In late 2004, Europe was shocked by the poisoning of Ukraine’s presidential candidate and former prime minister, Viktor Yushchenko. With Ukraine at a crossroads between voting for the pro-European Yushchenko or the pro-Russian Yanukovych, accusations that the former had been faltered by Ukrainian intelligence officials set the tone for the looming new Cold War between the West and the East on.
The “Orange Revolution,” the pro-Yushchenko camp’s fight for victory in a deeply contested election, made him the leader, leading citizens with bright orange flags to victory.
Yushchenko’s eventual victory sparked fierce resentment in Russia over growing Western influence in the former Soviet country. Now, 18 years later, Yushchenko’s story and the West’s victory over Russia sort of explains the triggers of the recent war.
Served as President (2005-2010), Prime Minister (1999-2001) and Central Banker of Ukraine (1993-1999) Viktor Yushchenko – a resident of Kyiv and a member of the non-profit Club de Madrid founded by Mikhail Gorbachev to promote democracy – speaks Kathimerini on unknown aspects of the Russian invasion, stressing the criticality of the situation and analyzing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats while hailing the excellent relations between Greece and Ukraine.
What is the current situation in Ukraine?
I want to give your question a broader context because I think that will help us later in our discussion as Ukraine is just a small part of the overall context of what is happening. Let’s start with the question of why 14 years ago Ossetia and Abkhazia were invaded? Why is Transnistria occupied? And why then were Crimea and Nagorno-Karabakh occupied eight years ago? And why is the biggest war after World War II taking place in Europe now?
There is one factor in all these conflicts and that is Russia. We have reached a point where we have a textbook case of fascism in 21st century Europe where a country is waging a war, changing borders, using gas for blackmail, blackmailing the world with food and grain, and recently using nuclear as blackmail .
In order to understand what is happening in Ukraine today, I would like to refer to two letters from Putin. One was written in December 2021 and the second in January 2022. None of them spoke about Ukraine. Putin’s logic was this: “It’s time to change the world and especially the security aspect of it.” So he issued an ultimatum that we should return to the 1997 security order. So all troops stationed in Eastern Europe since 1997 should be withdrawn and returned to their barracks, like those in Latvia and Lithuania. Second, they said that there should be no eastward movement for NATO, and the third demand was to give Russia a security guarantee. Those are the four things he asked for in the two letters. These were not personal letters. These were public letters, and the response to them from the President of the United States and NATO was also public. Ukraine was not mentioned in these letters. No mention was made of the denazification of Ukraine or the demilitarization of Ukraine. You didn’t even mention us. The only thing was that he deployed 120,000 soldiers along our borders from Belarus to the Black Sea.
On this 2,200-kilometer border, he has created an unprecedented escalation and great tension in relations between Moscow and the collective West. However, it is evident that the West provided an adequate response, but it was something that Putin did not want his own people to hear because they basically put him in his place and put Russian politics in their place. So, like a professional con man, he took the extra card he had hidden up his sleeve, the Ukrainian card, with which he wanted to show how serious he was about his intentions. So he brought his troops to the more than 2,000 kilometers of our front. Then he launched his second initiative, which can be summed up as follows: He wants to kill us and we want to live. believe that
We have victories every day and plan to give back every inch of Ukrainian land. We know we’re going to win because the world has understood that this is a problem for everyone and not just us. We think holistically. We have a great spirit. There are lines of people 30 kilometers long trying to get out of Russia. We have 43 million people working every day to support our army. We work towards our victory. We’re working on our defense and the key to our victory is the tremendous support we have. We are very grateful that our partners support us, our European friends, from the USA and from other countries. And we are very happy.
“He will never win here. We will not accept these so-called negotiations. We will not accept defeat. I can tell you that this is the mood of our nation. That’s the mood of our society’
President Putin’s arguments were to denazify Ukraine and protect the Russian-speaking population. How do you comment on these claims?
His war mostly hit the Russian-speaking parts of our country. Someone is lying here. He invaded Russian-speaking cities like Luhansk, Zaporizhia, Donetsk, Hersona, and Nikolayev. We have no political parties in our country that are anti-Zionist. We laugh at him saying he’s trying to denazify eastern Ukraine, where the Russian language was strongest and where ties with Russia were strongest. That’s the part he attacked. The problem was that the Crimea map had worn out. The drunk voters needed a new show. As always, this was based on an external enemy. If we can’t change the world order, let’s change the Ukrainian order, and then in a year it will be as good for us as the Crimea map was a few years ago. But it turned out to be a complete fiasco for Putin’s policy. He will never win here. We will not accept these so-called negotiations. We will not accept defeat. I can tell you that this is the mood of our nation. This is the mood of our society.
Ukrainian forces are reportedly retaking the captured territory. How was the situation reversed?
My wife, every time she hears about another liberated town or village, she sits down and starts crying, and for a month and a half she has been sitting here crying. I think we’ve regained about 70% of the territory that we’ve lost since February. In the last week alone we’ve taken back about 1,000 square kilometers. Our spirit only grows. The help we are getting from our friends in Europe and the United States is increasing.
Are you still worried about Ukraine’s future?
I would change the word “anxious” to “worried”. Our national question is one of identity. Our question about statehood and strength goes in the right direction. We are not a quasi-state; we are solid, united and we are very inspired.
How possible is the use of nuclear weapons?
I don’t think that will happen. That threat right now is just hubris and bravado. You know, he’s the biggest blackmailer in the world today. When blackmail doesn’t work? This is a disaster for Putin. Wherever he goes, he’s a failure. This is a country that, if I am correct, makes up 15% of the world’s landmass, and yet no one wants to shake hands with it. He was kicked out of international institutions. There is a Russian politician who, when asked, said: “Today it is a shame to be a Russian in the world.” Here he has made a nation, a people, feel ashamed. This was caused by the lack of democracy in Russia. So of course he’s going to continue his blackmail, nuclear blackmail.
I would like to talk about your poisoning in 2004. Do you think it’s somehow related to Putin’s Deep State?
I think that’s the same context as what happened [Alexei] Navalny, with [Vladimir] Kara-Murza, with what happened [Sergei] Skripal and to [Alexander] Litvinenko. The use of poison is one of Russia’s terrorist weapons. This is a terrorist state and has been for ages. They have had an internal secret police force not just for decades, but for centuries. One of Putin’s favorite hobbies is destroying people who think differently from him. He sees it as like some people going on safari in Africa and shooting at animals. So a non-democratic Russia is dangerous for everyone.
strength in unity
How have diplomatic relations with Greece developed during your tenure as President?
I think you know that Ukrainians love Greeks. We have a very active, so to speak, interpersonal communication between our people. I can’t think of a single topic on which we seriously disagree. There were no barriers that in any way impeded our dialogue or continued closeness. I think our diplomatic relations are excellent and I think we are true allies in a wide range of areas.
How valuable is the Greek minority in Mariupol and other areas in promoting and strengthening these ties?
I think good relationships usually come from having good models and good examples, you could say sensitive examples. For example, think of what one person can give to another that will be remembered well, and then think of what one nation can give to another nation. For example, France gave America the Statue of Liberty. This gift was very important for their relationships; old Europe gave something new to a new country. You could say there was the concept of democracy and freedom. And nobody gave the world more freedom and democracy than ancient Greece. Those are the things that are important to me. So what we need to build our relationships – and not to judge me harshly – which I think is a worthy gift is help to rebuild a theater that has been 400 people. We hope that the Greek nation will give us a new, modern, interesting theater that will carry Greek values and Greek culture. However, what we ask for is not money. What we want is that when we rebuild Mariupol, every citizen driving by the theater every day will talk about how big a heart the Greek nation has for helping us in this time of need. They will say, “This is our roots, this is our memory.”
I love symbolic gestures like that.
Turkey threatens the current status quo. What is your advice on how to deal with an attacker?
I would like to reply by quoting one of the former German Chancellors. Europe needs a uniform collective security order, then we are all safe. We are all defended. We need to find an answer to the major challenges facing each of our countries, be it Greece or Ukraine. So what I like is the philosophy that Greece or Ukraine, Germany or France cannot defend themselves and create a security order on their own. It has to be together. Together we can build a uniform and almost absolute security order.