KYIV, Oct 10 – Ukraine needs to strengthen its defenses after an unrest in Belarus had provoked a crackdown from the authorities that may potentially increase Russia’s influence in that country, a senior aide to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said.
Andriy Yermak, the head of office to Zelenskiy, said Ukraine was seeking assurances from the European Union and the UK about helping to safeguard its security, The Guardian reported.
An EU or NATO center to combat Russian disinformation and counter propaganda based in Ukraine was also being proposed, Yermak revealed during remarks at Chatham House thinktank during Zelenskiy’s recent visit to the UK.
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 Donbass 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”.
Zelenskiy 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 Zelenskiy has consciously sought not to antagonize Russia.
“The strategy is not organize large military parades and not to go on the 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, reduce tension and save lives,” he said.
The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said that Zelenskiy 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 defense,” Kuleba said. (tg/ez)