be backed by the UN Security Council.

He said a deal was only possible if Russia withdrew its troops from Ukraine.

Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994 in exchange for territorial guarantees from Moscow. Ukraine also had neutrality enshrined in its constitution until Russia seized Crimea in 2014.

Ukraine has since been seeking to join NATO to protect itself from Russian aggression, something the Kremlin has called “a red line.”

NATO officials have said that alliance’s door is open to Ukraine, but have refused to give a concrete date, saying only that membership is years away.

More Annexation?

Days before the launch of the all-out war that began last month, Putin announced the recognition of claims by those separatists to independence from Ukraine — defying the UN view that the Donbas region and Crimea are Ukrainian territory.

A separatist leader in Luhansk said on March 27 that the region might soon organize a referendum on joining Russia, in a move that would be reminiscent of a referendum on the same topic after Russia occupied Crimea in March 2014.

“All fake referendums in the temporarily occupied territories are null and void and will have no legal validity,” a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Oleh Nikolenko, said in a statement. “Instead, Russia will face an even stronger response from the international community, further deepening its global isolation.”

Putin has dismissed Ukrainian nationhood and culture, claiming that Ukraine’s existence is rooted almost solely in Russian history.

RFE RL

RFE/RL journalists report the news in 21 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.

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