9 Oct 2020
Andriy Yermak says unrest in Belarus means his country needs to strengthen defences. The UK is willing to provide a large lethal weapons contract to Ukraine and a £1bn loan to help Ukraine’s navy build new ships capable of use in the Black Sea, according to a senior aide to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Andriy Yermak, the head of office to Zelenksy also warned that the suppression of post-election unrest in neighbouring Belarus posed a potential direct threat to Ukraine, and said his country was seeking assurances from the European Union and the UK about helping to safeguard its security. An EU or Nato centre to combat Russian disinformation and counter propaganda based in Ukraine was also being proposed, Yermak revealed during remarks at Chatham House think tank.
Speaking about Belarus, where more than 12,000 people have been arrested since President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in an election widely described as rigged, he said: “Under a worst case scenario we face a very direct threat to our independence and territorial integrity. We are on the front lines. We should act specifically to counteract such threats without any diplomatic subtleties.”
Ukraine has been fighting Russian-backed rebels in the east of the country since 2014 in a war that has killed 13,000 people. Its government has been seeking heavy weaponry from the US and the European Union for years but has usually been met with ambivalence inside Europe because of fears that the move would exacerbate the conflict.
Yermak said a current ceasefire in the Donbas remained fragile, with one Ukrainian soldier killed since it began. He described the 70 days truce as “a huge achievement, but every day you keep your fingers crossed unless you hear of more causalities.”
Zelensky met the prime minister, Boris Johnson, in Downing Street where they signed a major trade, political and security agreement that puts relations between the two countries on a new closer post-Brexit footing.
Yermak said Zelensky has consciously sought not to antagonise Russia. “The strategy is not to organise large military parades and not to go on TV to blame the Russians for all our misfortunes – that does not save the lives of Ukrainians. We need to be careful and cold-minded to advance Ukraine’s interests and to use all possible platforms for talks, to reduce tension and save lives,” he said.
He said that some of Ukraine’s partners, notably France and Germany, had recently seemed disillusioned at the slow pace of the peace negotiations, but this was no longer the case. Talks about a further prisoner exchange had been held up by Russian protests over the government’s attempts to hold local elections in October – including in Donbas – he said.
He called for fresh talks bringing together the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia, that were needed as soon as possible. The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said that Zelensky had pressed Johnson to set a timetable for a Ukrainian path to join Nato. “Our president was very clear. He said Ukraine needs a Nato membership action plan. Nato membership will contribute to Ukrainian security and defence,” Kuleba said.