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‘We must finish Vladimir Putin – appeasement is the first step towards the next war’

Hopes of a peace deal with Russia are ‘illusory’, says former Ukraine leader Yulia Tymoshenko

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Yulia Tymoshenko delivers a speech following the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential election at her campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko...I

Yulia Tymoshenko delivers a speech following the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential election at her campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko...I

Yulia Tymoshenko delivers a speech following the announcement of the first exit poll in a presidential election at her campaign headquarters in Kiev, Ukraine March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko...I

Yulia Tymoshenko, who swept to power as prime minister in Ukraine’s first anti-Kremlin uprising, warned that any deal that conceded land to Mr Putin would encourage him to make further land grabs.

The only solution now, she said, was to “finish” him completely by military means, despite the rising death toll. Ms Tymoshenko (61) made her comments in Kyiv, where she has remained during the war.

When the city came under siege, she kept a gun by her side after being warned that she was high on a Kremlin hit-list that also included President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Her remarks are a rebuke to Western leaders who have hinted that giving up parts of the eastern Donbas would be an acceptable price for peace. France and Germany have expressed openness to the idea, despite an apparent toughening of their stance at last weekend’s G7 summit, when French President Emmanuel Macron declared that “ Russia cannot and must not win”.

Ms Tymoshenko, the only female prime minister of Ukraine, fears that as the economic cost of the conflict rises, Europe’s temptation to push Kyiv into a peace deal will increase.

She said: “I am surprised that some countries continue to try to pursue appeasement. This is unacceptable for all Ukraine. A peace agreement is an illusion, the only way out is a victory in battle. Any peace agreement will be the first step towards the next war.”

She added that despite heavy military losses, Mr Putin was trying to prolong the war in the hope that splits within Nato would emerge. She backed Mr Zelensky’s calls for more Western missiles in the Donbas, where Ukrainian forces are losing 100 soldiers per day.

“The Russians have the upper hand there in terms of artillery by a factor of maybe 15,” she said. “That deficit of weapons on our side is what is producing the high death toll.”

Now one of Kyiv’s senior democrats, Ms Tymoshenko’s career charts Ukraine’s unsteady post-Soviet path, a period riven by infighting and Kremlin interference.

In 2004, she co-led the Orange Revolution, which saw huge street protests overturn an election rigged in favour of the pro-Kremlin candidate, Viktor Yanukovych. Dubbed the Slavic Joan of Arc at the time, she was hailed internationally as a champion of democracy, with her braided hairstyle copied on fashion catwalks.

The Orange Revolution quickly soured into infighting, however, allowing Mr Yanukovych to take power in 2010. Ms Tymoshenko was then sentenced to seven years in prison on charges of abuse of office over a gas deal – charges she said were politically motivated. She was freed in the wake of Ukraine’s second uprising in 2014, when Mr Yanukovych fled to Russia.

She lost to Mr Zelensky in elections in 2019, when the comedian-turned-politician’s party won by a landslide, but has voiced support for him since February’s invasion.

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Despite the bloody nose that Ukraine has given to Mr Putin’s forces, she fears the war is far from over.

Russia could still seek to occupy other parts of its near-backyard, she warned, singling out Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan and the Scandinavian and Baltic nations. While Kazakhstan and Belarus are both authoritarian regimes and Putin allies, both have opposition movements that could distance themselves from the Kremlin if they ever took power.

“Those countries should not waste time, [they should] build strong armed forces and become Nato members if they are not already,” she said.

She also refused to rule out Mr Putin trying to overcome setbacks on the conventional battlefield by using nuclear weapons.

She said that while the Russian leader – whom she has met several times – was not “suicidal” enough to drop large-scale strategic atom bombs, he could deploy a low-yield tactical one, gambling that the West would not respond. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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