Russia is seeking to split Ukraine in two, mirroring the partition of the Korean peninsula into North and South Korea, Kyiv’s top military intelligence officer said yesterday.
Brigadier General Kyrylo Budanov warned that President Putin’s failure to capture the capital and overthrow the Zelensky government could mean he will try to cut his losses.
“There are reasons to believe he may try to impose a separation line between the occupied and unoccupied regions of our country,” Budanov said. “It will be an attempt to set up South and North Koreas in Ukraine.”
The warning came as peace talks were set to resume in Turkey this week after Russia signalled a change of strategy, claiming to have switched its focus to “liberating” Ukraine’s south and east. Ukrainian troops have begun pushing back Russian forces from their stalled assault on the capital.
In other developments:
• The Red Cross denied helping to organise the forced evacuation of Ukrainians to Russia.
- Ukrainian forces recaptured one of the first towns to fall in the invasion.
- A Ukrainian MP claimed Russian soldiers were raping and sexually assaulting womenin occupied territory.
- The White House was forced to deny it wanted regime changein Russia after President Biden called Putin a “butcher” who “cannot remain in power”.
The partition of the Korean peninsula into US and Soviet occupation zones after the Second World War was supposed to be temporary but calcified into permanence after the Korean War between Chinese-backed communists in the North and the South, which was backed by America and Britain.
Budanov warned that Putin could seek to do the same by creating a statelet from areas of Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, controlled at present by Russian proxies, alongside early wartime gains. “The invaders will try to set up some quasi-state as an alternative to independent Ukraine,” Budanov said. “We can see attempts to set up ‘parallel’ local governments in occupied areas and to force people to give up the Ukrainian currency.”
Putin justified his invasion of Ukraine as a “special military operation” to save people in the Donbas from “genocide”. He preceded the invasion by recognising the independence of the Donbas’s self-declared Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic, both of which have been governed by Russian proxies since 2014.
Pro-Russian leaders in Luhansk said yesterday that they were planning to hold a referendum on becoming part of the Russian state, going far beyond Putin’s recognition of independence.
President Zelensky accused the West of cowardice for failing to respond to his pleas for fighter jets and tanks, and contrasted it with the heroism of those holding off the Russian assault on the besieged city of Mariupol. Hundreds of thousands of civilians remain stranded without water, food or electricity in the southern port city.
Zelensky accused Nato of “playing ping-pong about who and how they should hand over jets” as Mariupol’s defenders fought Moscow’s siege with “shotguns and machine guns” .“If only those who have been thinking for 31 days on how to hand over dozens of jets and tanks had 1 per cent of their courage,” he said in a video address.
“It is impossible to unblock Mariupol without a sufficient number of tanks, other armoured vehicles and, of course, aircraft. All defenders of Ukraine know that. All defenders of Mariupol know that. Thousands of people know that — citizens, civilians who are dying there in the blockade. This should be known as soon as possible by as many people on Earth as possible so that everyone understands who and why was simply afraid to prevent this tragedy. Afraid to simply make a decision.”
Mariupol, on the Black Sea coast, has been the target of intense Russian bombardment and a devastating siege against its population of 450,000. Olha Stefanishyna, a Ukrainian deputy prime minister, said yesterday that the city “simply does not exist any more”.
It lies on the coast of the Donetsk region along what Russia may be seeking to establish as a territorial corridor to Russian-annexed Crimea. That could also cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea, a move that would be both economically and strategically devastating for Kyiv.
Ukraine is ready to discuss adopting neutral status to end the conflict, Zelensky said in an interview with Russian media, although it would need security guarantees from other countries. Moscow has demanded Kyiv renounces its ambition to join Nato.
Russian ground movements since its announcement of a strategic shift last Friday point to the potential abandonment of any assault on Kyiv.
The Ukrainian military said that some Russian units involved in the attempted assault on Kyiv had begun withdrawing through the Chernobyl exclusion zone to Belarus to regroup. Ukrainian forces have begun to push back in suburbs around Kyiv, the scene of ferocious fighting over several weeks.
Russia confirmed that it had used cruise missiles to hit a fuel depot in the western city of Lviv on Saturday.