Kremlin mum on next moves after Putin article about Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has described Russians and Ukrainians as “one people” and argued that Ukraine can only be stable and successful if it maintains friendly ties with Russia.

He also charged in an article published on Monday that Ukraine has no intention of honoring a 2015 peace deal to end a conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the country’s east.

“I am convinced that the true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia,” the article posted on the Kremlin’s website states. “Our spiritual, human and civilizational ties have formed for centuries and have been rooted in the same sources, they have been hardened by common trials, achievements and victories.”

In televised remarks on Tuesday night, Putin said he had pondered the article for several months, but now was the time to release it.

“It looks like active work on the project ‘anti-Russia’ has begun, and this, of course, elicits certain concerns,” he said.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refrained from commenting Tuesday when asked if Russia could move to incorporate rebel-controlled areas of Ukraine’s industrial heartland, Donbas.

“I would leave that question unanswered,” Peskov said during a conference call with reporters.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter tug-of-war since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula following the ouster of a Russia-leaning president in Ukraine. Russia has supported the separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine during the conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people in seven years.

In his article published in both Russian and Ukrainian, Putin also accused the West of working methodically to rupture historic links between the two neighbors and to turn Ukraine into a key bulwark to contain Russia.

“The Western authors of the anti-Russia project set up the Ukrainian political system in such a way that presidents, members of parliament and ministers would change but the attitude of separation from and enmity with Russia would remain,” Putin wrote. “Today, the ‘right’ patriot of Ukraine is only the one who hates Russia. Moreover, the entire Ukrainian statehood, as we understand it, is proposed to be further built exclusively on this idea.”

Putin charged that Ukraine has failed to fulfill its obligations under a 2015 peace deal to grant broad autonomy to Donbas and would likely refrain from honoring the deal.

The 2015 agreement that was brokered by France and Germany envisioned that Ukraine could reclaim control of its border with Russia in the rebel-controlled regions after it grants them broad autonomy and they elect local leaders and legislatures. Those provisions were resented by many Ukrainians as a betrayal of national interests, and the peaceful settlement has stalled.

“I have become increasingly convinced that Kyiv simply doesn’t need Donbas,” Putin wrote in the article. “Because, firstly, the residents of these regions will never accept the rules they tried and are still trying to impose by force, blockade and threats.”

The Russian leader noted that Ukraine acquired broad territories in the country’s southeast and elsewhere during the period when it was part of the Soviet Union and criticized the Soviet leaders for sacrificing Russian interests for the benefit of Ukraine and other republics.

Putin further charged that Ukraine and other former Soviet republics unfairly retained after gaining independence through the Soviet Union’s collapse the historic Russian lands given to them by Communist rulers.

Asked to comment about Putin’s article, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Tuesday that he would analyze and comment on it in detail later. He said that despite Putin’s mention of “brotherly” populations, Russia’s action has been anything but brotherly.

“It looks more like Cain and Abel,” said Zelenskyy, who has pushed for months for a meeting with Putin.

The Ukrainian leader also expressed hope that U.S. President Joe Biden’s meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week would help safeguard Ukraine’s interests and ensure its energy security for the next 10-15 years.

Washington has long argued that the prospective Nord Stream 2 pipeline, designed to carry natural gas from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, endangers Europe’s energy security and harms Ukraine, which currently profits from transit fees for Russian gas.

The United States recently waived sanctions against German companies involved in the project, raising hopes in Berlin that an agreement acceptable to all sides would be reached.

“Energy security isn’t mere words for us,” Zelenskyy said on Tuesday. “We are earning $2 billion a year in transit fees. It’s a lot of money. We spend some of that money on our infrastructure and on our military.”

In his Tuesday night comments, Putin said Russia would fulfill its obligations on natural gas transit to Europe through Ukraine, outlined in a five-year contract signed in 2019, regardless of “today’s various difficulties.”

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Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine contributed to this report.

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