MUNICH -- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had delivered a fierce denunciation of Russia before a high-profile security conference, accusing Moscow of waging a “world hybrid war” and urging the West to ratchet up pressure on the Kremlin over its expansionism in Ukraine.
Poroshenko’s address to the Munich Security Conference on February 16 at one point veered into a condemnation not only of Russia’s leadership but also of the “Russian world,” which he likened to a kind of anti-King Midas that brings ruin to everything it touches.
His speech came shortly after the cancellation of a planned high-level meeting on the conference sidelines to discuss the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, where a war between Kyiv’s forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 10,300 since April 2014.
Poroshenko accused Moscow of seeking to undermine Ukraine and Western democracies by supporting ultraleft and ultraright political parties abroad, as well as deploying “armies” of Internet trolls to spread disinformation to sow discord beyond Russia’s borders.
“Today, there is nothing for us to do but to acknowledge that the hybrid war being waged by Russia is gradually turning into the full-fledged world hybrid war,” Poroshenko, who spoke in English, told the audience.
Poroshenko called on the West to strengthen sanctions against Moscow if it does not leave Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow seized in 2014, and implement a peace deal that has failed to stem the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine.
“Sanctions are working,” he said.
King Midas was able to turn everything he touched into gold. The Russian world turns everything [it touches] into…ruin and decline."-- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko
Russian President Vladimir Putin will not make an appearance at the Munich conference, which brings together world leaders and top officials for three days of speeches, panel discussions, and sideline meetings and events.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is representing Moscow at the conference, and he held a bilateral meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin in Munich to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine -- including a possible UN peacekeeping mission there.
But planned peace talks in the so-called Normandy Format -- consisting of Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine -- that had been scheduled for February 16 were called off, according to a conference spokesman and the German Foreign Ministry.
It was not immediately clear if the meeting would be rescheduled during the Munich conference.
After his meeting with Lavrov, Klimkin said the two diplomats were unable to reach an agreement on a possible UN peacekeeping force in eastern Ukraine.
Both the U.S. and Russian sides had voiced a more optimistic tone about progress in talks about such a mission over the past month.
Poroshenko said a UN peacekeeping mission would be crucial to ending the violence in parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by separatists, which Moscow denies backing despite substantial evidence of such support.
"There is a chance for Moscow to show the sense of compromise and agree to UN peacekeepers throughout the whole territory of [the] Donbas including the uncontrolled part of Ukraine on the Russian border," he said.
Poroshenko’s office said he had discussed the idea of a UN peacekeeping mission in a February 16 meeting in Munich with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who addressed the conference hours prior to the Ukrainian president’s speech.
Kyiv and Moscow have repeatedly traded accusations of failing to implement their parts of the Minsk accords -- September 2014 and February 2015 cease-fire pacts that have failed to hold.
Poroshenko stressed in his speech that Ukraine’s path forward should be in the direction of the European Union and not Russia, at one point holding up an EU flag that he said Ukraine troops had displayed on the contact line in eastern Ukraine as a symbol of the country’s future.
At one point during the speech, he launched into a broad denunciation of “the Russian world” -- a stark shift from Western governments that say their problem is with Russia’s leadership, not its people.
As one example, he asked the audience to compare the city of Munich to Kaliningrad, a former German city that is now a Russian exclave.
“King Midas was able to turn everything he touched into gold. The Russian world turns everything [it touches] into…ruin and decline,” Poroshenko said.
He added: “There is a shocking difference between the Russian world and the free world.”
That rhetorical detour is likely to anger officials in Moscow, who portray Poroshenko’s ascendance as the result of a Western-fomented coup against former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin ally.
Yanukovych fled Ukraine in February 2014 following months of mass street protests in Ukraine, and Russia says its subsequent military takeover of Crimea was aimed at protecting ethnic Russians on the peninsula following Yanukovych’s ouster.
Russia’s seizure of Crimea and backing of the separatists in eastern Ukraine has triggered waves of U.S. and EU sanctions targeting Russian officials, companies, and economic sectors.