President of Russia Vladimir Putin now needs at any cost some kind of victory in Ukraine. His main objective is to take Mariupol, which the Ukrainian army no longer can directly supply, Oleksi Arestovych, one of closest advisors of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi, told in an interview to Postimees.
Postimees met with the advisor in Chernihiv, one of Ukraine’s most-bombed cities.
How would you forecast the developments in the next few weeks?
The main battles will take place in eastern Ukraine. The Russians clearly want to take Mariupol and surround our troops between Volnovakha and Izyum, because Putin wants to reinforce his positions before the meeting with the Ukrainian president. So far Putin has only suffered defeats in Ukraine. For example, like here. Taking Chernihiv was one of his main goals. It failed. Not they need any victory anywhere. For example in Mariupol to force us surrender there. But I believe that this is their final effort. If we can hold there (in the eastern front – J. P.), we shall force them to retreat.
Do I understand correctly that in your opinion Russia is prepared for the presidents’ meeting only after the Russian forces have achieved a major victory somewhere?
Or after they have understood that they will not achieve any victory. But in that case the meeting will take place on our terms. After our victory. But now the main battle is waged for Mariupol.
How many troops are defending Mariupol?
I cannot talk about that.
Are there enough forces?
Yes, there are enough.
How well can you now supply your troops in the besieged Mariupol?
We have different options for helping the troops in Mariupol. One way is cutting the Russian lines of supply, maritime lines from Berdyansk, railway lines from Crimea and from the Melitopol direction. As well as supply by truck convoys which are quite long and complicated for the Russians.
But do you have any supply lines to your forces in Mariupol?
No. We tried to send helicopters but this (way) is closed. (Russian forces announced on Tuesday that two Ukrainian army Mi-8 transport helicopters had been shot down over the Azov Sea near Mariupol – J. P.) Our command is trying to find various ways to help the defenders of Mariupol. Mariupol is one of the key positions for Ukraine. My own 19-year-old godson is now fighting in Mariupol. We have full information about everything what is happening there. We are helping them in different ways, but not by directly (supplying) right now.
What is the opinion of the office of the President of Ukraine of the reactions abroad to the crimes committed in Bucha by the Russian military?
After what happened in Bucha every country must choose its side – with Russia or against Russia. I believe that many countries which attempted to stay neutral must now decide. The need not choose supporting Ukraine. They simply have to choose the side of the international law. This may cost [them] dearly but is the right thing to do. They must understand that this is right. We still do not know the precise number of victims there but we can already speak about hundreds of civilian victims. Bucha is not the worst case [as to the number of civilian victims], there are much more people in Berdyansk killed under the [bombed] buildings, shot and raped.
Do you know already when the negotiations between Ukraine and Russia will continue?
It is very difficult to say. Consultations are in progress.