In i24news exclusive, Ukraine envoy laments Israel's silence on conflict and its reluctance to take sides
In his Tel-Aviv office, just one day before the Ukrainian parliament granted more autonomy to pro-Russian rebels, Hennadii Nadolenko, the Ukrainian ambassador to Israel, did not sound optimistic.
"President Putin doesn't want to let go of Ukraine as part of his bigger plan to restore the Soviet Union," he said.
In other words, Putin wants it all, and any agreement offered by Ukraine is therefore bound to fail.
"We can still see a lot of Russian troops on our soil," he says angrily. "Less than the 6,000 they kept there before, but still a lot."
In Nadolenko world view, Putin is an almost Satanic creature with a demonic agenda.
Surprisingly, he also claims that what appears to be a spontaneous eruption of hostilities between Russia and the Ukraine, was actually preconceived and premeditated by Putin over a period of 6 years.
"We have the evidence," says Nadolenko.
"Special troops have been training in Russia to conquer east Ukraine for years. What is supposedly the new 'Donetsk People's Republic' founded by pro-Russian separatists is not that new. We found a six-year-old picture of a 'Donetsk Republic' flag. That's is how they operate."
It's hard to imagine now that 44-year-old Nadolenko was appointed ambassador to Israel four years ago by former President Viktor Yanukovych, who later turned pro-Russian. Despite the major political upheaval in his country, Nadolenko has not been recalled.
After four particularly eventful years in both Israel and the Ukraine, Nadolenko seems to be enjoying his time here. He's especially pleased with the overwhelming support Israelis have offered his troubled country. In particular the 600,000-strong community of Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine has been supportive. Their response to the conflict with Russia has been very emotional.
Even those who find ways to bridge differences when it comes to Israeli politics are bitterly divided over Ukraine. There are Israelis demonstrating in front of the Russian embassy in Israel, forming support groups and filling social media with messages of support. Two days after we met, Israeli activists from the "Israel supports Ukraine" group launched a series of actions with a "peace march" along the Tel Aviv promenade.
Nadolenko is less pleased with Israel's very cautious official policy. He is quick to say he understands Israeli interests and its need not to anger Russia, but he also insinuates that Israel can no longer rely on Ukraine's almost automatic support. In this question and answer session, he elaborates on his views.
Mr. Ambassador, what does Putin really want?
It's hard to define what Putin wants. He certainly wants influence over the Ukraine and is afraid to let go of us. The situation in Russia is miserable – the country is not all Moscow and St. Petersburg. An independent and prosperous Ukraine will cause Russians to make invidious comparisons. Historically, Russia has always tried to keep Ukraine in its orbit. And then, of course, Putin doesn’t want NATO at his border.
But we're in the 21st century. You don't just start a war in the middle of Europe. I've spoken to other ambassadors in Israel. The Baltic states are literally terrified. They have a monster on their doorstep.
Unfortunately, we downsized our army when we gained independence – down from a million to 120,000 soldiers, while Russia is expanding its military force and acquiring new technologies.
Your PM, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, recently stated that Putin is on a mission to restore the old Soviet Union and that the Ukraine is part of the project.
I think so too, though I don't think Putin wants west Ukraine. He never had an interest in that region. He really wants Ukraine up to Kiev, the old positions Russia used to have.
The east is where we had a big military technology industry. Many believe that this conflict is really about those industrial plants, like the one in Dnepropetrovsk. It's makes the best satellite rocket engines in the former Soviet Union. In Harkov they still make some of the best cargo planes and planes for the Russian military. Now we put a freeze on those sales, but Putin is certainly after this industry.
Maybe -- just maybe -- there is something authentic in the division between east and west Ukraine. They have a different language, a different religion, a different culture. Look at Europe now -- Scots want to break away from the United Kingdom and in Spain they are just waiting to see what happens in Scotland to demand independence. This is a world trend.
Maybe, but there is a tremendous difference. There is a longstanding historical basis for this separation. In Ukraine, we never had conflicts. Maybe those separatists in Scotland and Spain have been set off by events in the Ukraine -- certainly not vice-versa. We never had any problems inside those territories. It's clearly an artificial conflict staged by Putin who then brought special KGB agents, tanks and a whole machinery to implement that policy.
You sometimes refer to the enemy as "Russia," sometimes as "Putin." Which is it -- the country or the one man?
Definitely the one man with a plan. An old plan and old tricks that will backfire. You cannot use Old World methods in a new era. We have enough evidence that this crisis has been prepared over the course of six years. They've been training people from the east Ukrainian towns of Donetsk and Lugansk for this mission. We found their 'flag,' which is supposed to be new, but is really quite old. The concept of the "Donetsk People's Republic" did not spontaneously emerge in the course of the recent invasion. It's all preconceived and accompanied by the heavy machinery of propaganda.
These sound like old-school Soviet techniques
That is exactly what they are. In fact, the propaganda is much worse than in Soviet days. I know for a fact that there is a special team in Russia working on it. One of the stories says Ukrainians crucify children. I assume by now even Putin believes his own propaganda.
What do you think of Israel's cautious policy regarding this conflict? Last March, Israel even stayed away from the vote in the UN in favor of a resolution affirming Ukraine's territorial integrity. The official reason we gave was the Foreign Ministry's strike at the time. Israel was not one of the 100 states that voted with you, even though Ukraine was one of the 18 countries that voted against endorsing the Goldstone report that investigated Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2009.
I'd really like for Israel to join the progressive world in supporting our position. Unfortunately, the situation is different. Israel has kept silent on this conflict--while Ukraine was extremely amicable towards Israel on difficult issues like the Goldstone report. Yes, we'd love to have Israel on our side.
That's understandable, but Russia is crucial to Israel on major issues like Iran and Syria. No wonder FM Avigdor Lieberman was the only western leader to congratulate Putin in 2011 on "fair and democratic elections" that the rest of the world severely criticized.
Lieberman plays his own political games. He obviously sees the Russian influence in the Middle-East and that becomes his main goal. Our own decisions in the future will be based on an assessment of the whole picture
I understand that Israel can no longer expect your support?
That is not exactly what I said.
Yes it is
I say that we will take into consideration all the facts and hope that in the future Israel will support Ukraine the way Ukraine supports Israel. Israel did help bring to your hospitals 10 wounded from Maidan square and 11 severely ill Ukrainians to be treated here and the Foreign Ministry paid 83,000 dollars. I feel support of Israeli politicians, even from the Foreign Ministry. I only hope someday Israel will say something publicly. We and Israel find ourselves in similar situations. We both have problems with our neighbors and we both want the world to understand us. It's not good for a country fighting for its independence to be alone.
In the meantime, Israel blocked the sale of Israeli weapons to Ukraine for fear of antagonizing Russia
I cannot comment on that. This deal is still in the works, and frankly, I don't know enough about it.
Israelis and Jews in general may have some concerns about the nationalist and anti-Semitic elements in the Ukrainian opposition and among those in power
It's all Russian propaganda. There were many Jews on Maidan Square, and there are Jews in the new government. In addition, Borislav Bereza, the spokesman of the far-right "Right Sector" is a Jew who once lived in Israel. And yes, I have to admit, there are stupid people everywhere.
The world now has other issues to deal with. The Islamic State, for instance. Ukraine might be forgotten in the process.
Well, at least the Europeans cannot forget us. Not necessarily because they love us dearly, but because they are really afraid of Russia.