Former Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski claims to have been told by a "senior Ukrainian defence official" that he believes Russia will launch a nuclear attack on Ukraine.
In an exclusive interview with The Brussels Times, Sikorski — who is now an MEP but maintains close contacts in Ukraine from his time in the Polish government — added that the unnamed Ukrainian official’s statement "negates my [earlier] hopeful argument" to the effect that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not be tempted to use nuclear weapons in his efforts to win the war.
"I talked to a senior Ukrainian defence official in Kyiv ten days ago and he thought [a nuclear attack] would happen," Sikorski said. "I was very surprised at how gloomy he was. He was actually a former Soviet officer and said that people chosen for the Russian nuclear forces were selected for blind obedience."
In early March, Sikorski had argued that Putin would likely not resort to nuclear weapons, claiming, among other things, that their use would bring little benefit and that the radioactive fallout would pose a significant risk to Russia’s own "unequipped" military.
Humanity on the brink?
Sikorski’s revealing comments come at a time of increasing anxiety among senior intelligence officials about the conflict in Ukraine escalating into a full-blown nuclear war.
In a 12 October Politico op-ed, former CIA Director Leon Panetta claimed that "some intelligence analysts now believe that the probability of the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine has risen from 1-5% at the start of the war to 20-25% today." Similarly, The New York Times reported on 24 October that there is now a "greater level of concern'' among senior Pentagon officials “about possible nuclear use by Russia than at any point during the war."
Despite the growing risk of nuclear conflagration, Sikorski’s support for Ukraine remains undiminished, in both word and deed. The senior Ukrainian official that he refers to he met with on a recent trip to the country, in which he personally drove a pickup truck adorned with an EU flag from Poland to Kyiv, where he handed it over to Ukraine’s 93rd Brigade. Sikorksi says that the truck is now "on frontlines near Bakhmut, marking the edge of Western civilisation."
It’s always a pleasure to see Radek in Kyiv. @sikorskiradek and @anneapplebaum bought the cars for the needs of the 93rd Brigade “Kholodny Yar”, which defends Ukraine in Bakhmut. Sikorsky personally drove the car to Ukraine, and the soldiers named one it in honor of Anne. Lovely! pic.twitter.com/PC47lB6p37— Serhiy Leshchenko (@Leshchenkos) October 31, 2022
Sikorski claimed that the Ukrainians he encountered on his trip "seemed very determined and convinced that they can recover their territory". The MEP spoke with clear admiration of the resilience of Ukrainians in the face of the Kremlin's intimidation: "Putin might think that if he can spook everyone [with a nuclear threat] Ukraine will just capitulate," Sikorski said. "I don’t think they would."
Moreover, were nuclear war to break out, Sikorski was adamant that the blame would lie solely with Putin. He stated simply that the simple way to avoid nuclear war "is for Russia not to start it. Nobody else will start it. And nobody else is threatening it."
Sikorski added: "[Putin’s threats] should remind you of why we are all in NATO. The reason he won’t attack us is that we are a nuclear alliance too. We can nuke him back."
Sikorski is arguably one of the few Western public figures alive today who combines extensive first-hand knowledge of Ukraine and Russia with an equally profound understanding of each country’s history.
He won several prestigious journalism awards for his work as a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan during the Soviet Union occupation in the 1980s; he was Polish Foreign Minister during a critical period (2007-2014) in Western-Eastern European relations when he was a frequent visitor to both Kyiv and Moscow. Perhaps most notably, he led the EU diplomatic mission to Ukraine during the Maidan uprising of 2014.
Sikorski’s knowledge of Ukraine and Russia is accompanied by his fervent support for the former’s current government — and his profound dislike of the latter’s. He is an unabashed defender of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s recent decree which declares negotiations with Putin’s regime "impossible". The decision which has reportedly drawn criticism even amongst Zelenskyy’s political supporters in the US.
"Would you buy a second-hand car from Putin?" Sikorski asked. "Would you trust the security of your house, of your family, of your country, to Putin? … Is Putin’s signature on a peace treaty worth the paper on which it is written? Why should Zelenskyy trust the safety of his country to someone like [Putin]?"
Sikorski was also sceptical of the notion that Russia’s invasion was to do with Ukraine’s failure to adopt an explicitly non-aligned, neutral political stance.
"Ukraine was neutral on 24th February, and yet Putin invaded. Here we are, in Brussels, the capital of a country which was neutral on the eve of World War One but also got invaded. Guarantees and neutrality in the face of the Kaiser or the Führer or Putin are not worth very much. It's weakness that provokes."
Sikorski was similarly scathing of the related notion that Ukraine’s failure to commit to not joining NATO was a principal reason for the war (as posited by Pope Francis and Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, among others). He suggested that both Francis and Lula are ultimately "motivated by anti-Americanism".
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"It was never about NATO," Sikorski said. "Putin invaded Ukraine because he thinks Ukraine should be a part of Russia. It’s a colonial war. Russia has tried to colonise Ukraine for centuries."
"Two weeks before the invasion, [German Chancellor Olaf] Scholz told Putin: 'Ukraine will not join NATO on my watch.' There was absolutely no chance for Ukraine to join NATO because that requires unanimity… And yet Putin invaded. So you have to say that ‘Putin had to invade on a hypothetical possibility that in several years' time Ukraine might be able to apply again.' That’s a bulls**t argument, I’m sorry."
Since MEP Sikorski spoke with The Brussels Times on Monday, Ukraine has started carrying out nuclear strike preparedness exercises, raising fears of an imminent attack from Russia.