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We Are ‘Ready to Defend Our Country,’ Says Ukrainian Official amid Russian Build-up

Ukrainian service members march during the Independence Day military parade in Kyiv, Ukraine, August 24, 2021. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Halifax, Canada —  A top adviser to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky declared that his country is ready to stare down Russian president Vladimir Putin, amid a massive buildup of Russian troops and military equipment that the U.S. and its allies worry might foreshadow a further assault. Kyiv is already fighting a deadly conflict against Russian-backed forces occupying vast swaths of the eastern part of Ukraine.

“Are we afraid of Russia’s aggression? No. We have paid a huge price for this. Fourteen thousand of our citizens have died in this war,” said Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s national-security and defense council, at the Halifax International Security Forum this evening. “Putin will not have an easy walk by our country. We are ready to defend our country.”

The Ukrainian official, a top adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, was addressing reporters on the sidelines of the annual meeting after planned appearances by the Ukrainian foreign and defense ministers at the forum were scrapped as Kyiv anticipates a potential Russian attack.

In recent weeks, U.S. officials have noted with alarm a significant growth in the number Russian troops amassed on Ukraine’s border. They have reportedly told Washington’s European allies that a Russian attack on Ukraine is imminent, though they do not believe that Moscow has already made the decision to attack, according to the New York Times.

Danilov addressed the Kremlin’s thinking on the matter, saying, “There is no logic in this process.”

Deputy defense minister Anatolii Petrenko pointed to a mix of different factors that might determine Moscow’s willingness to launch an attack. “There’s always a combination of politics, economy, and of course, Russian readiness to exercise Russian military resources in support of Russian national-security interests, which they consider to be unlimited by Russian constitutional territory.”

Petrenko called the current situation even more alarming than a previous buildup of Russian forces this past spring because “we have seen Russians coming to new locations and never leaving those locations entirely.” He added that the deployment of “high-end” weapons systems, the recent stationing of Russian forces in Belarus, and those forces’ patrols on the border between Poland and Belarus as additional causes for concern.

Over the past several months, Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko has sent an influx of migrants to Belarus’s borders with NATO countries. This recently provoked a confrontation with Poland, when Warsaw refused to accept the groups of would-be migrants whom Lukashenko’s security forces directed to border areas. Minsk has backed down for now, clearing migrant camps close to the Polish border and moving their inhabitants to other locations. Western governments have condemned Lukashenko for orchestrating a migration crisis.

In addition to that, Putin has exacerbated a natural-gas shortage in Europe to pressure the EU to approve Nord Stream 2, a Russian government-backed pipeline that now awaits approval by European regulatory authorities. The Ukrainian delegation reiterated their country’s concern about the project this evening, with Danilov calling it “a means of waging energetic war.”

The Biden administration, although it says it opposes the pipeline as a “Russian malign-influence project,” nevertheless waived critical sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 corporate entity earlier this year, ahead of the pipeline’s completion in September. After the announcement of the sanctions waiver, Zelensky gave an interview in which he panned Biden’s decision and complained that he hadn’t been alerted to it in advance.

The Ukrainian officials took a gentler tone earlier today, saying that they met with members of the bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation on the sidelines of the Halifax Forum. Danilov told reporters that he and his colleagues raised Nord Stream 2, and that Ukrainian efforts to oppose the pipeline are continuing beyond the confines of the Halifax Forum as well.

Roman Mashovets, another adviser to Zelensky, wrapped up the news conference by holding up a picture of a large group of migrants labeled “Nord Stream 2.” He said it shows how Kremlin allies are using people as another means of hybrid warfare.

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