Former head of Ukrainian Security Service: Putin can’t conquer Ukraine but he can start a WW3

Ihor Smeshko, the former head of the Security Service of Ukraine and an advisor to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (Image: Felix Rozenshtein,

Ihor Smeshko, the former head of the Security Service of Ukraine and an advisor to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (Image: Felix Rozenshtein, 

Analysis & Opinion, Russia, War in the Donbas

In an address to the Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn yesterday, Igor Smeshko pointed to one of the most dangerous asymmetries of the situation in Ukraine: Vladimir Putin, he said, cannot occupy Ukraine and subdue a partisan war, but the Kremlin leader can “provoke a global conflict.”

The former head of the SBU and an advisor to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, says this is the reason that the conflict must be of concern to all of Europe and the West more generally.

“The armed conflict in Ukraine is not simply a local contest between Ukraine and Russia but a clash between two civilizations, the Euro-Atlantic and the so-called ‘Russian world,’” Smeshko said. Were Ukraine to lose, this would be “a threat not only for the post-Soviet space, including the Baltic countries but for all of Europe.”

What is at stake, he argued, is whether Russia will be able to “stop the processes of European integration,” acquire a strong voice in European affairs, and set itself up as a global counterweight to the United States.

Asked why Vladimir Putin decided to engage in this direct confrontation of the West, Smeshko said that Moscow was shocked by the two Maidan protests in Ukraine in 2004 and 2014. “Those protests showed,” he said, “that a developed civil society already exists in Ukraine and that the ideas of democracy are spreading ever closer to Russian borders.”

“The conversion of Ukraine into a flourishing and strong democratic country would be a death sentence for the existing authoritarian regime in Russia and even represent a danger for its disintegration,” the Ukrainian presidential advisor said. Consequently, Putin felt he had to suppress Ukraine in order to protect his personal power.

A second reason Putin has moved in Ukraine, Smeshko says, is that the West has not pursued a sufficiently well-developed security strategy. Instead, “the leadership of the US has been concentrated not on the development of Euro-Atlantic civilization but on the problems of ‘global peace,’ and this could have played a role.”

Putin will pursue his plans to restore a post-Soviet empire “just as far as he is permitted to do so,” the former intelligence agency head said, adding that his listeners should remember what the ancient Romans said: “”Strength restrains; weakness provokes.”” That is true “not only regarding Ukraine,” he argued.

The current conflict may go on for a long time, given the size of the countries involved, but Smeshko suggested that it will not be solved by military means alone. Ukrainians will continue to fight and consequently, it will be “impossible” for Moscow “to occupy Ukraine and win a partisan war” there.

Smeshko said that in addition to the fortitude and bravery of ordinary Ukrainians, Western sanctions on Russia are “working.” Moscow cannot now “repeat the Crimean scenario in the east of Ukraine,” and it faces ever more problems at home. The question now is: how long will Russians believe they see on television over what they don’t see in their refrigerators?

The West must remain united regarding sanctions because any break in them will be exploited by Moscow and seen by the Kremlin as an indication that it can win through, especially given the financial help it is providing to “ultra-right and ultra-left” groups in the West who are giving it support.

Edited by: A. N.

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  • Marcus Safoy

    Will this war be fought in the battlefields, or will it be fought in the political and economic spheres ? Are the Russians really prepered to die in Ukraine for their Russkiy Mir ? Does the Russian political elite even believe that the Russians would go to war for them ?

    The Russian propaganda has been working day and night for the last year to convince the Russians that they are living under a threat. Will they use it to mobalize the Russians for a war, or will they use it to isolate them selves and openly declare Russia as a Socialist dictatorship ?

    • Vol Ya

      Russia is not a socialist dictatorship. It is a fascist dictatorship. Look at who Putin supports. All of the ultra nationalist groups. There was a world forum of fascists, ultra nationalists and Nazi supporters held in Russia just last month. That tells you all you need to know about the future direction of Russia. I feel bad for the people of Russia but they let it happen to them.

      • Marcus Safoy

        The U.S congress is decorated with fascist symbols – fasces. Russia is at war against a “fascist junta” in Kiev after an “U.S orchestrated coup d’etat” in Ukraine. Russia has forged an alliance with Communist China through the Shanghai pact. To stay true with the symbolism Russia will be forced to call it self Socialist or Communist.

  • Rods

    Excellent synopsis of the situation. What is really important is that the West provides a level of support to make sure that Ukraine survives and succeeds in containing Putin’s empire building ambitions. This war is not about Ukraine, it is not about Russia, it is about Putin holding onto the power at any price to save his slimy skin. He doesn’t care about Ukrainian suffering, Russian suffering, only about Putin having a good life at as many people’s suffering and expense as it takes him to survive.

    The building of a free, democratic, successful Ukrainian nation is a defeat for Putin’s evil, dark, satanic regime.

    • LorCanada

      It’s also known as “paranoia”, a condition most tyrants suffer from.

  • puttypants

    Excellent article. Unfortunately, He should tell it to the NYT. In today’s Sunday paper they had a full page on the safe and reduced cost of travel in Moscow and St. Petersburg. There is a new musical on broadway “Dr. zhivago.” Reminding Americans of Russia’s romantic past. WW2 documentaries done by the west talking about Russians soldiers winning WW2 and not a mention of the other countries like 8 million ukrainians fighting and dying in the war. What it shows me is that to American and the west money is their God and not democracy or freedom or all of the decent human values that pretend to live by. America, but especially Germany have too many investments in Russia all the time everyone knowing full well that Putin was a dictator, a thief and a murdering thug but they still befriend him and do business with him what does it tell us about the leaderships and business of the West. Can they be trusted to keep our countries free and prosperous when they have shown themselves to be whores?

  • Vol Ya

    Very good insight into the situation. Putin is most afraid that Ukraine will succeed as a democratic nation and also economically. This would be a disaster for Russia so Putin is trying to destroy Ukraine anyway he can. Russia would be a third world country if it wasn’t for its oil and gas wealth. But the russians are too stupid, too corrupt, too lazy and too drunk to be able to explore and sell their oil and gas. They need western technology to do this. Maintain and even increase the sanctions against Russia and freeze the foreign assets of the oligarchs. Let the russians drown in their oil and gas and their vodka.

    • AndrewO

      Today Russia’s chief export is mendacity, disinformation and untruth. If they were to apply the energy and resources spent on lies to actually build something, Russia might even be a great country, rather than a global mediocrity and bully with nuclear weapons.