Pleads for assistance. Says Donbass rebels are able to jam its communications equipment
This article originally appeared in The Financial Times
Ukraine has appealed for urgent international military assistance to combat an “electronic warfare” offensive, which it said is giving pro-Russian rebels a critical advantage in the worsening conflict.
Western nations have so far rebuffed Kiev’s calls for direct military assistance in the fight against Moscow-backed separatists in the east of the country.
But Pavlo Klimkin, Ukraine’s foreign minister, said a deeper “understanding” was growing in the US and EU that Ukraine needed high-tech gadgetry and training as much as weapons.
“The terrorists have been given the most modern weapons by the Russians [and are] trained by Russians and guided by Russians,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times. “We badly need communications equipment, jamming equipment – not just things considered lethal.”
Mr Klimkin, who became foreign minister in June, is a former Ukrainian ambassador to Germany who was born in the Russian city of Kursk.
Ukrainian forces are at a strategic disadvantage against separatists equipped with sophisticated technology including drones, which allow them to target artillery strikes and track troop movements. Ukrainian units are also often unable to contact each other because the separatists can jam their communications.
While Ukraine has received some equipment from the west, including radar technology, as well as assistance such as army food packages, body armour and training, it is pushing for state-of-the art hardware
Mr Klimkin said greater military support was vital because Russian-backed forces were engaged in a “deliberate escalation” of the conflict. Recent shellings in the town of Volnovakha and the port city of Mariupol, which killed dozens of civilians, were the opening salvos in a broader campaign, he argued.
“These are not random events . . . they are cynically raising the stakes,” he said. “If there is another tragedy on the scale of Mariupol, the whole situation could spiral out of control with the extreme risk of spillover not only for Russia and Ukraine but the whole EU.”
Russia denies its forces are fighting in Ukraine.
European diplomats fear Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, is seeking to win more territory in Ukraine to distract from the fragility of his country’s domestic economy, which has been undermined by sanctions and the collapsing oil price.
But Mr Klimkin said any attempt to seize a foothold on the coast and build a “land bridge” to Crimea would lead to a bloodbath rather than a propaganda coup.
“There will not be any kind of big victory . . . just a very dangerous military mess, which will lead to very many people killed and injured.”
He also warned EU leaders that it made no sense to differentiate between sanctions imposed over the conflict in eastern Ukraine and those imposed over the occupation of Crimea. This suggestion is gaining traction in the EU as a means to encourage Russia to withdraw from the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. In theory, this would allow the EU to row back on sanctions in case of de-escalation there even while Crimea remained under Russian occupation.
There should be “no distinction,” Mr Klimkin said, adding that dissatisfaction about Russian annexation was growing among Crimeans.
“People who were very supportive of Russia’s unlawful action last year now find there is no facility to interact with the outside world, not even to travel with passports issued in Crimea. There is no possibility of investment. They are not treated as normal Russians . . . The situation in Crimea will change far earlier than anyone expects.”