Russia’s ambassador to the UK has denied that Moscow’s troops committed atrocities in Ukraine.
Russian ambassador Andrei Kelin also said that long-range weapons posed a threat to Russians and people in pro-Russian territory in Ukraine, forcing Russian troops to push deeper into Ukraine to protect civilians from the vast array of Western weapons, especially those promised through London.
“We need to move this line further and deeper into Ukraine to avoid further threats to the territory of Russia and the territory of Donbas,” the ambassador told Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker in an interview in London.
“So in this way, Western countries, they are destroying Ukraine themselves,” said the ambassador.
The ambassador said Britain’s supply of long-range weapons — which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak promised in early February, including the training of Ukrainian fighter jet pilots — would not pose a “serious threat” to Russia on the battlefield.
“I don’t believe it will be a serious threat to us,” Kelin said.
“Only the United Kingdom says directly that it will provide a long-range weapon to the Ukrainian army and we are confident that this long-range weapon will be used against civilian targets,” he said.
Kelin flatly denied that Russian troops had committed atrocities — including the murder of civilians and rape — committed in Bucha, Irpin and Mariupol in Ukraine.
More than 1,000 civilian bodies were discovered in the Bucha region after Russian troops withdrew from the area in late March 2022. About 650 people were executed, according to Kiev police.
“We’ve heard a lot about that,” the Russian ambassador told Al Jazeera’s Barker when asked about Russian alleged atrocities.
“They are completely different, absolutely different things,” he said.
“Bucha has been staged and there is no doubt about it. Staged by Ukrainian special forces. In Mariupol you are probably talking about the bombing of the theater during the year. But victims have not been discovered. So all these things we know,” he said.
Pressured by Barker on his denial, the ambassador replied, “Bucha, absolutely. It was fake. Mariupol has nothing to do with this. Irpin, I’m not sure about Irpin because I’m not well aware of that.”
Asked if crimes have been committed in Irpin, the ambassador again denied.
“No. This is a military operation. This is basically a war. Things are happening,” he said, adding that Russia is “not targeting civilian infrastructure.”
Russian forces have been targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine for months, bombing electricity, water and heating facilities in what analysts say was an attempt to “freeze” Ukraine into submission during the winter months. Rocket attacks on civilian homes are a daily occurrence.
The United Nations has so far verified a total of more than 8,000 civilian deaths from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, nearly 500 of them children. The figures are also believed to underestimate the true number of civilian casualties.
Asked about his use of the term “war” during the interview – a word Moscow had banned and officially called the invasion of Ukraine a “special military operation” – the ambassador said the conflict was akin to a “civil war”.
“In a way, yes. In a sense, it is even, you could call it, a civil war, because on both parts it is, we do not draw a border between Russian people and Ukrainian people (in areas) where many Russians live. So in some ways it is, yes.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last year labeled Russian forces as “murderers, torturers and rapists” who committed “genocide” in his country.