Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin aims to extend Moscow’s control over all of Ukraine, and that the country needs more military aid from the United States to force back 10,000 Russian troops already on the ground.
“This is the only language that Putin understands,” Yatsenyuk said. “We have to stay strong, not retreat.”
Yatsenyuk made his remarks during a visit to The Washington Post editorial board, one of many stops he is making in Washington with Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko to drum up support for their beleaguered nation.
They have met with the International Monetary Fund and key members of Congress, who urged President Obama to arm Ukrainian troops fighting pro-Russian rebels in the eastern part of the country. The United States has provided training to Ukrainian troops, but the White House has balked at providing lethal aid, fearing it will only provoke Russia and escalate the conflict further.
Yatsenyuk said he hopes his trip returns Ukraine to the forefront of American consciousness at a time of urgent U.S. domestic concerns and international crises elsewhere.
“The idea is to have Ukraine on the U.S. radar screen, as its attention has been directed to ISIS, and Yemen, and police officers in Texas,” he said. ISIS is one of a number of acronyms for the Islamic State.
Yatsenyuk spoke scornfully of Putin, accusing the Russian leader of trying to distract from domestic woes caused by a slide in oil prices and sanctions, and rally support by appealing to Russians mourning for lost empire.
“Putin is playing with the far-right nationalistic sentiment that still exists in Russia,” he said. “They believe they have no chance to be an empire without Ukraine.”
“He wants to take over the entire Ukraine, no doubt. His ultimate goal is to fight with the West, and win this war against the West,” Yatsenyuk said. “And Ukraine has become a battlefield of this war.”
Ukraine’s problems are as much economic as military. The country is hamstrung under the strains that began when Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014. Since then, Kiev has accused its neighbor of fomenting a civil war in the industrialized sections of the east by supplying equipment and troops to separatist rebels, something Moscow has vehemently denied despite what U.S. and Ukrainian intelligence say is documented evidence.
Today, inflation in Ukraine is rampant, and the government has been forced to freeze social programs and end some subsidies.
“We need to get the country back to work,” Yatsenyuk said. “We can’t do it without U.S. investment.”
He implicitly acknowledged the weakness of the government, saying that if Russia sent its tanks across the border, it would lead to a run on the banks.
Jaresko evoked the sense of abandonment that some Ukrainians have expressed, saying the best way to support their struggle against Russia is through a steady stream of aid from the West.
“It’s extremely important to give Ukrainian people confidence they are not alone in this fight,” she said. “We need to keep showing that the world recognizes how much Ukrainians have sacrificed, and the world is going to be there, every day.”
Though Ukraine is not a member of NATO, Yatsenyuk said he has been telling everyone that Ukraine is where NATO needs to make a stand against Russian aggression.
“If we fail, this will be a failure of the entire free world,” he said. “No one will trust that those who are fighting for their freedoms and liberties can be supported and they can win this war against dictatorship and a kleptocratic Russian regime. This is about a core value of the free world.”