It was March 2014 when the Ukrainian territory of Crimea was annexed by Russia. Since then, tensions have mounted – arguably reaching new heights mid-August, when Russia accused Ukraine of a terrorist attack in Crimea. Ukraine's Defence Ministry dismissed the allegations as "nothing more than an attempt to justify the redeployment and aggressive actions" of Russian forces in the region. 

So where does Ukraine go from here? Defense News Executive Editor Jill Aitoro sat down with Valeriy Chaly, ambassador of Ukraine to the US, to find out.

It’s been two years since Russia annexed Crimea. How has the tension evolved since then?

[From] Russia – it's not a tension. It's opened attack and occupation of part of Ukraine and territories. 100 countries in the UN, including the United States, reject this attempt and still we fight for restored international law. Unfortunately from my point of view this compromise, [it’s] not enough [of a] tough position [from] the international community, because mostly [it’s] through diplomatic means, [which] lead Russia to the wrong perception.

Russia opened another attack on the eastern part of Ukraine. That's the main problem; so, which means should be used for the [restoration] of international order and territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country?  We’re not in Crimea [for] blood. It was one of the reasons why Ukraine tried to avoid full scale war. But now we've lost 10,000 people. And the Ukrainian people ask us, what we plan to do. That's why I want to also ask the international community, what [do] we need to do to stop Russia from this occupation of Crimea? 

The claim among those in Moscow is that the conflict is inspired by the need to advocate for Russians in Ukraine.  How do you respond to that claim? 

Once again I want to bring to your attention [to] a situation that began not only in the last two years. Russia tried to push Ukraine to allow [a] nuclear carrier in Crimea. We rejected any attempts to do it – it’s not according to international law, international order. Now, unfortunately we have some information, some messages that Russia planned and did some things to have the possibility to use nuclear weapons in this peninsula. I want to remind you, this is very close to European countries. We are concerned. In one day, 24 hours, [they could] bring the nuclear weapon to the territory of Ukraine. [Then] we are responsible of the use of any weapons – as I will remind you in the Georgian- Russian conflict. That's why I think it’s time to be more concerned about the developments; it’s not only about tensions. Once again it is about the violation of human rights, violation of international norms, violation of everything. And now Russia says ‘it’s our territory.’ No, no. Ukraine still stand on the very firm position, supported by the United States and the international countries, that Crimea was, is and will be Ukrainian territory. 

What kind of response have you gotten from the United States?

The United States did immediately respond [to] this occupation of Crimea including President Barack Obama and State Department and Congress, [with] bipartisan support. Congress did adopt many special documents like resolutions, like laws, and bills and we have a very important [decision] of the United States to check [and prohibit] any American business [from] planning to work in Crimea.

So we appreciate and are satisfied [with the US] keeping focus on this issue. 

Russia recently accused Ukraine of launching a militant attack in Crimea. Ukraine refuted this. What do you believe inspired that accusation from Russia? What are they trying to accomplish?

It’s a continuous information war, and continued attempt to blackmail our partners – not in United States, but mostly Europeans [following] sanctions. Ukraine now proposes diplomatic ways, [through] the so-called Normandy format, to discuss this issue. And Russia tried to avoid responsibility, not propose any other [options] to go to the next steps for [moving forward] the peace plan proposed by President Poroshenko of Ukraine. And experts say, Russia prepares for the next full scale operation.

Ukraine did not plan to use terror as a means; no, only diplomatic ways, and was a strong supporter in solidarity of international community. And believe me, when Russia military troops in this territory try to make a military base it challenges everything. Russia planned to use terror and pay for terror in the Ukrainian territory. That's a problem. [This accusation of a terrorist attack] is an attempt to make another side responsible. But it's impossible. And we see and appreciate a very firm and clear response by State Department, European partners. So [Russia] has failed in this situation. 

Unfortunately we see this – Russia sometimes before negotiations tries to use a military means. In Minsk, I want to remind you, Mr. Putin came and said, you are surrounded by our military forces, and on this position tried to lead to negotiation. No. No chance, because everybody now understands three things. First, direct responsibility by Russia and Putin for this – as you mentioned, tension, but [actually] war. Second, Russia’s need to go further to secure [it’s position] for political means; and third, [Russia’s] attempts and [willingness] for full scale war. It leaves us in an unpredictable space.

So what do you predict will be Ukraine's response as the tensions, or as you say war, intensifies? What should we expect to come from Ukraine and its allies?

What Ukraine should do now, Ukraine should improve their own capabilities, military capabilities, to make stronger cooperation and coordination with partners. We need stronger coordination with exchange of intelligence for example because it’s very easy to understand this is blackmail – this failed attempt to accuse Ukraine. So everybody understands we need this coordination, we need to exchange information, we need to be prepared for any development of the situation. This is reality; it’s the reality of the 21st century, and [reality of] Russia’s approach to geopolitics. What we need to do also is stand against violation of the human rights including Crimean Tatars. It’s the oldest territory in the world. The Ukrainian state now [was willing to go] even further, we are ready to give autonomy for the Crimean Tatars. And I believe they will, and I believe they will move back to this territory and this Crimea peninsula will live closer to Europe with a developed economy [through] tourism as before – as a recreation zone, not a military base. We pay attention to development and make Ukraine territory more attractive for everybody including people in Crimea.

Again, we [are] not about military means; we think about continued diplomatic ways, and the development of the economy and anti-corruption measures [to] make the rest of Ukraine more attractive for the people. We will fight for Crimea. We will stop Russia. But can you imagine what it could be – the sacrifice, if a nuclear power decided to go further. So we crucially need international solidarity and support, including to improve our military capabilities. 


Jill Aitoro is editor of Defense News. She is also executive editor of Sightline Media's Business-to-Government group, including Defense News, C4ISRNET, Federal Times and Fifth Domain. She brings over 15 years’ experience in editing and reporting on defense and federal programs, policy, procurement, and technology.

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