Zelenskyy’s chief of staff: Ukraine has a shot at ‘complete liberation’

Nearly three months into Ukraine’s heroic defense against a full-scale Russian invasion, Andriy Yermak isn’t satisfied. 

Despite being “enormously grateful” for the forty billion dollars in additional US aid approved Thursday by the Senate, there’s plenty of room for more, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s chief of staff said at an Atlantic Council Front Page event Friday.

Yermak singled out three areas where Kyiv’s allies and partners could boost their support: sending more weapons, strengthening sanctions, and helping reconstruct a devastated Ukraine. Failure to stop the Kremlin now, Yermak said, carries a straightforward consequence: the westward creep of its aggression, with nasty consequences for Ukraine as well as others in Eastern Europe. 

“If they continue,” he says, “the Russian cosplayers’ club will continue the reconstruction of their empire.”

Military might

  • Among the weapons Ukraine still sorely needs, Yermak said, are high-precision rockets and missiles, drones, and air-defense systems. Needed most of all, he added, are multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS): “I will remember this acronym for the rest of my life.”
  • Hinting at Western hesitation to send certain weapons, Yermak suggested there was little practical distinction between offensive and defensive arms given Russia’s indiscriminate attacks. “For the Russian terrorists who call themselves the military, civilians are also absolutely legitimate targets,” he said. “That means that any weapon is defensive.”
  • And foot-dragging isn’t an option, Yermak added—saying Kyiv already “wasted too much time on talks, on reconciliation, looking for military equipment to be supplied.” Now, he says, “we have this chance for the complete liberation of Ukraine.”

Money matters

  • In terms of sanctions, Yermak said “the majority of the work is still ahead of us” and argued a “complete embargo” on Russian energy is the only measure that could compel the Kremlin. In the short term, he supported imposing import tariffs on Russian energy—adding that the funds collected should be used for reconstruction.
  • Yermak also called for full blocking sanctions on more Russian banks, as well as secondary measures against any entities or individuals that help Moscow evade punishment: “All the sanctions should be reconciled and synchronized, so we can reach maximum efficiency.” 
  • Meanwhile, Ukraine’s rebuild shouldn’t be funded strictly by Russian reparations, Yermak said, but also by Kyiv’s allies and partners opening up their markets to Ukrainian products and encouraging post-war private investment. “This is a chance for us to build a global showcase of success for democracy,” he said.

No such thing as non-aligned?

  • Asked about non-aligned countries, Yermak had a simple message for them: No one is really safe. “What is at stake here is not just military security, but also food security and environmental security,” he said, citing the knock-on effects the war could have far beyond Europe.
  • And while some think that NATO membership may be off the table for Ukraine at this point in time, Yermak called for more robust security guarantees. “Ukraine has proved its stamina on the battlefield, so for our own protection, we need this cornerstone,” Yermak added. 
  • He also advocated the country’s “deep inclusion” in multinational formats that help boost regional security and bolster its integration into Europe. That, he suggested, could include the rapid-reaction coalition of peacekeeping countries floated by Zelenskyy in March—which Yermak said could help constitute a “totally new architecture in international relations.”

Dan Peleschuk is the editor of New Atlanticist.

Further reading

Image: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meets with a Canadian delegation in Kyiv, Ukraine, on May 8, 2022. Photo by Ukrainian Presidency via ABACAPRESS.COM/REUTERS