Putin wants ‘Korean scenario’ for Ukraine, says intelligence chief | Ukraine

Vladimir Putin is seeking to split Ukraine into two, emulating the postwar division between North and South Korea, the invaded country’s military intelligence chief has said.

In comments that raise the prospect of a long and bitter frozen conflict, Gen Kyrylo Budanov, who foretold of Russia’s invasion as far back as November, warned of bloody guerrilla warfare.

The prediction came as Leonid Pasechnik, the leader of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine, said: “I think that in the near future a referendum will be held on the territory of the republic, during which the people will … express their opinion on joining the Russian Federation.”

Budanov said he believed Putin had rethought his plan for full occupation since failing to swiftly take Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, and overthrow Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s government. “It is an attempt to create North and South Korea in Ukraine,” he said of the new Kremlin strategy.

Officials in Kyiv said they expected troops attacking the capital and the embattled city of Kharkiv to move east within two weeks.

In other developments:

  • The French president, Emmanuel Macron, called for calmer language as he distanced himself from Joe Biden’s speech in Poland on Saturday in which the US president called for Putin to be removed from power.

  • Zelenskiy told a group of Russian journalists that Ukraine was prepared to discuss adopting a neutral status as part of a peace deal with Russia but it would have to be guaranteed by third parties and put to a referendum.

  • The Kremlin said it was “not up to the president of the US and not up to the Americans to decide who will remain in power in Russia,” as US officials sought to backtrack on Biden’s comments.

  • Vadym Denysenko, a Ukrainian interior ministry adviser, said Russia was trying to destroy Ukrainian fuel and food storage depots, as firefighters battled for 13 hours to put out a blaze in the western city of Lviv after multiple missile attacks on Saturday night.

  • Zelenskiy urged the west to hand over military hardware that was “gathering dust” in stockpiles, saying his country needed just 1% of Nato’s aircraft and 1% of its tanks. “We’ve already been waiting 31 days,” he said. “Who’s in charge of the Euro-Atlantic community? Is it really still Moscow, because of intimidation?”

  • Ukraine enjoyed its most significant counteroffensive success so far as it retook the city of Trostyanets, unblocking a resupply road from the besieged regional capital, Sumy, to Poltava.

  • The United Nations human rights office said at least 1,119 civilians had been killed and 1,790 wounded in the war, with 15 girls and 32 boys, as well as 52 children whose sex was as yet unknown, among the dead. The true figures were likely to be considerably higher, the UN said.

Western officials are determined to prevent Putin from normalizing a division in Ukraine. Korea was divided along the 38th parallel north from 1945 until 1950, and has been divided since 1953 along the military demarcation line.

Shortly before the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia’s president recognized the two eastern self-proclaimed republics of Luhansk and Donetsk over which Kyiv has been in conflict with pro-Russian forces since 2014.

Putin launched his so-called “special military operation” on 24 February, claiming he was acting in defense of the Russian-speaking people in the eastern Donbas region.

Ukraine map

Budanov said he was convinced the Russian president was seeking to split Ukraine despite the attack in the west, only the third major assault there since the war began.

He said: “Putin is already changing the main operational directions – towards the south and the east. There is reason to believe that he is considering a ‘Korean scenario’ [for Ukraine]. That is, trying to impose a dividing line between the unoccupied and occupied regions of our country. In fact, it is an attempt to create North and South Korea in Ukraine. After all, he is definitely not able to swallow the entire country.”

Russia has been bogged down in the besieged south-eastern port city of Mariupol in its attempts to create a land corridor between Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014, and Donbas.

Budanov said he did not believe Mariupol would fall soon and that Russian troops would face guerrilla tactics even if he did manage to defeat the experienced Azov battalion in the flattened city.

He said: “The occupiers will try to unite the occupied territories into a single quasi-state entity, which will oppose independent Ukraine. We are already seeing attempts to create ‘parallel’ authorities in the occupied territories and force people to give up the hryvnia [Ukraine’s national currency].

“They may want to bargain at the international level. However, the resistance and protests of our citizens on the occupied territories, counterattacks by the armed forces and gradual liberation – significantly complicate the implementation of enemy’s plans.

“In addition, the season of total Ukrainian guerrilla safari will soon begin. Then there will be one relevant scenario left for the Russians – how to survive.”

Oleksii Arestovych, an adviser to Zelenskiy, echoed the intelligence chief’s analysis. “Within a week or two, Russia will withdraw troops from Kyiv and Kharkiv regions and send them to Donbas,” he said. “They realized that they will not be able to take over the big cities; they will announce the completion of the first phase of the ‘special operation’ and the beginning of the second – the ‘liberation of Donbas’.”

Arestovych continued: “They now have three tasks: to surround our troops in Donbas, to completely occupy Mariupol and the south. If they lose Kherson [a city west of Mariupol], their entire Mariupol occupation will collapse. And that’s all. There will be no capture of Kyiv, Kharkiv or Odesa.”

Elsewhere, in Kharkiv the authorities reported 44 artillery strikes and 140 rocket assaults in a single day, including on a nuclear research facility. In Kyiv, the authorities warned that Russians were increasingly disguising themselves as civilians to engage in sabotage.

Saturday’s missile attacks on Lviv, in the west of Ukraine close to the Polish border, were said by Ukrainian officials to have been a message of Russian defiance for Biden, who had been speaking in neighboring Poland, and an attempt to hit Ukrainian fuel and military hardware supplies.

The two targets of the attacks were a fuel depot and a factory used for repairing tanks, anti-aircraft systems and radar stations. Both were close to apartment blocks and only a mile from the Unesco world heritage-protected city centre.

One witness, Dmitry Leonov, 36, an IT worker, said the ground shook and people were thrown to the ground by the force of the blasts at the tank factory. The windows of a local school were said to have been smashed by the force.

The Lviv emergency services chief, Khrystyna Avdyeyeva, said the fire at the fuel depot was finally put out after 13 hours at 6.49am on Sunday. Of those responsible for launching the missiles, which came from Crimea, up to 1,000 miles away, she said: “Let them burn in the same hell. But our heroes will not be there, so nobody will survive.”

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