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Leaving territories is betrayal towards Ukraine, national security service chief says

The new head of Ukraine’s national security service has said that ceding territory to Russia in exchange for a peace agreement would be a “cruel betrayal” towards Ukrainians, The Economist reports.

Oleksandr Litvinenko studied at the Higher School of the KGB in Moscow. Most recently, as head of Ukraine’s foreign intelligence service during the two years of war, he has been subverting and extracting information from his former colleagues. At the end of March, he took over one of the most important positions in the country.

So, Mr. Litvinenko well deserves to be listened to. And he has a warning for those Western politicians (Donald Trump is the most famous example) who are thinking of imposing a premature peace deal on Ukraine that would require it to give up territory.

Ceding territory to Russia in exchange for peace would be a “cruel betrayal” to the Ukrainians who remain in the Russian-seized territories. However, this is not Litvinenko’s only argument. In his opinion, the agreement made with Russia can only mean one thing: it will regroup, rearm and try to do better in two or three years. The Russian leader is “addicted” to the idea of conquering Ukraine, says Mr. Litvinenko. He noted:

The next time he won’t make mistakes, but will prepare his operation much more carefully, according to all the laws of military art.

This week, Congress may finally get around to signing much-needed military aid. But even if it does, the focus will be on giving Ukraine enough to stay in the game, not the tools to ensure victory. And all this before a possible Trump presidency, which could make the situation much more dangerous.

Mr. Litvinenko follows American politics closely and says he understands how concerned the administration is about the escalation and global implications of the war in Ukraine. But he says a Ukraine victory would reduce, not increase, the risk of confrontation. “Leaders would begin to avoid the risk.” A Ukraine defeat, on the other hand, would be interpreted as proof that military conflicts work, with domino-like consequences in China, Taiwan and beyond. He said:

If aggression works once, everyone will think about having a go. Too many people are watching this war too intently.

Vladimir Putin and his militarised economy have set themselves up for a long war, while the West has so far been unwilling to challenge him unequivocally. Front-line positions are under constant threat, with Russian guns firing six times as often as Ukrainian guns, and planes taking advantage of weak air defences to launch an increasing number of guided bombs. The situation has become “very grave”, says Mr. Litvinenko.

Asked how Ukraine can regain a winning position, the official is vague. He says it is unclear whether Ukraine will be able to adopt a military strategy that can turn the situation on the front.

Drone strikes deep inside Russia are a key part of that strategy. The Biden White House has publicly opposed the operations, saying they are counterproductive and escalating, but Mr. Litvinenko says they are necessary to keep pressure on Mr. Putin.

However, Kyiv’s first priority is to get real security guarantees. Ideally, this would be Ukraine joining NATO or entering into a comprehensive security agreement with America, similar to what it has with the Philippines, Japan or South Korea. Achieving this in wartime will not be easy, he admits, but bilateral agreements with Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark and Canada can be seen as “stepping stones” towards this goal.

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