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    Former President Viktor Yushchenko for “Russia is interested in losing our alliance”.

    “Russia is interested in losing the unity of our particular [Polish-Ukrainian] alliance. Therefore, if situations of misunderstanding between Ukrainian and Polish diplomats stem from carelessness, are driven by emotions and political speculative motives, they should not be inflamed and brought to the level of official clarification of these issues. The use of classical diplomacy for this, despite the fact that a departure from it has actually been taking place since the beginning of the war, and even more so the summoning of ambassadors to the MFA, means creating a reason to rejoice in Moscow,” says Ukrainian President (2005-2010) Viktor Yushchenko in an interview with the portal.

    In recent weeks, there have been tensions in relations between Poland and Ukraine, including over the issue of agriculture. There has been a mutual summoning of ambassadors to the countries’ foreign ministries. As a result of these tensions, do you think there could be an escalation of mutual grievances and claims on the Warsaw-Kyiv line?

    The political partnership between Ukraine and Poland is strategic and its importance goes far beyond bilateral relations. It is not only our two countries that are interested in the development of this partnership, but also many important centres of influence.

    Historically, in the modern period of independence, a certain model has developed in which Poland is our advocate on the way to the EU and NATO and the most motivated ally in confronting Russia. An alliance built on this basis could become the most important in Europe from the point of view of containing Russia and gradually neutralising its political regime as a source of threat.

    The strength of this for stability in Europe cannot be overestimated and this understanding is present among international partners.

    On the other hand, Russia is interested in losing the unity of our special alliance. Therefore, if situations of disagreement between Ukrainian and Polish diplomats arise out of carelessness, are driven by emotions and political speculative motives, they should not be inflamed and brought to the level of official clarification of these issues. To use classical diplomacy for this, even though a departure from it has actually been taking place since the beginning of the war, and even more so to summon ambassadors to the Foreign Ministry, is to create a cause for rejoicing in Moscow. One cannot go to the level of a public demonstration of unfriendly steps, and this has happened. This harms both sides, Ukraine and Poland, and gives cause for malign satisfaction in the Kremlin. In conclusion, the situation has been straightened out at the highest level of the political leadership, with President Zelenski giving a very mature response and appreciating the absolute constructive willingness to move on as allies who are not bothered by excessive emotions.

    Increasingly, analysts in Poland, based on harsh statements by Ukrainian politicians, claim that Ukraine is already leaning and intends to continue to lean on Germany after the war in building its position in relations with the European Union. Do you agree with this assessment by Polish analysts? And if so, are you not concerned that Germany will once again disappoint Ukraine and put Russia’s interests above Ukraine’s?

    I don’t think that situational statements by individual Ukrainian officials can be the basis for analysts’ long-term strategies or forecasts regarding Ukraine’s international position in Europe, especially after the war. It is short-sighted to speak of Ukrainian-Polish and Ukrainian-German relations as mutually exclusive alternatives.

    Ukraine’s relations with Germany, as one of the leading EU countries, are and have always been very important. However, already at the beginning of the 2022 war, it became obvious that the development of this relationship is an extraordinary challenge for Ukrainian diplomats. The fact that Germany is now providing military assistance to Ukraine is a major breakthrough or rather a step towards entering a new level of cooperation. This has been made possible by dozens of factors, with the war being the decisive factor here. But it did not work automatically, because in the first days of the Russian attack, the behind-the-scenes talks of the German authorities were not at all about the readiness to save an independent Ukraine.

    The war changed the sceptical German view. Although, let’s be honest: this “progress” began with the mass graves of peaceful residents of the Kyiv region and the air raids by Russian aircraft on residential buildings in Mariupol and Borodianka. I say this in order not to make an accusation against anyone. No one was ready for all this, either politically or psychologically. We all remember that there is a background behind this mistake costing human lives.

    In the history of Ukrainian-German cooperation, there have been some very unpleasant ‘moments of truth’ when certain influences were revealed, going so deep that such a thing could hardly have been expected in Ukraine’s third decade of national independence. Not only in Germany but also in other European countries, such as Hungary, there was and is a cohort of politicians who view Ukraine from Europe through the prism of a Russian vision. And that vision is the reconstruction of the Soviet Union. As former President Kwasniewski once successfully joked about Russia’s restoration of the Soviet anthem: “Russia never changes the music. Its interest in Europe lies in legitimising its influence over the former Soviet republics to make them quasi-states. A political ‘fifth column’, supported by Moscow, is working in the name of this idea. This is a long-term investment by the Kremlin, and the common task of the European continent is to bankrupt this corporation of Russian influence and sabotage. There is clearly progress in this common cause.

    Early August marked the fifteenth anniversary of your – and the then leaders of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – visit to Georgia in 2008. This visit took place at the initiative of the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski. What’s your opinion, on why did Russia kill Lech Kaczynski? What impact did his death have on Ukrainian-Polish relations?

    The death of Lech Kaczynski, along with his wife and many members of the presidential team, could not have been an accident. Moreover, the more years have passed since this tragedy, the more obvious to the civilised world become the medieval methods of the Russian secret services, which would never have been able to carry out such special operations without the knowledge of the highest leadership of the state. Poisonings, mysterious suicides, plane crashes, hunting and prison accidents are the now familiar arsenal of the Russian ‘deep state’ [‘deep state’ – a type of governance consisting of potentially secretive and unauthorised networks of power operating independently of the state’s political leadership in pursuit of its own agenda and goals].

    A black day in Poland’s recent history is steeped in mystical symbolism and this is one indirect indication of Russian involvement – they like, excuse the pun, ‘directed crimes’ against their opponents.

    There are many layers to the Smolensk crash in 2010, underneath which lies the terrible truth of the crime. The plane that crashed is the same plane that took a delegation of presidents to Tbilisi in 2008 to stop the Russian occupation.

    The aim of this crime was clear to its co-authors and it was obviously to intimidate the Poles, to deepen their collective trauma related to another historical event. It is possible that, by plunging the country into such a shock, they wanted to make it clear that joint missions by new democratic countries, such as the arrival in Georgia, were dangerous and there was no need to repeat this to stop Russia. Somewhere there was such a message.

    A certain logic can also be traced back in time. At that time, internal pro-Russian political influence in Ukraine intensified, and traitors became managers at the level of key security institutions and diplomacy. And here, in parallel, there is also an attempt to deprive Ukraine of an external partner that defends and can foster its European aspirations. I think this was an attempt to cut off the chances of Poland’s leadership in Eastern Europe, where there was a lot of trust and agreement on this first role among the countries of the region.

    This black plan, which began as such a triumph of evil, failed because events took a completely unexpected course for Russia, and the defeat of Russia as a military and international power is now seen by many countries as a strategically desirable outcome.

    In 2008, Russian troops, which didn’t dare to reach Tbilisi, were stopped. Today, however, Mikheil Saakashvili has become a prisoner of the current Georgian government. His close associates claim that he is being held at the behest of the Kremlin. What or who can save him from death? Who is in favour of Saakashvili’s death?

    Mikheil Saakashvili is a fearless man with an extraordinary, complex and tragic fate. When one now sees his suffering in a Georgian prison, such a biblical association emerges, sorry for the pathos, that Misha took upon himself the sins of his entire people. And for these mistakes of the people, for their credulity, he himself is now paying with his health. I do not want to talk about worst-case scenarios, but it seems to me that international efforts to save him are not enough.

    This is how Russia humiliates an entire nation when it shows the whole world what it can do to its leaders, the symbols of its freedom. The same was done in Ukraine, but here they went further because they could. Judge the cynicism of this idea: to torture such a person with the hands of puppet judges or Georgian prosecutors. By the hands of officials of those law enforcement and justice agencies that Misha cleaned of corruption and in which he paved the way to an honest career for a different kind of public servant. After all, it was not Russia and not a Moscow court – it was the Georgian state that sent its president to a lengthy public execution at the behest of Russia.

    I don’t know if Georgians feel this humiliation on a collective level, but they are a proud nation. They cannot but feel this pain.

    How do you assess the results of the NATO summit in Vilnius in July? What results did you expect? In 2008, you led the initial negotiations on Ukraine’s membership of the North Atlantic Alliance.

    The NATO summit in Vilnius reminds us of the well-known saying that history likes to repeat itself. It is clear that the 2023 summit would not have taken place in such a context if the 2008 summit had had a different outcome. It is necessary to recall the history of 2008 when, 4 months after the Bucharest summit, Russia attacked Georgia. These events brought to an end the democratic and pluralistic phase of European development that had lasted after the collapse of the USSR. Thus, Russia proved to be the beneficiary of the greatest benefit of the 2008 NATO summit – it received permission to change the world order.

    The 2023 NATO summit in Vilnius took place against the backdrop of the hot phase of Russia’s war with Ukraine, which radically changed not the position of Ukraine itself, but its value for the security of the entire continent. This war is being fought in defence of a large group of NATO countries against a military threat from Russia, and it is being fought by an army whose talent, professionalism and courage astonish the world. That is why, together with the states parties to the Budapest Memorandum, with the key NATO countries, we must seek a formula for cooperation and for providing a realistic prospect of membership without additional conditions.

    Giving up the Membership Action Plan (MAP) stage would have been a very generous gift in 2008, a simply incredible gesture of gratitude to the peoples of Ukraine and Georgia for their democratic European choice in peaceful revolutions. But today, with Russia launching a war in Europe and missiles flying over the territory of our neighbours, members of the Alliance, there is little time for ritual formalities. Ukrainian social networks report that in August this year, Romanian residents filmed with their mobile phones the work of anti-aircraft defences in areas bordering Ukraine. They can already see the war from the window of their own home!

    At the same time, there are provocative claims that Ukraine could gain NATO membership by relinquishing part of its occupied territories. This seems to be a test technology to see the reaction, but it is also very useful for us to understand the complexity of the topic of NATO membership for the Alliance itself and at the same time to make sure that some approaches to this issue can be very cynical.

    There is now one more neighbour (apart from Russia) that threatens both Ukraine and Poland. We are talking about Belarus led by Lukashenko, where Prigozhin’s mercenaries ended up after the putsch. Did Lukashenko have an alternative – to enter Belarusian history not as a tyrant, but as a democratic, popular leader? How do you assess the current threat from Belarus to Ukraine and Poland?

    Belarus is rapidly shedding even the apparent signs of state sovereignty. This is not surprising, but a logical consequence of the fact that no mechanism for the democratic exchange of power has emerged in Belarus. Democracy, or at least one of its manifestations, has not grown up there. For example, there is no civil society capable of changing the direction in which the country is going or of emerging a new political elite. Therefore, the leader will eventually be replaced by the leader’s son. Dictatorships are often inherited.

    Belarus did not de facto leave the USSR in the 1990s and is now eager to return to it.

    Therefore, the use of this territory for the manipulation of Russian nuclear weapons, the ‘relocation’ of Russian aviation, military personnel, of course, FSB personnel, and now the open invitation to create a military base for the Prigozhin terrorist organisation – this is BSSR 2.0 [Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic 2.0].

    It is a poorly disguised reservoir of Russian war criminals.

    Belarus and this is the tragedy of its people, is now a state whose leadership is not in control of the military forces on its own territory. This regime poses an extraordinary danger to Europe, its neighbouring countries, above all Ukraine and Poland, among others, because of its unpredictability and instability.

    Belarus practises terrorism in which even people are used as weapons, for example, this happens to migrants at the borders. Belarus is committing genocide because it was involved in the kidnapping of Ukrainian children from the Russian-occupied territories of Donbass. When Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba calls on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant for the head of the Red Cross in Belarus, Dmitry Shaucou, one has to go further up the hierarchy. The likes of Shaucou are not independent actors. They have superiors, they simply follow orders. I am convinced that the ICC will take a comprehensive approach here, because Belarus is involved in all Russian war crimes and will continue to do so.

    Viktor Yushchenko - Ukrainian politician and statesman, economist. Third President of Ukraine (2005-2010). Seventh Prime Minister of Ukraine (1999-2001), head of the Our Ukraine party (2005-2013). After his defeat in the 2010 presidential election, co-chairman of the Development Council of the Mystećkyj Arsenal National Cultural-Artistic and Museum Complex (Kyiv). Head of the public organisation President Viktor Yushchenko's Institute 'Strategic Initiatives'.

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