The Ukrainian military leader said his forces would defend the country “to the last drop of blood” as he urged the population to calm down in the face of threats of another Russian invasion.
Lt. Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, 48, has repeatedly pointed out that Ukraine has been at war with Russia since 2014, telling Sky News in an exclusive interview: “This is absolutely not news to us.”
When asked if he was disappointed with NATO, the defense alliance of 30 countries, including Britain and the United States, ruled out sending troops to Ukraine to join the fight if the Kremlin launched another attack, the commander-in-chief said he was not expecting a “gift from God” and his forces would come out.
But he called a British training mission to the country since 2015 “more important”, especially given the risk of Russian President Vladimir Putin escalating hostilities.
Speaking after a daily security briefing with the Ukrainian president, the general was careful not to comment on areas he considered political, such as the outcome of talks this week between the United States and its NATO allies and Russia on Ukrainian and European security.
“Of course I understand what they are talking about, people are negotiating,” he said Monday evening, sitting on a chair in a meeting room of the Defense Ministry in Kiev.
“But … my mission is to prepare and support the armed forces for their intended mission – to defend the state.”
This includes maintaining calm despite warnings from US, UK and other NATO officials about the possibility of another Russian invasion given the presence of some 100,000 Russian forces near the Ukrainian border.
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“I want to calm people down so that they sleep peacefully at home,” Lieutenant General Zaluzhnyi said.
“So I repeat that our armed forces have been at war for eight years. They are carrying out military operations in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions and they are ready to take them to other regions.”
He was referring to areas in eastern Ukraine where Russian-backed separatists have resisted Ukrainian government forces since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
A senior Russian diplomat, speaking after talks in Geneva with US officials on Monday, said Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine.
When asked if he was comforted by these words or if he did not believe them, the military leader said: “I keep telling myself that I am only considering one option: ‘I have my homeland. that I must protect and I have the armed forces that must be ready to defend our country.
“I can also add that we are not going to attack anyone at all. But we will protect our land until the last drop of blood.”
The Ukrainian army has been on a war footing for a long time, only the level of danger increases or decreases.
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“This is absolutely not news to us,” said Lt. Gen. Zaluzhnyi, himself a frontline conflict veteran who commanded forces in the east during some of the deadliest days of the war in India. 2014 and 2015.
“Today [Monday] two soldiers died in the area of operation, yesterday one was injured. The war continues for us. And the fact that her scale could be bigger, well, she was smaller, but got bigger. We’re just doing our job. “
He said his military was closely investigating and analyzing the activities of Russian forces near the border, but said it “was not appropriate” to publicly share what he knew of their intentions.
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What if its armed forces, numbering some 260,000, would be able to withstand a full-scale Russian invasion?
“We have been thwarting the offensive since 2014. Of course we will,” said the commander.
The Ukrainian army is much better equipped, trained and prepared than it was eight years ago.
But analysts have always questioned whether he would ultimately be able to succeed against Russia’s much larger armed forces, predicting instead that a major Russian offensive could secure an initial victory, but that the occupiers would then face an insurgency. sustainable.
The military leader said he knew Ukraine would have to face any further Russian military action without the prospect of NATO forces rushing to fight alongside them.
When asked if he was disappointed, he replied: “I, as Commander-in-Chief, am responsible for my country and for my armed forces in particular. I am not deluding myself and waiting for a gift from God. I fought and I prepared my armed forces. “
Still, there are a number of foreign training missions in his country offering assistance, including one with around 100 British forces, which has trained around 20,000 Ukrainians.
“This is especially important, especially now that we are at the stage of a possible widening of military aggression,” the general said. “It’s very important to feel their support.