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Leading Ukrainian official plays it coy on role in Russian oil depot attacks, blames cigarettes – National


Ukraine’s top defense official has refused to confirm if Kyiv was behind attacks at two Russian oil depots on Monday, saying the fires near Moscow’s wartime logistics base must have been caused by someone “smoking cigarettes.”

In an exclusive interview with Global News at his headquarters in Kyiv, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov provided insight into the first two months of the Ukraine war, including details on several assassination attempts on Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy, why Russian soldiers must be considered “terrorists” and how Ukraine is now actively preparing for nuclear war.

But when asked about reported explosions in Bryansk on Monday at one civilian fuel facility and one used by the military, Danilov was coy.

“I think it was someone smoking a cigarette. They constantly burn cigarettes there, at oil depots and weapons depots,” Danilov replied.

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However, he alluded to Kyiv’s role in Bryansk when asked about increased offensive attacks from Ukraine, saying that only Russia is “responsible for what is going on in their territories.”

“We won’t be surprised if in the near future they will undermine their oil storages, their bridges, or their ammunition depots. But don’t forget that these are all military sites. These are not schools, not hospitals, not holiday houses. These are purely military facilities.”

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But he refused to comment on Bryansk directly.

“Time will pass and everything will become known. (There are) many other things we can’t talk about right now.”

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One thing Danilov will talk about, however, is Kyiv’s triumphs in the war. He is eager to let his country take full credit for the downing of the flagship Mosvka battleship, which he says was caused by two Neptune missiles fired by Ukrainian forces. The Russian Defense Ministry has refused to acknowledge the attack.

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He is upbeat as he recounts other ways Ukraine has thwarted its foes – smiling when he recalls Zelenskyy’s reactions to several attempts on his life from Russian assassins. Danilov is the official who has to personally inform the president of each assassination plot – of which there have now been four since the war began. The last one occurred on March 7.

“Every time I report it to the president, his reaction is now annoyed, like ‘Oh what? Again?’” he says.

Danilov also bemusedly recounts handing over his personal armoured car to the Ukrainian army in the early days of the war, which was involved in fighting near Kyiv. He shows off a picture of it in the aftermath, bullet-riddled and with its bumper torn off.

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The mood becomes more sombre, however, when the conversation turns to the likelihood of an imminent escalation in the war.

Ukraine prepping for nuclear war

Danilov says Kyiv is now actively preparing for the possibility of nuclear warfare. This involves purchasing iodine-based medicines and educating the public and hospitals on what should be done if Putin does indeed drop a nuclear bomb on Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov appeared to escalate this rhetoric on state TV on Monday when he said the risk of nuclear war was “serious and real.”

Danilov believes it could be the next step, given Russia has already been using phosphorous bombs and other “terrorist” tactics.

However, he said he could not confirm unverified reports that Russia had used chemical weapons in the besieged southern city of Mariupol, as claimed by Ukraine’s Azov Brigade in early April, when the city was surrounded and troops did not have the opportunity to take samples.

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Regardless, Danilov says, Russian soldiers have proven to be “terrorists” throughout their invasion. He pointed specifically to events in Bucha, where civilians were tortured or deliberately killed, mass graves were found and women were raped, as well as the targeting of civilian infrastructure and hospitals in cities such as Mariupol.

“The (Russians) act like terrorists — destroying children, raping women, killing elderly people and looting. This is all that terrorists are doing. This is not an army,” he says.

For this reason, Danilov insisted that Russia must be booted off not only its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, but off the council altogether.

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“If a country is a terrorist, how can it be there at all? How can you sit at the same table with them? Should we invite Al-Qaeda or Hezbollah as well?” Danilov asks.

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“They are invited to G20 summits, and they take part in the meeting like an equal among equals. So I have a question: where is the whole civilized world moving? Russia is a country that doesn’t acknowledge any rules. It doesn’t follow any rules. It has its own ones. Can you imagine what can happen if every single country in the world starts to operate following its own rules?”

Danilov says Europe should have “bit Putin on the hand” after his past invasions – Georgia in 2008 and Donbas in 2014, for example – but too many countries had their own financial interests at stake.

“This is a big problem for democracy. (You either) have money or democratic values. And a number of countries in Europe have chosen money. And so they found themselves in a difficult situation.”

Why Moldova and Kazakhstan could be next

He believes Russia is now actively pursuing invasions in both Moldova and Kazakhstan, primarily due to the rhetoric Lavrov has adopted to refer to both countries in recent weeks, which has taken on a fraternal tone. “Lavrov made a statement that Moldovans are their brothers and Kazakhs are their brothers. These are dangerous statements. Usually after that, the occupation begins.”

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After all, the Russian invasion into Ukraine did not come as a surprise to Kyiv, Danilov says, as his team had been covertly preparing for the onslaught of war as Russian troops amassed on their borders. But he defends the country’s decision not to alert the public or organize evacuations as a “big panic” would be “very dangerous for us.”

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What did come as a surprise, however, was the fact that troops entered from Belarus.

“This is something that was unexpected for us. We thought that they could attack us from Russia, or from the Crimea, but certainly not from Belarus.”

The Ukrainians have been fighting an uphill battle ever since those early hours of Feb. 24. Intelligence agencies they sought advice from in the first days of the war believed Ukraine would be overcome in between three to five days, and the whole country fully captured in three weeks.

Danilov says his people were underestimated.

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U.S. Secretary of Defense praises bravery of Ukrainian troops during visit to Germany

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“They constantly cited the number of battalions, tanks and aircraft of the Russian Federation that are near our border. I told them all that we have a secret weapon that few people know about: it is our will. It is our will to defend our country, because it is our land, and we have nowhere to go. And I told them that even if we didn’t have enough weapons, we would fight anyway.”

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Danilov says in the coming weeks there are “big, big battles ahead.”

He made a familiar rallying cry for “weapons, weapons, weapons,” to help Ukrainians in their fight. He acknowledged that many countries had helped with the provision of arms and supplies, such as the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and the Baltic states among others, but said their requests have also fallen on deaf ears at times.

“I’m not surprised to be disappointed. I know that no one will defend our country except us,” he says. “Now is the time for countries to decide which side they are on. On the side of light and democracy, or on the side of darkness and totalitarian rule. Such are the times now.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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