The way the Ukrainian military is fighting like hell and how courageous Ukrainian men and women are in uniform is actually one of the biggest examples in the contemporary world of really heroic actions. The sunken flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, “Moskva,” was a farewell to Putin and his Moscow, – Ukraine’s former Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk told Radio Free Europe’s Georgian service in a wide-ranging interview, speaking from an undisclosed location in Ukraine.
Russia retreated not out of goodwill, but because they hadn’t fulfilled their military objectives. What to expect now? What are the Kremlin’s new objectives and is Ukraine prepared for them?
As he failed to reach his initial targets, Putin switched to Plan B, and two days ago he actually made a rare public appearance to disclose his new plan, which is to take over the eastern part of Ukraine with Donetsk and Lugansk, and to establish his rule there. I expect there will be very bloody and severe battles in the east of Ukraine, and Putin will do his best with his military to achieve a victory before the ninth of May, which is the Victory Day in the Soviet Union.
What perceivable package could he offer his domestic audience on Victory Day?
I don’t want anyone to deliberate what Putin is ready to sell to his so called public voters, because the Russian people are the same criminals as Putin – 80% of the Russian population supports Putin’s policy. So I don’t distinguish them.
I’ve seen Western opinion-makers question those polls. Do you believe they are genuine?
I can question the numbers, whether it’s 80%, or 70%, or 65%, or 85%, but I don’t question the general sentiment of the Russian people. And the general mood is anti-Ukrainian, anti-Western, anti-freedom. This is the axis of evil. And it’s not just Putin, because it wasn’t Putin fighting in Irpin or Bucha, killing innocent Ukrainians. It isn’t Putin in Mariupol. These are his soldiers, and they are Russians. It’s like Nazi Germany. Russia is the only country that needs de-nazification, because Putin is a real Nazi-style leader. And his people are contaminated with these kinds of Nazi-style policies against Ukrainians. And not only Ukrainians, against everyone who wants to live a free and fair life.
Do you believe you can win this war in conventional terms, and, if yes, how do you picture it happening?
I strongly believe that Ukraine will win this righteous war. I strongly believe that our victory will come. I do understand that it will take a very bloody, difficult, dramatic route. And look at all the suffering, all these tragedies that have unfolded in Ukraine. 11 million Ukrainians have already been displaced. Millions of Ukrainian refugees, huge casualties, a very high death toll. And this is the real tragedy. But we have just two options: To win, or to lose; to survive, or to be exterminated by the Russians. So, in a sense, we have only one option: We as Ukraine, and we, as part of the free world, must win and survive. There is no alternative.
We have just two options: To win or to lose; to survive or to be exterminated by the Russians
So what happens if Russia goes full on extermination tactics? They insinuate that Mariupol won’t be the only city to end up like Mariupol is today.
In terms of Putin and Russian tactics, no doubt they will do what they did in Grozny, in Aleppo, in Mariupol. And they’ve got the same commander. A brutal, bloody asshole, like everyone in the Russian military. So they will definitely try to apply this tactic and they’ve done so in a number of areas in Ukraine – in the Kyiv suburbs, in Mariupol, in Chernihiv, in Kharkiv – the tactics of the Russian military are very clear: To kill everyone and destroy everything. So that’s the reason a supply of lethal defensive and offensive weapons, and I want to focus on offensive weapons, is desperately needed for the Ukrainian military.
Is the West doing enough at this particular moment?
We’ve seen a tremendous change in Western politics. I really commend the US administration, and bipartisan support in the United States, the UK, and actually across the entire European Union. That’s what Putin didn’t expect. And this was a very big misjudgment on his part: He was completely convinced that the western world is fragile, and the response to such brutal aggression against Ukraine would be weak and ineffective. The West has changed its policy towards Russia: It has turned the tide.
The Russian people are the same criminals as Putin. 80% of the Russian population supports his policy, so I don’t distinguish them
I would like to think so. But thinking as a politician, I have doubts. And these doubts have grounds, for example, Hungary. We see very close ties between our neighbor and close partner Hungary and our adversary – the Russian Federation. France – let’s pray that Le Pen loses these elections, but on the other hand, she got around 20% of the French voters. For me, this is a way to read the sentiments of a certain share of the French people. She’s anti-Western, anti-NATO, and actually pro-Putin.
Since you mentioned Le Pen, it would be unfair not to ask about President Macron. What do you make of his recent quote on genocide, and on Russians and Ukrainians being brotherly nations?
You know, I am tired of having to be politically correct. So my answer is that I am very pissed off. Mr. President, we are not one nation with Russians, we are completely different. And if you need a historical report to prove it, I am ready to deliver. We highly appreciate your support. We highly appreciate that you decided to be on the same page with every other European Union member state and with our American and British allies and partners. I do appreciate this. And I do understand that you want to win the elections. Even I want you to win the elections. But, please, don’t say such crap.
We have a very interesting U-turn in Germany: Unrepentant Merkel and repentant Steinmeier, who was told he wasn’t wanted in Kyiv, and so cancelled his trip. Then there’s your ambassador in Germany who has become a thorn in the side of the German political establishment. How does the German panorama look right now?
Let me start with President Steinmeier, and his cancelled visit to Ukraine. I believe it would be better for German-Ukrainian relations to have the German president visit Kyiv. He represents the state, he publicly acknowledged that he was wrong about Russia, and he represents a big swath of the German electorate. So, in the current circumstances, it is best to have him as a friend and ally. German politics has changed dramatically, which is good for Germany and good for Ukraine. But, mainly, this is good for Germany, because Germany was completely and heavily reliant on Russian oil and gas- a so called investment, strong economic, financial and even political links with the Russian Federation. This kind of policy made Germany weaker, not stronger. The new German government has realized that they have to actually launch a new era of German foreign policy.
Germany has to realize that in the short-term, they need to pay the price. And this price is nothing compared with the price Ukrainians are paying
Do think this new era will last?
That’s a big question. There are different sentiments in German society. And it’s not only about sentiments, it is about very clear economic data, high inflation, high unemployment, high utility bills; about the competitiveness of German goods in the European Union and globally. Germany has to realize that in the short-term, they need to pay the price. And this price is nothing compared with the price Ukrainians are paying, just nothing. We’re talking about 1% of their GDP, or two additional percent inflation, or another few 10s of billions of Euros that have to be injected into the German economy. So it’s nothing in the short-run. But in the long-run, if Germany stays the course, as they initially decided, this will make Germany stronger. This will increase the competitiveness of the German economy. And it will make Germany more secure. So it’s up to the German political establishment to decide. Conventional wisdom, and they are well aware of what conventional wisdom is about, says that they have made the right choice. Now they have to execute this choice, to start down that road.
Moldova and Georgia have, for the lack of a better word, “interesting” stances on Ukraine. What’s your take on the situation?
You are being politically correct, I will not be: What they are doing is wrong. Period. Both of them, Moldova and Georgia. They suffered a Russian invasion in Transnistria and in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. They know the Russian playbook. We all shared the same values. And in these dramatic and challenging times, it was so important for the Ukrainian people, and for people of Georgia and Moldova, to show real unity to stand as one united front, to impose sanctions against Russia. If Ukraine falls, both Moldova and Georgia will fall. Period.
The representatives of both governments argue that it could end up making their countries suffer just as Ukraine is right now, and in the very foreseeable future. A fair justification?
This is very old, outdated and untrue justification. Let’s go back into history: Russia never needs any kind of pretext – they will always find one. So, I want to reiterate once again: We are fighting for Ukraine. We are fighting for freedom in Europe, and we are fighting for Georgia and Moldova too. We are at the front in this fight. If Putin succeeds in taking over Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova will be next, because he wants to restore the entire Soviet Union.
Let’s go back to 2014. You’re a newly appointed prime minister, and the Russians occupy Crimea, which will later, as we know, be annexed. Can you remember your first thoughts and feelings?
The same day Russia occupied Crimea, I was appointed by a constitutional majority as the Prime Minister. My recollections: An entire country on fire, no government, no military. I asked the General Chief of Staff to provide me with the data, how much real military we had. His answer: Combat-ready, just 5000 troops for the entirety of Ukraine. We had a Treasury of just 108,000 Hryvnas, around $10,000. For the entire country. The day I was sworn in as Prime Minister. 5000 combat-ready troops and $10,000 for the entire country. This was the reality. These were the facts. And when the Russian military took over Crimea, the Ukrainian military in Crimea refused to execute the orders of the Commander-in-Chief and acting president. And then the Russian military started to prepare a large scale offensive in Donetsk and Lugansk. No police, no local government, just complete disaster.
But you know what? I was totally convinced that we would survive. I said to everyone in the government, “folks, we are on a kamikaze mission.” I said it publicly, in the house. “And we are going to accomplish this mission. I’m not sure whether we’ll survive as politicians or members of the government, but I have no doubt that Ukraine will survive.” The same goes for right now. I strongly believe that Ukraine will survive. Yes, there’s going to be drama. Yes, it’s a very bloody war. Yes, lots of suffering. But you know, in the long-run, there is what I call “global justice.” Russians always tried to conquer us, to exterminate us, to kill us, to wipe us off the global map. But we always came back, we always reemerged. So I believe that in the long-run, we will win this war.
Interview by Vazha Tavberidze for RFE