'There must be no agreements on Ukraine taken without Ukraine'

Kyiv ready to talk, discuss 'any initiatives' aimed at putting end to conflict with Moscow, says Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.

'There must be no agreements on Ukraine taken without Ukraine'

No agreements can be taken or made on Ukraine without the involvement of Ukraine itself, the country's foreign minister declared Monday, urging the taking of “decisive deterrence steps” towards Russia now to avoid a crisis later.

"This is the red line! Everything else is welcome," Dmytro Kuleba told reporters in an online briefing, adding that Kyiv is "ready to talk and to discuss any initiatives aimed at putting an end to this conflict" with Moscow.

Saying that Ukraine and Turkey enjoy "excellent relations," Kuleba underlined there is a "high level of trust" between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine's president.

"Ukraine remains committed to the work of the Normandy format, however, we never objected to any proposal or initiative ... offered by other partners and friends,” said Kuleba.

“We will welcome any effort that can help us to put an end to this war, to return Ukraine's territories which are currently under Russian control. We are ready to work with such partners and to coordinate efforts.”

Erdogan on Sunday expressed support for "peace in the region" and offered Turkey’s services as a mediator between Ukraine and Russia.

Saying that he continues communication with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue, Erdogan added: "We hope that this region does not become a region dominated by war. Let this region walk into the future as a region dominated by peace."

This is the second time since April that Ukraine has faced a security crisis along its border with Russia.

To de-escalate the situation, France and Germany had proposed Russia join in talks with Ukraine under the existing Normandy format, which was used in 2014 to resolve the conflict in Donbas, along the eastern border. However, Moscow refused the offer.

After Russian forces invaded Donbas and annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 – a move Turkey, the US, and the UN General Assembly view as illegal – France and Germany along with Ukraine led the initiative to enter into talks with Russia.

Ukraine, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) signed the Minsk Protocol to implement a peace plan and end the fighting. But the agreement has failed to achieve success, as Russia continued to support rebels in fighting Ukrainian government troops in Donbas.

Fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists since 2014 in Donbas has seen more than 13,000 people killed – a quarter of them civilians – and as many as 30,000 wounded, according to the UN.​​​​​​​

NATO foreign ministers are scheduled to meet this week to discuss a range of issues, including the Russian military buildup near the Ukrainian border.

'Steps to reduce tensions'

"What we see now is very serious,” said Kuleba.

“Russia has deployed a large military force in regions close to Ukraine’s state border. This includes tanks, artillery, electronic warfare systems, air, and naval forces."

He added that there are over 40 battalion tactical groups including 115,000 Russian troops, including forces present in the occupied territories of Crimea as well as Donbas.

"So far, Russia refuses to explain its actions and military movements in a transparent and trustworthy manner. These forces have been largely present at our border at least since spring 2021," he said, noting that in the past six months Russia hasn't withdrawn them "despite public statements of its highest military officials."

Over many months Ukraine has "worked hard" together with Germany and France as mediators to engage Russia in constructive peace negotiations within the Normandy format, Kuleba said.

Noting that Ukraine, Germany, and France are ready to "sit down at the table" with Russia, Kuleba said, "the only one missing is the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who avoids meetings under various excuses."

"We see the same unfortunate unwillingness to talk and seek diplomatic solutions at the level of the Normandy format leaders."

He reiterated that Zelensky is ready to meet "at any time," and in February he sent out letters to his Normandy counterparts urging them to convene a summit to consider the "deteriorating security situation in the conflict zone" and implementation of the conclusions of the Dec. 9, 2019 Paris summit.

"But, unfortunately, Russian President Vladimir Putin does not accept those invitations and does not want to talk,” said Kuleba. “What we see instead is not only a military buildup along our borders, but also increased level of Russian disinformation, including Russia's false accusations of Ukraine plotting a military attack in the Donbas."

‘No plan for any military offensive'

"Let me take this opportunity to state officially, Ukraine does not plan any military offensive in Donbas," he said, hitting back at claims the Kremlin made last week.

Kuleba underlined that Ukraine is devoted to seeking political and diplomatic solutions to the conflict, adding that they "keep working hard" to revive the Normandy format with Germany and France as mediators.

"We call on Russia to engage constructively in those peace talks instead of undermining them."

Kuleba asserted that Ukraine's main goal now is to deter Russia and to "demotivate" it from "further aggressive actions."

To achieve this goal, Kuleba said, Ukraine proposed a comprehensive "three-layer deterrence package" including political, economic, and security deterrence measures.

"In Ukraine's view, other effective measures may include cutting off the Russian propaganda and disinformation channels in European countries, which are intended to poison the public perception of Russia's aggressive behavior and cover up its military preparation from the watchful eye of European institutions and civil society," he said.

Kuleba added that by acting together they can "demotivate" Moscow from military action and make it ease tensions in the region.

Ukraine backs peace and security and is seeking "fair solutions" in Europe, he stressed.

"I want to emphasize one thing,” he said. “No matter how difficult it may seem to take decisive deterrence steps now, it surely would be much more difficult and costly to mitigate the unprecedented crisis should we fail to deter Putin, and should he falsely decide that he can launch another military offensive against Ukraine without fearing serious consequences."

'Ukraine definitely will fight back'

"It is better to act now, not later. By our estimations, the timeframe to act is within (the) coming month," he said.

Kuleba said Ukraine is "strongly devoted" to peace and that they have been "defending peace" in Ukraine and the entire region for almost eight years since the 2014 conflict.

"There is nothing that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky values more than peace and security for our citizens," he said.

"We have never attacked anyone, and we do not plan to. We keep trying to engage Russia in constructive peace talks. However, should Moscow decide to invade, Ukraine definitely will fight back. We are determined to defend our land, (and) our country has become far more resilient, and our army is incomparable stronger than it used to be in 2014."

Kuleba went on to say that Ukraine has "wider international support today than ever before."

"And I'm confident that our joint, swift and decisive deterrence can help ease tensions and avoid the worst-case scenario," he added.

There is "no alternative to deterrence," he said, decrying “calls to concede to Russia in order to persuade it to be less aggressive” as “deeply ill-advised.”

Kuleba concluded by urging people to learn history’s bitter lessons and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Hüseyin Demir