Moscow is concerned about possible ethnic cleansing as Kiev continues to amass its forces in eastern Ukraine (despite the ceasefire) and use radical nationalist groups as armed battalions, Vladimir Putin told ARD in an interview.
RT reports: Speaking with Hubert Seipel of the German channel ARD ahead of the G20 summit, Putin warned of catastrophic consequences for Ukraine if the Kiev government continues to nurture radical nationalism and Russophobia, including in the ranks of its military and National Guard units that are still being sent as reinforcements to the country’s troubled east.
“Frankly speaking, we are very concerned about any possible ethnic cleansings and Ukraine ending up as a neo-Nazi state. What are we supposed to think if people are bearing swastikas on their sleeves? Or what about the SS emblems that we see on the helmets of some military units now fighting in eastern Ukraine? If it is a civilized state, where are the authorities looking? At least they could get rid of this uniform, they could make the nationalists remove these emblems,” Putin said.
Pointing at some difficulties in implementing the Minsk agreements aimed at ensuring the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine holds, Putin said the local militias have one clear reason not to leave the cities they occupy, which is the fear of reprisals. Moscow has been urging both sides of the conflict to adhere to the agreements.
“Indeed, self-defense fighters, for example, were supposed to leave some of the towns they had surrounded, are yet they haven’t left. Do you know why not? I will tell you plainly, this is no secret: because the people fighting against the Ukrainian army say, ‘These are our villages, we come from there. Our families and our loved ones live there. If we leave, nationalist battalions will come and kill everyone. We will not leave, you can kill us yourselves.’”
“That is why we have fears that it may all end up this way. If it happens it would be a catastrophe for Ukraine and Ukrainian people,” Putin stressed.
The Russian leader dismissed the idea that only Russia has the key to solve the Ukraine crisis, saying that it sounds as if someone is trying to pass responsibility for the conflict to Moscow.
“You know, when someone tells us that we have some special opportunities to solve this or that crisis it always troubles and alarms me…I always begin to suspect that there is an intention to pass on the responsibility to us and to make us pay for something. We do not want that. Ukraine is an independent, free and sovereign state,” Putin said.
However, the president hinted at the possibility that Western countries could actually make a difference in the Ukrainian situation, and persuade the West-leaning government in Kiev to follow a path of national dialogue instead of sending tanks to rebel territories.
“There is just one thing that I always pay attention to. We are told again and again: pro-Russian separatists must do this and this, you must influence them in this way, you must act in that way. I have always asked them: ‘What have you done to influence your clients in Kiev? What have you done? Or do you only support Russophobic sentiments?’” Putin said.
He stressed that supporting Russophobia in Ukraine could result in “real catastrophe” and urged to seek a joint solution to the crisis in order to “bring the positions of the parties closer together.”