Ukraine’s foreign minister has said that the country’s forces will not voluntarily withdraw from Bakhmut, the embattled town in the country’s Donbas region, which has been the target of a ferocious, months-long attack by Russian forces.
In an exclusive interview with Bruno Maçães for the New Statesman, which will be published in full on Saturday (11 March), Dmytro Kuleba pledged to “defend every square metre” of Bakhmut. Acknowledging the high number of casualties that Ukraine is suffering for comparatively little benefit, Kuleba argued that cities to the west, such as Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, would be Russia’s next targets if Ukraine were to surrender Bakhmut.
“People feel emotionally stressed. [They feel it is] too emotionally difficult, too devastating, too painful to watch but they don’t understand that if you do that and you withdraw from Bakhmut to the new defence lines, the same intensity of fighting will just move deeper into Ukraine,” Kuleba said. “This is why militarily it makes sense to defend the city, to defend the lines as long as [we] can do that. We will defend Bakhmut as long as we can because it makes sense from a strategic point of view.”
In the same interview, Kuleba denied that President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government was behind last September’s attacks on the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea, rendering them unusable. He said that “the Ukrainian government has nothing to do” with the series of undersea explosions, which were attributed to a pro-Ukrainian group by media reports on 7 March, citing Western intelligence.
“The media reports attributing this attack to private pro-Ukrainian groups causes a lot of damage as it casts [a] shadow on Ukraine,” Kuleba told the New Statesman. He added that the sources who spoke to the media “are inflicting damage on the perception of Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression”.
Kuleba does, however, believe that the explosions might have been a false-flag operation to incriminate Ukraine. “It’s definitely one of the possibilities,” he said.
There is no evidence to suggest that the attacks were the work of a pro-Ukrainian group unaffiliated to the Ukrainian government, according to the foreign minister. “It’s the first time that I am hearing a story of a secret Ukrainian or pro-Ukrainian group that is able to conduct operations of this scale and sophistication,” Kuleba said.
Bruno Maçaes’s full interview with Dmytro Kuleba – in which they discuss the war, what Ukraine thinks of Donald Trump’s proposal for peace, Kyiv’s relationship with Beijing, and more – will be available to read on the New Statesman website on Saturday 11 March.
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