Russia Fears “Ethnic Cleansing” in E. Ukraine

Russia Fears “Ethnic Cleansing” in E. Ukraine Russia Fears “Ethnic Cleansing” in E. Ukraine

As Kiev continues to amass its forces in eastern Ukraine despite the ceasefire and use radical nationalist groups as armed battalions, Moscow is concerned about possible ethnic cleansing there, Russian President Vladimir Putin told ARD in an interview.

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, and 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.’”

  Passing Responsibility

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.

Russia will not let Kiev simply send armed forces to eastern Ukraine and “annihilate” its opponents there, Putin stressed.

“The issue is that we can’t have a one-sided view of the problem. Today there is fighting in eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainian central authorities have sent the armed forces there and they even use ballistic missiles. Does anybody speak about it? Not a single word. And what does it mean? What does it tell us? This points to the fact, that you want the Ukrainian central authorities to annihilate everyone there, all of their political foes and opponents. Is that what you want? We certainly don’t. And we won’t let it happen.”

Western politicians and media have been accusing Russia of sending weapons to the rebels – which Moscow denies – but have provided no hard evidence of the claim. Initially, the self-defense forces of Donbass armed themselves with weapons and vehicles seized at military depots in the region, but they also managed to capture some hardware from the Ukrainian troops. The Ukrainian army, often severely underequipped, recently started receiving military aid from several Western countries.

Allegations of widespread abuses – including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible mass executions at the hands of pro-Kiev forces – have been reported by several rights groups, including Amnesty International.