One of President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies said on Tuesday that Ukraine was spiralling towards a collapse into several states because of what he cast as a U.S. attempt to use Kyiv to undermine Russia.
The comments from Nikolai Patrushev, the powerful secretary of Russia’s Security Council, appeared to be an attempt to blame the United States for any division of Ukraine that emerges from the conflict.
In an interview with the government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Patrushev said the United States had for years been trying to instill hatred for everything Russian in Ukrainians.
“Using their henchmen in Kyiv, the Americans, in an attempt to suppress Russia, decided to create an antipode of our country, cynically choosing Ukraine for this, trying to divide essentially a single people,” Patrushev said.
“The result of the policy of the West and the regime in Kyiv can only be the disintegration of Ukraine into several states.”
His comments, nearly nine weeks into the war, provided the latest indication that Moscow – despite saying at the outset that it had no intention to occupy Ukraine – is set on dismembering the country.
Having been beaten back in an initial attempt to storm the capital Kyiv, Russian forces have regrouped for what Moscow says is a campaign to “liberate” the eastern Donbas region, part of which has been held by Russian-backed separatists since 2014.
Last week a Russian general went further, saying Russia would look to take the whole of the east and south of Ukraine.
Putin says the “special military operation” is necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia and Moscow had to defend Russian-speakers against persecution.
Putin, who says Ukraine and Russia are essentially one country, casts the war as an inevitable confrontation with the United States, which he accuses of threatening Russia by meddling in its backyard and enlarging the NATO military alliance.
Ukraine says it is fighting an imperialist land grab by Russia and that Putin’s claims of genocide are nonsense.
The United States says it is helping Ukraine stand up to Russia but that Moscow is angry because Kyiv is increasingly turning westwards beyond Russia’s historical sphere of influence, seeking European Union membership and ties with NATO.
“If anything today unites the peoples living in Ukraine, it is only fear of the atrocities of nationalist battalions,” Patrushev said – a reference to units of Ukraine’s armed forces that Moscow has branded as Nazis.