Yulia Tymoshenko: «I am waiting for the Russians in Kiev with a rifle in my arms. No Ukrainian will want to give up Crimea “

from Francesco Battistini

The former prime minister, Maidan’s barricadera: «On 24 February I slept with my grandchildren. Then the shock. To Salvini my advice: don’t waste time with a trip to Moscow. Turkey is a friendly country “

KIEV – Medvedev says he hates us, we Westerners. He would like to see us disappear …

“But he’s not a politician. He is a slave of the regime. He is not one who can speak freely. And those around Putin do not understand that they are committing suicide ”.

There are no cracks in the Tsar’s entourage …

“It is not important to know if there are any. The only one who matters in Moscow is Putin. An absolute dictator. He is not interested in knowing how those around him think. ”

You are well acquainted with Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, who once passed for dialogue: is he under blackmail?

“Lavrov, like everyone, has only two choices: obey or disappear. I think they are fantasies, those of those who hope for a coup from some collaborator. Putin will never allow anyone to stop his dream of reviving the empire ».

In a trench of boxes full of clothes destined for refugees from
inside a nineteenth-century building in the center of Kiev and amidst giant pictures of the roaring orange years, time has not loosened the steel braid it yielded Yulia Tymoshenko world famous. Twice premier, beloved and hated barricade of the revolutions of Maidanimprisoned by the pro-Russians and then released by public acclaim, arrested for a history of bribes and then rehabilitated, once the American newspaper Forbes he listed this rich “gas princess” among the hundred most influential women in the world. Today you are less popular, but no less combative: «If the Russians entered Kiev, I know I would be killed immediately. I’m on the blacklist. How Zelensky and other leaders. But from day one, when my automatic rifle was handed to me, I decided not to leave. I am capable of shooting, I have trained, because I have no idea how long they would give me to leave. ‘

How do you remember that February 24th?

“A shock. I was in Kiev. I slept in my bed, the three grandchildren in another room. I hear an explosion. I tell myself: here is the war. I’m scared. I didn’t expect Putin to launch such a large-scale attack. It was the exact moment when the hope of the Ukrainians collapsed. In the morning, I get my team together and we all decide to stay and get our weapons back. I’m going to Zelensky. Let’s think about what the Russians can and cannot do. He too decides to stay. I am proud of this choice that we have all made, in such difficult hours ».

His life was turned upside down.

“Totally. Not just mine, everyone’s. The impression of the first day was that of being at the year zero. There was no longer the normal political life we ​​were used to. It was no longer the usual routine, no business as usual. There was the front under the house, the territorial defense, the barricades, preparing the food, making contact with the doctors, thinking about the women and children. The first thing I did was evacuate six children with kidney cancer from Kiev ».

The rockets have fallen on the capital again: does Putin want to try again in Kiev?

“He wants all of Ukraine. Its territory, its history, its culture. But without the Ukrainians. He calls it denationalization. In normal language, however, this means the genocide of the other party. Before the war, Putin published an article in which he said that Ukraine is a state that does not exist. And that there is no Ukrainian nation. And that this is all Russian land ».

But why did he decide to take it right now?

“The war has been going on for years, maybe you haven’t noticed. There is a lot of evidence that demonstrates this long march: it started from Transnistria, with Georgia, with Ossetia, with Abkhazia, then it arrived at Donbass. Step by step, she followed his strategy. We, all of this, saw it. He has planned everything in advance, to achieve his political goal of reconstituting the empire. He has put his puppets to lead Ukraine, keeping our army weak and preparing the ground for war. In 2014, he found no resistance in the Crimea and the Donbass. At this point, he thought the time had come and started the invasion. He thought he could also take Kiev in a few weeks. He believed that the government and the military were weak enough. He did not know that, after eight years of war, there is another Ukrainian army. What a mistake: as Stephen King, the writer, said, Putin was expecting a docile puppy and he was faced with a wolverine, a furious bear ».

What do you think of European politicians, such as Matteo Salvini, who want to go to Moscow?

«I give them two pieces of advice: avoid wasting time to achieve results that do not exist. And think about what you would do if your country were in the situation of Ukraine. We fight for our freedom. Here there is truth and democracy, there is disinformation and dictatorship ».

What is your idea of ​​Turkish mediation? Erdogan has been looking for a role from the beginning, first at the peace table and now to unlock the grain …

«The Russians, the Turks have never allowed them to occupy the whole Black Sea: they are our friends, here we have a famous song dedicated to the drones they gave us, the Bayraktar. The Turks support us. And with their mediation they have shown the world that Putin is not interested in real dialogue. They are also trying with wheat, there are 22 million tons of Ukrainian cereals sucked by Russian ships: if Erdogan managed to get them exported, it would be a great contribution to our victory ».

A hundred and more days later, no possibility of peace is glimpsed and we are still here hoping for a ceasefire …

“How is it possible to speak of a ceasefire when the Russians control 20 percent of our territory?” In the West they say there are two options for ending this war. One is the defeat of the Russians. The other is a peace agreement that saves Putin’s face and pushes him back. But I know the situation well, I know what’s on the negotiating table, and I want to be clear: there are no two options. There is only one, to win. Look what the Russians are asking for. A demilitarization. And then security guarantees: which means no NATO and unilateral disarmament of our forces. And what would we get in return? Ukrainians should receive security guarantees from the aggressor country! Furthermore, they should refuse the protection of a collective defense system such as that of NATO … It is absurd! There is no responsible politician in the world who can accept such conditions. Putin would get to take us with his bare hands! Crimea, the Donbass. To give the Russians of Ukraine Russian passports that no longer serve to go anywhere, which are valid as a passport from Somalia. And then? The next day, he would already be there to claim something else. Because his goal is not the Donbass: it is to remake the Soviet empire, at any cost ».

But Europe cannot tolerate such a war on its doorstep for long.

“Of course. But do you know what this Putin imperialism would mean, even for you Europeans? That this war would become permanent. A new cycle would enter, with economic, energy and social problems dragged into each European country. How long would Europe be able to withstand such a weight? Probably, the temptation to end it once and for all would emerge. And the result, to eliminate these burdens, would be to bring war to the heart of Europe. For this reason, any negotiation on such big issues is not a decision that concerns only President Zelensky. It doesn’t matter whether or not he agrees. It must be a decision made by the Ukrainians, all together. They know that the only guarantee of safety comes from overpowering weapons. And from a defense umbrella like NATO ».

Will international justice be able to try these war crimes?

“I think so. The day after Bucha or Irpin, you foreign journalists were already there, witnessing what happened. Now the international investigators have arrived. The evidence is many, everything is documented. And nothing can go unpunished ».

But do you believe that international solidarity will last a long time? In Europe, many are convinced that Ukraine has always been a country ruled by neo-Nazis. And that Maidan was a coup …

«Maidan – or the Revolution of Dignity, as I prefer to call it – broke out in 2014 when Viktor Yanukovych decided not to sign the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. I ask you: where is nationalism, or Nazism, here? Our revolution was intended to make us return to the European home: this is not the Soviet Union, this is Europe. And those who say it was a putsch do not know the facts: in order to rebel against the pro-Russian regime of Yanukovych, the Ukrainians lost their lives. They did it for Europe, to get out of the post-Soviet era: what coup would it be, that of people dying in the streets? Putin accuses the Ukrainians of having installed a political system full of Nazis. But we are probably the only country in the whole of Europe that has no extremists in Parliament. The Ukrainian people made a choice in favor of the European parties. This is a fact ».

What impression did you make to know that Putin wanted to replace Zelensky with Yanukovych?

(Laughs) «I thought: how much misinformation! Someone explain to the top Kremlin leaders how desperate the Ukrainians would be, to see Yanukovych or someone like that return. They probably believe he would be greeted with flowers, as they thought their troops would be received! In Kharkiv, Dnetsk, Lugansk, Odessa, Kherson, Mykolaiv, there are all people who speak Russian and feel Russian. Who voted for the Russian parties. Yet they bombed them, killed them. Where were the Nazis there? ‘

Can this war end by 2022?

«Yes, but under various conditions: a formal victory over Russia, more efficient weapons for Ukraine, no economic assistance to Moscow. Was it Churchill who said “give us the means and we will do our part”? Here, give us the weapons and we will end the war by 2022: I am sure that in August, when the heavy weapons arrive, there will be a turning point ».

But something will have to be negotiated. Zelensky, for example, seemed soft on the Crimea: he says that thousands of other lives cannot be risked to go and get it back …

“Zelensky is in a complicated diplomatic match. But it is not he – I repeat – who decides whether or not to sign any peace agreement. It is the Ukrainian people who decide. We are a democratic and free country, it cannot be a man alone to say that he renounces a piece of territory. Zelensky cannot go against the will of the people. And I really don’t think there is a Ukrainian willing to lose Crimea forever. It was the first crime committed by the Russians: do you think if someone, tomorrow, would come to you in Italy and take Sicily or Sardinia … “

She has always been tough with Zelensky.

“Before the invasion, I shared nothing of his decisions. I was very critical of his political choices. But on the first day of the war, we met and shook hands. We said to ourselves: national unity cannot be discussed. And victory also depends on our unity ».

Zelensky has never loved your revolutions too much …

«What matters now is the victory. Our life. Our goal. After the war, we will resolve the differences ».

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