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'Putin Only Understands Force,' Says Ukrainian Ex-President In Call For United Response Against Russia

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that he met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on February 24 and agreed to put their differences aside in order to "start from scratch."
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said that he met with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on February 24 and agreed to put their differences aside in order to "start from scratch."

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has a simple message for his fellow politicians in Ukraine and leaders across the world: stay united and don't compromise when dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"Putin only understands force [and he] will go as far as the world allows him," the 56-year-old politician and chocolate magnate said during an interview with Current Time, the Russian-language channel run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA. "We can't create a precedent for the world -- and even more so in Europe -- where one state can forcefully change the borders that were established after World War II."

The former president's comments come as the Ukraine war approaches its third month and as fighting has shifted mostly to the country's eastern Donbas region, where Ukrainian and Russian troops are engaged in a brutal and slow-moving battle of attrition. Ukraine's military has performed better than many experts and officials predicted in the early days of the conflict and has successfully pushed Russian troops back from key areas, as Moscow has revised its war aims to capture smaller portions of Ukraine's east and south.

Poroshenko says that there remains a substantial distance between Kyiv and Moscow for any negotiated end to the war and that the West needs to continue with the tough measures it has taken against the Kremlin, which he says are the only language that Putin understands.

"Putin wants to remove Ukraine as a state from the world map," Poroshenko said. "[Therefore], it's impossible to talk about anything else apart from a cease-fire, the withdrawal of Russian troops, and a solution to the humanitarian situation. The territorial integrity and sovereignty of a country can't be subject to compromise."

The Ukrainian politician also says that Western leaders should not be deterred by Putin's threats in speeches and statements about the prospect of using nuclear or chemical weapons in Ukraine. Poroshenko says that he sees this as empty rhetoric and that he believes the Russian leader is afraid of the repercussions for using them.

"He will be hindered by fear if he thinks of using weapons of mass destruction because Putin [knows] he will be destroyed by retaliatory strikes," Poroshenko said.

A Call For Unity At Home

Poroshenko came to power in 2014 after a popular uprising saw former President Viktor Yanukovych flee the country and he later oversaw the outbreak of war with Kremlin-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine. In 2019, he lost decisively in a presidential election to Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the two remained in a heated political battle that culminated in Poroshenko being charged with high treason prior to Russia's February 24 invasion.

During the interview with Current Time, Poroshenko called for "unity within Ukraine" amid the war and said that he met with President Zelenskiy on February 24 and agreed to put their differences aside in order to "start from scratch."

"Please understand that life before [Russia's invasion] and after are completely different worlds," Poroshenko said. "We have a responsibility to look into the eyes of the relatives of those [who died for Ukraine]. [They] didn't give their lives so that we could return to the old ways again."

During his five years in power, Poroshenko championed Ukraine's integration with the European Union and NATO, signing an Association Agreement with the 27-country bloc and enshrining the country's aspirations to join the military alliance into the constitution. However, he saw his popularity decline steadily amid a lack of anti-corruption reforms and the deterioration of living standards.

Poroshenko, who is one of Ukraine's richest citizens, is a member of parliament and the leader of an opposition party called European Solidarity.

The high-treason charges were related to him allegedly organizing the sale of large amounts of coal from the Donbas in 2014 and 2015 while president, which prosecutors said helped to finance the separatists. Poroshenko denied the charges and said that they were politically motivated by Zelenskiy as an act of revenge.

Ukraine's tumultuous domestic politics and the rivalries of its leaders have largely been put on hold since Russia's invasion began. Poroshenko has appeared on Western news networks frequently, famously brandishing a Kalashnikov rifle on CNN and wearing a kevlar vest in Kyiv as Russian troops attacked the city in late February and early March and speaking out about the need for more Western support.

He has also been active on social media and on his YouTube channel, prompting some speculation by Ukrainian political commentators that he is looking to boost his image during the war in order to pursue high office again.

Poroshenko pushed back against being engaged in any political maneuvering and said that he remains focused on helping the Ukrainian war effort. The former president and foreign minister says that his biggest aspiration at the moment is for Ukraine to be admitted into the EU and for him to represent his country in the European Parliament.

"As a member of the European Parliament, I will pursue a very effective policy," Poroshenko said.

Written by Reid Standish in Prague based off reporting by Irina Romaliiska

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