By Matthew Chance and Katharina Krebs, CNN
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov has told CNN there will be a “really bloody massacre” if Russia decides to invade Ukraine, and warned that “Russian guys also will come back in the coffins,” amid heightened alarm about troop movements on the nations’ border.
Reznikov urged US President Joe Biden — who was set to speak with Vladimir Putin of Russia in a video conference call on Tuesday — to stand firm against Moscow.
“If I can advise President Biden, I would like him to articulate to Mr. Putin that no red lines from the Kremlin side should be here. The red line is here in Ukraine and the civilized world will react without hesitation,” Reznikov told CNN in an exclusive interview Monday.
“The idea of not provoking Russia will not work,” he added.
US and Western officials have expressed concern over the buildup of Russian forces on the Ukrainian border, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying last week that the US “must prepare for all contingencies.”
Russia has capabilities in place along the Ukraine border to carry out a swift and immediate invasion, including erecting supply lines such as medical units and fuel that could sustain a drawn-out conflict, should Moscow choose to invade, two sources familiar with American intelligence assessments told CNN last week.
Reznikov told CNN that Ukraine assesses that Russia currently has 95,000 troops within striking distance of Ukraine. He also added that, due to the strength of battle-hardened Ukrainian forces, current US estimates that Russia could assemble 175,000 troops to invade Ukraine were an underestimate.
“So, we have 250,000 official … members of our army. Plus, I said 400,000 veterans and 200,000 reservists. 175,000 (is) not enough to go to Ukraine,” said Reznikov.
Reznikov stressed that a Russian invasion — if it happens — would have “disastrous” consequences for the whole of European continent, with an estimated 4 to 5 million Ukrainians possibly needing to seek refuge in Europe. Reznikov also underlined that Ukraine is a major food supplier to Europe and Africa, supplies which he said would be disrupted.
The minister said that the Ukrainian army has sent a request for further military equipment aid from its allies, including material support and training for its air force and navy. “We don’t need troops, because I think it’s not so fair that American soldiers will die in Ukraine. No, we don’t need it,” added Reznikov.
Ukraine has warned for weeks that Russia is trying to destabilize the country ahead of any planned military invasion, with NATO pointing out that Russian movements near the border have been unusual. Western powers have repeatedly urged Russia against further aggressive moves against Ukraine.
The Kremlin denies it is planning to attack and argues that NATO support for Ukraine — including increased weapons supplies and military training — constitutes a growing threat on Russia’s western flank.
On the Kremlin’s motives, Reznikov told CNN he believed the Russia’s saber-rattling was aimed at spreading fear and unrest in Ukraine, and at preventing Ukraine from moving closer toward NATO and EU membership.
The Kremlin is demanding a legal commitment that NATO will not be expanded eastwards to include Ukraine and that NATO military infrastructure, like missile systems, will not be built up in the country.
“If we share or spread panic in our country and inside of our society, it will be the gift to the Kremlin, because they trying to do that. Because this gathering of their troops alongside of our border, it’s a main goal of them to make destabilization process inside of our country, to stop us in our way. But we go into the NATO ally, we’re going to EU,” he said.
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