Russia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom has denied that Moscow’s forces committed atrocities in Ukraine, blaming instead the West for the destruction of the country and, in particular, the UK for promising to provide Kyiv with long-range weapons.
Russian ambassador Andrey Kelin also said long-range weapons were a threat to Russians and people in the pro-Russian territory in Ukraine, which required Russia’s forces to push deeper into Ukraine to protect civilians from the extended range of Western weaponry, particularly those promised by London.
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“We have to move this line further, deeper into Ukraine just to avoid further threats to the territory of Russia and to the territory of Donbas,” the ambassador told Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker in an interview in London.
“So, in this way, Western countries, they are destroying Ukraine itself,” the ambassador said.
The ambassador said the UK’s provision of long-range weapons – which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised in early February, including the training of Ukrainian jet fighter pilots – would not be “a serious threat” to Russia on the battlefield.
“I don’t believe that it will be a serious threat to us,” Kelin said.
“Only the United Kingdom is saying directly that it is going to provide a long-range weapon for the Ukrainian army and we are certain that this long-range weapon will be used against civilian targets,” he said.
Kelin bluntly denied that Russian forces were guilty of atrocities – including the murder of civilians and rape – committed in Ukraine’s Bucha, Irpin and Mariupol.
More than 1,000 bodies of civilians were discovered in the Bucha region after Russian forces withdrew from the area in late March 2022. According to the Kyiv police, some 650 people were executed.
“We heard a lot about that,” the Russian ambassador told Al Jazeera’s Barker when he was asked about Russian alleged atrocities.
“They are totally different, absolutely different things,” he said.
“Bucha has been staged and there is no doubt about that. Staged by Ukrainian special forces. In Mariupol, you probably are saying about bombing the theatre over the year. But victims have not been discovered. So all these things we know,” he said.
Pressed by Barker on his denial, the ambassador replied: “Bucha, absolutely. It was fake. Mariupol has nothing to do with this. Irpin, I’m not sure about Irpin because I [am] not well aware about that.”
Asked if crimes may have been committed in Irpin, the ambassador again denied.
“No. This is a military operation. This is a war, in fact. Things are happening,” he said, adding that Russia does “not target, especially, civilian infrastructure”.
Russian forces have for months targeted civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, bombing power, water and heating utilities in what analysts have said was an effort to “freeze” Ukraine into submission over the winter months. Missile attacks on civilian housing are a daily occurrence.
The United Nations has verified a total of more than 8,000 civilian deaths so far as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nearly 500 of whom have been children. The figures are also believed to underestimate the actual civilian death toll.
Asked about his use of the term “war” during the interview – a word which Moscow had banned, officially calling its invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” – the ambassador said the conflict was akin to a “civil war”.
“In a way, yes. In a way it is even, you can call it, a civil war because on both parts it is, we do not drive a line between Russian people and Ukrainian people [in areas] that contains lots of Russians. So in certain ways, it is, yes.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last year branded Russian forces as “murderers, torturers and rapists” who were committing “genocide” in his country.