Mayor comments on ‘Russian occupation’ fears cited by Zelensky
Kharkov, home to some 1.4 million people, “could be occupied” by Russia, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the Washington Post on Thursday. The statement has forced a top local official to publicly refute the alarming claim.
While this isn’t the first time high-profile claims of the “Russian invasion” have been made by Kiev, Zelensky’s comment on the country's second largest city has alarmed some locals. To allay their concerns, the city’s mayor addressed the public on Friday.
Igor Terekhov, assured the public that there was “no ground for concern,” and that the city would keep on “successfully developing under a peaceful sky.”
In his interview, the Ukrainian president opined that the city, located 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the Russian border, could be targeted by Moscow, as it was an area “where historically there are people who used to have family links to Russia.”
The Ukrainian president went on to claim that the Kremlin was likely to cite the need to protect the Russian-speaking population there as a pretext. He warned that such a scenario would not only be an “occupation,” it would be the “beginning of a large-scale war,” with “hundreds of thousands of lives” being lost as a result.
Zelensky didn’t offer any specific evidence to back up his words.
Zelensky’s press secretary, Sergey Nikiforov, has clarified his boss’s comments, describing the alarming idea as a mere “example, a hypothetical scenario.” The official went on to assume that those peddling fears had not read the interview in full, and were “taking the quote out of context.”
In his interview, the Ukrainian president also lamented the West’s reluctance to impose sanctions on Russia. He argued that such measures should really be seen as a “preventive tool because they can be applied and then lifted.” Zelensky then proceeded to ask a rhetorical question: “If there is an invasion by Russia, do you introduce powerful sanctions after we might have already lost several territories?”
Moscow has consistently rebutted claims made by the Western media and senior officials, according to which Russia is allegedly planning to invade its neighbor. The Kremlin has called the idea “fake news,” while the Russian military claimed that the US might be helping Kiev stage a false-flag operation that would justify a military operation in eastern Ukraine.
The Kiev forces have been locked in a conflict with the breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk ever since the territories refused to recognize the West-backed government, which was installed in the wake of the 2014 coup.