Zelensky warns Russia may occupy Kharkiv to ‘protect the Russian-speaking population’

21 January 2022, 03:18 PM

Russia may attempt to occupy the northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv under the pretext of “protecting the Russian-speaking population,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview with The Washington Post on Jan. 20.

His comment came amid growing fears that Russia may be preparing to invade Ukraine.

According to the president, if Russia decides to bring their current military buildup into action, they would likely “…do this on those territories where historically there are people who used to have family links to Russia.”

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“Kharkiv, which is under Ukraine government control, could be occupied,” he said.

“Russia needs a pretext: They will say that they are protecting the Russian-speaking population. After the occupation and the annexation of Crimea, we understand that this is feasible and may happen.”

However, Zelensky said that he does not know “what they are going to do because these are big cities.”

“Kharkiv has over 1 million citizens,” he continued.

“It’s not going to be just an occupation; it’s going to be the beginning of a large-scale war.”

Since late October, Russia has been massing troops at the Russian-Ukrainian border.

International media have speculated that Russia may invade Ukraine in early 2022, in an operation that could involve up to 175,000 Russian soldiers.

Both U.S. and European officials have expressed concern over the situation. U.S. President Joe Biden in December declared that the White House was working out “the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do.”

Options such as cutting Russia off from the international banking messaging system SWIFT, personal sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle, and a ban on U.S. dollar transactions with Russia have all been suggested.

In early December, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Russian aggression towards Ukraine could intensify in late January 2022.

Recent Russian military deployments have seen Russian troops mobilized in Belarus, as part of previously unscheduled military exercises. However, Russian troops have been noticed close to the Belarusian-Ukrainian border, well outside the announced area of the supposed exercises.

While Russia has denied plans to invade, it has also refused to provide assurances that it would not do so, instead demanding that it be provided with “security guarantees” by the United States and NATO.

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