KYIV, Ukraine—The head of Ukraine’s National Security Council has told The Daily Beast that it will be “impossible” for Ukraine to defeat President Vladimir Putin’s invading army with the current level of support from the West.
Oleksiy Danilov explained that international partners never fully understood the spirit of Ukraine’s resilience, thought they would fold quickly in the face of Putin’s forces, and failed to send sufficient military support right from the start of the war with Russia.
This is not to say that Danilov has given up hope. He is confident that Ukraine will never surrender and that eventually the likes of the U.S. and the U.K will come to realize they need to offer much greater military support.
“Unfortunately, the future depends not only on our country,” he said. “Our own capabilities, unfortunately, are not enough—this must be recognized. Without partners, this is impossible, but the question is how quickly they will give us the necessary weapons.”
Danilov had invited The Daily Beast into his inner sanctum, a spacious office with white leather furniture in a well-guarded complex of government buildings in the center of Kyiv.
Born and brought up in eastern Ukraine, Danilov trained first as a veterinarian before going into politics and serving as mayor of Luhansk, the eastern city now under Russian control, in the 1990s. He has since enjoyed a varied career, serving as both an MP and a history teacher—indeed, he still cuts a professorial figure, with his his rectangular glasses perched on the tip of his nose. He is happy to expound on the global power dynamics at play, and delve into Ukraine’s cultural and political history as he speaks.
Danilov is playing a pivotal role in a war that has already claimed thousands of lives. “Every morning I receive information about how many children have died: at least 359 children have been killed, 692 children were left injured—many of them became crippled,” he said.
All of this could have been different.
During the pre-war months from November to February, Danilov sat with many emissaries from foreign governments in this same office. He said they all told him Ukraine had no chance of withstanding Russian military aggression.
“We were promised Russians would make concentration camps and destroy all the country's top political leadership in a very short time. Someone said it would happen in three days, others in five—we were given a maximum of three weeks,” Danilov recalled, looking back at the five months of vicious war. “I told them all: ‘You don't understand our inner freedom. We will not surrender, we will fight.’”
Western governments never accepted that Ukraine would go toe-to-toe with the Russian forces and thus needed to be fully equipped for a long and grueling war. Even now, Kyiv believes that the West is dragging its feet as Russia continues to bomb the country indiscriminately and make gradual progress in the East.
“We will never surrender, but the timing of our victory depends on how the partners will give weapons. We needed it yesterday. [The West] didn't believe in us and didn’t give us enough weapons. They began to give weapons in December to resist a certain part of the hostilities. In February, our entire country knew these three words: Javelin, NLAW and Stinger. It was a big emotional help because most people thought we had a super weapon. Yes, it was, but not in sufficient quantities. But our will and strength, this horizontal control system, made itself felt.”
The head of the National Security Council grew up in the Luhansk region and has a deep understanding of the duality of the Russophone regions of the Donbas. He is tall and fit for a man of 59, dressed in a black polo shirt with a “Danilov” tag on his chest and the national symbol, a golden trident, on his sleeve. The emblem dates back to Kyivan Rus—a medieval state centered in Kyiv that birthed both Russia and Ukraine. Danilov says he is fascinated by the era, and still spends time studying historic archives. He even pulls out an album of Ukrainian art and icons, as well as maps, including a giant Russian trophy map to showcase his favorite pastime.
He says the West—on the other hand—underestimated his countrymen’s patriotism.
While Danilov and President Volodymyr Zelensky were lobbying behind the scenes for shipments of weaponry and sophisticated military support before the war broke out, the West was arguing that the government should have been publicly acknowledging the impending war rather than playing down fears that were being shared by spies in Washington, D.C. and London.
Danilov dismisses the criticism that Ukraine was not ready for the war. He says Ukraine had been preparing for Russia’s assault even before the foreign intelligence agencies predicted it. Ukraine was on high alert “much earlier than [the West] started talking about the war,” he said.
“They believe that we should have publicly announced that tomorrow we would have a war. But they must understand what panic is,” he said. “But we were getting ready. All our regulatory documents, strategy, defense plan were adopted in advance and the military worked them out. A law on territorial defense was passed and detachments were already formed, but they lacked weapons and training.”
Ukraine has not been hampered by internal issues, Danilov argues, the problem has been waiting for sufficient support to arrive from the West. If a fresh tranche of weaponry and equipment is sent in before Russia makes more gains, he says Ukraine is ready to finish the job.