Ukraine’s ambassador appeals for heavy weapons to defend freedom for us all

| April 28, 2022

Ukraine needs large stocks of heavy weapons, tanks, artillery, long-range missiles and air-defence systems if it’s to defeat a looming Russian offensive in the nation’s east, the Ukrainian ambassador to Australia has warned.

‘I’m sorry, we just need it all,’ the recently appointed Vasyl Myroshnychenko told an audience hosted by ASPI. ‘Ukraine is fighting fiercely for its very existence.

‘I think the fact that we’ve been able to resist for these two months is actually the reason why we are getting this support now,’ Myroshnychenko said.

The world had long believed that Ukraine couldn’t resist for long because it was so comprehensively outgunned by Russia’s modern technology.

‘So now we need it all to be able to defend Ukraine, to defend Europe actually, and to defend all the values and freedom and democracy, all this out there. We are there in the trenches for you people, basically, because, if we fall, the consequences we’re going to see globally will be enormous.’

Myroshnychenko says the precedent that a country can take over another country by force is going to create a domino effect all over the world, including here in the Indo-Pacific.

Asked by ASPI Executive Director Peter Jennings what Australia can do to help, the ambassador said we could send more Bushmaster armoured troop carriers.

‘Send more anti-tank and anti-missiles. Send whatever you can because time is very valuable here, given that if you look at the commitments and pledges of what is to be supplied to Ukraine, and the time before it arrives in Ukraine, it takes time, and people die in Ukraine.’

Australia responded with unheard-of speed to President Volodymyr Zelensky’s appeal for Bushmaster troops carriers, says Myroshnychenko.

Russia’s repeated references to the possible use of nuclear weapons must be taken seriously, the ambassador says.

‘Usually when Russians talk about it, they very often just do what they talk about, as was the case in Ukraine. Though they denied they would intervene, but they still then came and they did it. So, what do we do if Russia uses weapons of mass destruction? What if they use chemical weapons? What if they use nuclear weapons? What do we do? We just sit and watch?’

Before becoming ambassador to Australia, Myroshnychenko was an adviser to Ukraine’s defence minister.

He says Vladimir Putin’s objective is clearly to take over the whole of Ukraine, and possibly other nearby countries, to resurrect the Soviet Union in a new form. ‘He does not recognise Ukraine’s sovereignty. He does not recognise Ukrainian language, Ukrainian culture.’

The Russian leader was emboldened by the West’s very weak reaction to his invasion of Georgia in 2008, says Myroshnychenko. Then he seized Crimea to be met only by weak international sanctions that did not affect Russia’s booming economy. ‘So, not much damage to Russia. Russia is still part of the international community.’

He says Putin’s view was that whatever Russia did, the world would still do business with it. ‘So why don’t we just take over Ukraine?’

The withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan was a disaster, says Myroshnychenko. With elections due in France and a new government in Germany, it looked like a good opportunity to invade Ukraine. ‘This is what they did.’

But Ukrainians would not give in, he said.

‘In my duty, I have to tell you today that the Ukrainians will continue standing up to the aggressor, displaying courage, defending the truth, until we ultimately repel the enemy from our land. In doing so, [for] Ukraine as a country, there’s been incalculable human cost.’

The level of suffering of civilians is staggering, he says. ‘It needs to be stopped.’

More than 14,000 Ukrainians were killed during the eight years from Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and strike into eastern Ukraine, to Moscow’s full-on invasion of Ukraine in February. That war never ended for Ukraine, says Myroshnychenko. ‘We would hear about Ukrainian soldiers being killed almost every other day.’

Those early attacks followed intense hybrid warfare that saw a bogus referendum in Crimea, an information offensive intended to divide Ukrainian society and other special operations against Ukraine. Myroshnychenko says Russia did much the same in the 2016 US election, in Britain during Brexit, and in Germany where Russians tried to weaponise Syrian migrants. It shows how easily Moscow can undermine any democratic society.

Putin is a classical tyrant, says Myroshnychenko. ‘He’s a dictator—single-handedly makes all the decisions, all the most important decisions. His people are scared of him. There’s always been this competition between different intelligence agencies, and that was done for a purpose, so that nobody gains more power than others and he can always gain whatever—a divide-and-rule kind of approach.’

Myroshnychenko says Russia spent several billion dollars over the past two decades trying to build a spy network in Ukraine that would come into action with Russia’s invasion. Apparently it didn’t work because much of the money was stolen. ‘So at least corruption in Russia has helped us a bit.’

Putin made a big mistake in assuming that Russian-speaking people of Ukraine are Russian. ‘That was a major mistake because, if you look, Ukraine is a bilingual country.’

The Ukrainian language was lost in places because of Russia’s oppressive policies, so many Ukrainians spoke Russian in Soviet times. Putin believed that those 30% or 40% of Russian speakers in Ukraine were Russian because they spoke Russian, which was the wrong assumption.

Myroshnychenko says whatever pro-Russian sentiment existed in Ukraine has evaporated as a result of this invasion.  There was some pro-Russian sentiment, around 20% in eastern Ukraine. ‘Now it’s zero. Zero. There is no pro-Russian sentiment whatsoever.’

Myroshnychenko was heavily involved in dealing with Russian disinformation, or ‘active measures’, by trying to counteract fake stories coming out of the Kremlin and ‘explaining Ukraine to the world’.

Many journalists covered Eastern Europe from Moscow and many had very little understanding of Ukrainian history, its economy or anything else, he says.

When someone took both sides of this story, they probably thought the truth was somewhere in between, he says. But when one side of the story is totally fake, the result was not accurate. ‘That’s how the Kremlin has been abusing the freedom of press, the freedom of media, in terms of getting their message across.

‘We are now seeing a new world order being established. A great deal of things on the security, on the global security as well as on the regional security, will depend on how this Russian aggression and Russian invasion in Ukraine plays out.

‘I have to tell you, what we have been able to achieve in these past two months is that Ukraine has destroyed the myth of this almighty, powerful Russian military. Originally they had a plan to capture Kyiv in less than three days.’

Now that the plan to capture all of Ukraine has failed, says Myroshnychenko, Putin’s goal is to take over the Donbas and Donetsk and Luhansk regions and build a land bridge to Crimea. They want to secure that by 9 May, a sacred day in the former Soviet Union countries. It’s likely that he plans a big parade in an occupied city such as Mariupol or Kherson.

Myroshnychenko notes that December will mark 100 years since the Soviet Union was created, and that would be a target for consolidation of former Soviet territory Putin could capture. ‘Well, he’s already taken over Belarus.’

Putin is using mechanisms reminiscent of the 1930s when Stalin exerted power in the entire Soviet Union—repression, terror, rape and murder, forced migration, labour camps—in an attempt to end resistance in areas his troops have occupied, says Myroshnychenko. These crimes are already under investigation. In Bucha, near Kyiv, 800 civilians were killed, many executed.

‘A new trend that we are seeing at a big scale is actually forced deportation of people from Mariupol and eastern parts of Ukraine to Russia, and from Russia they’re being sent over to Siberia and other places, remote places in Russia where nobody wants to live anyway,’ says Myroshnychenko.

The Russians are abducting mayors and other local politicians and holding Ukrainian civilians as hostages and prisoners of war, clearly a war crime.

‘You have to keep it in mind that Russia in their narratives that they’re promoting, they’re fighting NATO, they’re not fighting Ukraine. So if you watch Russian news, it’s all about NATO; it’s not about Ukraine. The narrative that Russia is promoting is that they’re already at war with NATO. They talk about the military supplies which are coming there. This is their war against NATO.’

Along with Russian brutality comes the economic costs of fighting the war, says Myroshnychenko.

A single bulletproof vest costs around $700. A Javelin anti-tank missile costs more than $280,000 and 100 anti-tank rounds—enough to last a single Ukrainian tank three or four days—cost nearly $440,000.

Damage to the economy generally and to infrastructure such as bridges, schools, hospitals and homes is estimated at well over $1 trillion, Myroshnychenko says.

‘Of five million people who have left the country since the outbreak of the war, it is considered that 25% of those had their houses destroyed. These people have nowhere to return to.’

Myroshnychenko says 70% of Ukraine’s exports, $68 billion last year, goes through its Black Sea ports, all now blocked by Russia. ‘We cannot export any of our yields from the previous year, and that includes all the agricultural yields, grain and sunflower oil, other vegetable oils, animal feed.’

He says Ukraine is one of the world’s biggest food exporters and the blockade is undermining food security. ‘Many countries in the Middle East and Africa will starve because of this Russian invasion into Ukraine, but more so this whole blockade of the Black Sea ports is paralysing the Ukrainian economy and something needs to be done to stop it.’

This article was published by The Strategist.