Russian ambassador to US says why Ukraine war began, how it can end: Report
- Russia's envoy to Washington explained reason behind "special military operation" in Ukraine
- Ukraine's purported ethnic cleansing and quest to join NATO fanned the conflict
- The events of February 24 had their origins 8 years ago
After a month and a half of fighting in Ukraine, Russia's envoy to Washington explained to Newsweek why his country launched a "special military operation" against its neighbour, as well as the conditions that, if met, may bring the conflict between Europe's two largest countries to an end.
Kyiv accused the Kremlin of "genocide-level" "war crimes," Russia's ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, contended that Ukraine's purported ethnic cleansing, as well as its quest to join the US-led NATO Western military alliance, fanned the conflict.
"The special operation in Ukraine is the result of the unwillingness of the Kyiv regime to stop the genocide of Russians by fulfilling its obligations under the international commitments, the desire of the NATO member states to use the territory of a neighbouring state to establish a foothold in the struggle against Russia is also obvious."
The events of February 24 had their origins, according to a senior Russian ambassador, eight years ago, when the Euromaidan revolt ousted a pro-Russian Ukrainian government and installed a pro-Western administration seeking deeper links with NATO and the European Union.
To Russia, Antonov described the revolution as a "bloody coup d'état orchestrated by the West," in which "ultranationalist ideologies seized power in Kyiv." He claimed that hostile policies such as the removal of Russian as a national language and the rehabilitation of nationalist Ukrainian figures such as Stepan Bandera, who collaborated with Nazi Germany during World War II, had "taken root in Ukraine under external administration," according to Moscow.
When unrest first erupted in Ukraine in 2014, Russian forces seized Crimea with the stated goal of protecting the Black Sea peninsula's ethnic Russian majority. Around the same time, pro-Moscow separatists took up arms in the eastern region of Donbas, proclaiming the breakaway Donetsk and Luhansk (Russian spelling: Lugansk) People's Republics (spelt Donbass by Russia).
Tensions between Kyiv and the rebels erupted into all-out fighting, killing up to 14,000 people, including civilians, for whom both sides blame the other. The Minsk Agreements were two efforts at a truce, but bloodshed continued despite claims of violations from both sides.
Antonov argued that it was the "nationalist frenzy and revanchist sentiments of the Kyiv regime" that resulted in the effective death of the Minsk deals as Ukraine chose "the path of rapid militarization" with help from abroad.
"The NATO member countries have commenced a military exploration of Ukraine," Antonov said. "It was flooded with Western weaponry while President Vladimir Zelensky announced Kyiv's plans to acquire nuclear weapons which would threaten not only neighbouring countries but also the entire world."
While Ukrainian officials have denied any plans to develop nuclear weapons, and the UN's atomic agency has dismissed the argument, President Zelensky (who spells his first name Volodymyr) questioned Kyiv's non-nuclear status in a speech delivered just days before the Russian incursion at the Munich Security Conference.
Russia had deployed over 200,000 troops along Ukraine's borders at this point, including in Belarus and Crimea. Antonov, on the other hand, said that Ukraine had assembled its forces in preparation for an attack on the separatist states in Donbas, a claim disputed by Kyiv.
"In this context, Russia had no other choice but to recognize the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics," Antonov said. "Then, in accordance with Chapter VII, Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, with the authorization of the Federation Council of Russia and in the execution of the Treaties of Friendship and Mutual Assistance with the Donetsk People's Republic and the Lugansk People's Republic, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin made a decision to begin a special military operation."
"Its aim is to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine in order to reduce military threats posed by the Western states that are trying to use the fraternal Ukrainian people in the struggle against the Russians," he added.
The operation's purpose, according to Antonov, is "to put an end to the genocide perpetrated by the Kyiv regime and ensure a nuclear-free and neutral status of Ukraine."
At a time when Ukraine and a growing number of foreign partners, including US President Joe Biden, are calling for Russian forces, including Putin, to be held accountable for the war, Antonov said that achieving Moscow's goals "requires concluding the hostilities that have been taking place since 2014 as well as bringing to trial those who committed a large number of bloody crimes against civilians, including against citizens of the Russian Federation."
"The occupation of Ukraine is not the goal of the special operation," he said, putting to rest suspicions about a long-term plot to exercise control over Ukraine.
He also dismissed Ukrainian claims that Russians targeted civilians, such as at Bucha, where hundreds of residents were allegedly slain, some in execution-style, just days after Russia withdrew from the city. Ukrainian soldiers seized Bucha shortly before word of the mass killings reached the media, according to Antonov, who earlier told Newsweek that gruesome images of massacres were carried out by Ukrainian forces.
"The Russian Federation is taking the necessary measures to preserve the life and safety of civilians," Antonov added. "We do everything to maintain the normal functioning of critical infrastructure facilities, to ensure law and order and the security of people. The strikes are made only on military targets and exclusively with high-precision weapons."
The Russian Defense Ministry stated on Friday that the strikes "destroyed weapons and military equipment arriving in Donbas at Pokrovsk, Slavyanskk and Barvenkovo." Since then, Russia has denied firing a missile at the Kramatorsk station, blaming it instead on Ukrainian forces, who have claimed up to 50 lives in one of their adversary's worst attacks on civilians so far.
As the Biden administration and its European allies promised to send further military support to Ukraine, Washington backed Kyiv's characterization of the incident. Antonov warned that such aid would exacerbate the crisis and could lead to a direct confrontation between the US and Russia.
"Western states are directly involved in the current events as they continue to pump Ukraine with weapons and ammunition, thereby inciting further bloodshed," Antonov said.
"We warn that such actions are dangerous and provocative as they are directed against our state," he added. "They can lead the U.S. and the Russian Federation onto the path of direct military confrontation. Any supply of weapons and military equipment from the West, performed by transport convoys through the territory of Ukraine, is a legitimate military target for our Armed Forces."
Antonov also repeated Russian claims that the Pentagon was conducting potentially illegal biological research in Ukraine, as part of a 2005 deal that lay the framework for collaborative bio-research. He inquired, "What does the Pentagon have to do with health issues? Why are bio laboratories established along Russian borders—thousands of kilometres away from the American territory?"
A State Department spokesman acknowledged the location of "Ukrainian diagnostic and biodefense laboratories" to Newsweek last month, but stressed that these "are not biological weapons facilities" and instead "counter biological threats throughout the country."
As both sides strove to control the media space with their own claims, conflicting narratives have been a major component of the war in Ukraine.
However, while accusing the West of "demonising our country," Antonov stated that "the policy of our country is based on the right for all the peoples living today in the Ukrainian territory to choose their own future."
"Together we need to get rid of the nationalists who seized power in Kyiv as soon as possible, turn this tragic page and move forward to build mutually respectful and equal relations," he added.
Representatives from Kyiv and Moscow have held many rounds of talks in an attempt to resolve the conflict, the first of which took place in Belarus just days after the war began and the most recent of which took place in Turkey.
Antonov described what Russia hopes to achieve through these conversations.
"Our principled position regarding the settlement of the conflict has been clearly defined," Antonov said, "including the demand for an unconditional consideration of Russia's security interests, the demilitarization and denazification of the Ukrainian state, ensuring its neutral and non-nuclear status as well as the recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea and the independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republics."
Zelensky and his administration have stated their willingness to cease Ukraine's NATO ambitions and publicly abandon any nuclear preparations. However, territorial concessions have proven to be a more difficult point of disagreement, as the Ukrainian government continues to regard Crimea and the entire Donbas region to be part of the country's territory, a view supported by the international community.
Antonov stated that Moscow hoped to end the crisis as soon as possible.
"Russia is doing everything possible to negotiate a path to the prompt completion of the confrontation, the restoration of peace in Donbas and the return of all the peoples of Ukraine to peaceful life," he told Newsweek.