Leonid Kuchma: World War III begins if Ukrainians stop resisting

Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma welcomed the war into his home – without leaving either Kyiv or Ukraine. As he himself says in his first and so far only interview with the BBC Ukrainian newsroom – like most civilians in my country, I was caught in the crossfire by the Russian full-scale invasion and “it is probably a tradition of all fascists, regardless of country or era, to attack us in four in the morning…” In the first days of the war, Russian fighters flew over our house, almost stuck to the roof.

“Did I expect it? That is not an easy question. Psychologically, as a person of my generation, I was prepared for the war – as a child I had experienced the first Nazi occupation of my homeland.”

Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine’s second democratically elected president, long headed the Ukrainian delegation to the Minsk talks and knows better than anyone the sentiments and ambitions of the Russian authorities in the war. At the beginning of the war, Ukrainian media successively published how former heads of state Kuchma, Poroshenko and Yushchenko met in Kyiv with the defense, the mayor and the current president. All of them supported Zelensky in one way or another.

Today Leonid Kuchma openly draws analogies between the invasion of Russian troops and the fascists, says that after the conflict in Tuzla in 2003 he has no illusions about “Putin’s Russia”. He is sure that this time the Russian president did not calculate well.

About Vladimir Putin’s miscalculations

“Putin attacked us because he did not believe that anyone would punish him for this. He did not believe in the unity of the West around support for Ukraine, he did not believe in Western sanctions that could have a profoundly negative impact on Russia. Obviously, this turned out to be an unpleasant and painful surprise for him, which he does not know how to deal with. It is quite possible that after receiving a warning about preventive sanctions and realizing the seriousness of the West’s intentions, Putin was afraid to order an offensive. It seems to me that that in fact, if we talk about the emotional component, Putin would like everything to go back, like in a fairy tale, so that February 24 would seem like it never happened. After all, the blitzkrieg failed, and as a result of the fatal mistake of Putin. (…) Putin wanted to destroy the Ukrainian state, and he will get our second birth. This is exactly the path we are on today – the creation of a single Ukrainian nation that has realized itself and is ready to fight for its own your identity.

The end of the war?

First of all, according to Kuchma, we should not count on the fact that Putin is about to die and that sanctions are about to kill Russia economically. Also, that the average Russian citizen will suddenly see and go out in an anti-war protest. None of this will happen. Ukraine must fight and decide everything on the battlefield.

Kuchma doesn’t think the war will end anytime soon, however, as Putin feverishly collects armies from prisons and weapons from eastern autocracies. It shows that he still wants to achieve some kind of victory.

Conflicts in the modern civilized world usually seek a win-win solution, an acceptable outcome where everyone wins to some degree and there are no “net” losers. However, this is not our case, explains Leonid Kuchma, as Putin has brought too much grief, destruction and horror to the Ukrainian land. Hundreds of Ukrainian children have been killed – I don’t know how to find a compromise after that. “The temperature has already risen so much that there can only be one winner in this war – and I believe we will be that winner.”

At this stage, however, the “acceptable outcome” for different countries is so different that even with good will – assuming there is such a fiction regarding the Kremlin – there is no cross-border. It is unacceptable for Ukraine to leave its lands – and especially its people – under occupation. However, it is unacceptable for the Russian authorities to look like losers and “failures” in the eyes of both their own population and the West. According to the Kremlin, this would mean leaving the occupied lands.

Seen from a more functional point of view, Putin and his inner circle now want above all to keep their power, to get a guarantee that the Russian state will remain theirs.

This requires not shaking the foundations of the regime. Thus, the megalomaniac Russian average man gets his dose of a drug that creates a virtual reality in which he feels like the master of the world and a heroic victor.

In his interview, he criticized the lack of preparation over the years in terms of weaponry and combat capability, saying that much more could have been done, including the production of its own weapons. Also, according to Kuchma, the West should have triggered sanctions even before the start of the invasion – “They should have listened to our arguments and imposed preventive sanctions, as the Ukrainian leadership has repeatedly requested.”

There are many factors that could dramatically affect the course and duration of the war, including the approaching cold period without Russian gas supplies, the prospect of political crises and elections in the West. “Remember that destroying the unity of Europe, the integrity of the Euro-Atlantic community, is one of the main goals of the Kremlin. And Putin has more than one tool in his arsenal to try to do that – propaganda lies and manipulation, intimidation and extortion.”

Kuchma also spoke of the long-standing and significant corruption among Western elites with Russian money (Schröder and Fillon are only the visible part of this iceberg) and of the reluctance of the “average European” to drastically lose their level of comfort and well-being. Ukrainians should be aware that the West is not only a source of invaluable help for us, but also of potential problems, according to Kuchma.

Ukraine – NATO – European Union

According to Kuchma, his country’s path to the Western Unions and Communities is predetermined and unchanged. The question is when this will happen, and to a large extent it also depends on the outcome of the conflict with Russia, including whether Ukraine will not become a land of “frozen conflict”. He refers to the words of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmitry Kuleba, who clearly formulated our position: we will sit at the negotiating table only after Russia is defeated on the battlefield. That is, we will discuss our terms and demands, and that is right. And we can discuss them with anyone, the president points out.

But Kuchma wonders what the Russian authorities will sell as a victory? What can they do? The destruction of our infrastructure and industrial potential, which they will present as “demilitarization”. The trial against the people of Azov, which will be declared as that mythical “denazification”. Full occupation of the so-called LDPR, a land corridor to Crimea, the waters of the Dnieper…?

In the first weeks of the war, support for the Euro-Atlantic course slightly declined in Ukraine. Kuchma attributes this, firstly, to the acceptance of neutral status in exchange for security guarantees at the beginning of negotiations with Russia, and secondly, to the painful reaction of Ukrainian society to the categorical refusal of NATO, precisely as an organization, to provide military aid to Ukraine.

The idea of ​​neutrality, which, by the way, was one of the points of the Russian ultimatum, as far as I know, is no longer being considered. After Russian atrocities and war crimes, no one will trust the Kremlin and will not give it any binding guarantees.

As for NATO aid, I hope that in the meantime it has become clear to the Ukrainians that almost all the weapons we receive are provided by the member countries of the alliance. With particular nostalgia and sympathy, Leonid Kuchma thanked the Republic of North Macedonia, which as a gesture of gratitude, perhaps since the 90s, has provided its tanks.

Personally, Leonid Kuchma does not see an alternative to Ukraine’s membership in NATO.

About Vladimir Zelensky

“No one can do everything right. But given the unprecedented extremity and criticality of the situation, the Ukrainian authorities are doing much more and much better than anyone could have imagined and expected from them before the Russian invasion. Especially if to they were treated like amateurs… as far as I know our leaders were treated by Putin. This is another fatal mistake of the Kremlin. And I, for my part, am sincerely glad that already in the spring of 2019 I believed in the great potential and honesty of Vladimir Zelensky’s intentions and supported him.

At the highest, strategic level, it seems to me that Zelensky is doing the right things (…) Most importantly, from the first day, the president and commander-in-chief remained in his post, refusing any offers to leave the capital. Even this alone was a very important factor in our survival during the difficult days and weeks of the invasion.

Nuclear strike

According to Leonid Kuchma, threats with nuclear weapons are always serious, but as for the specific forecast, he excludes the use of Russian strategic potential by Russia. A state may resort to strategic nuclear weapons only when there is a real threat to its existence or in response to a strike already struck, as a kind of “revenge from beyond the grave”. Russia can use such weapons only against the USA, such are the peculiarities of the deployment and guidance of intercontinental missiles. But Putin, whatever he says, knows very well that the US does not threaten him and will not be the first to strike. The use of strategic nuclear weapons means automatic retaliation and assured destruction – in geopolitics there is even a term called “mutually assured destruction”. Putin is not suicidal.

As for tactical nuclear weapons, the situation is unfortunately more complicated. I wouldn’t rule out that danger. The fact is that a non-nuclear Ukraine is unable to adequately respond to Russia. It is this sense of impunity that has been the main driving force behind Putin’s actions for more than a decade.

If the situation at the front threatens – no, not Russia’s existence or security, but only Putin’s political positions and the stability of his regime – the Kremlin can use tactical nuclear weapons.

Can this be prevented? I hope so. We can’t stop Putin here. But our Western allies, I think, can.” Kuchma is sure that a clear warning to Putin from the United States, for example, about a military response to the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear Ukraine, is also able to stop him.

He does not rule out the possibility that such a warning has already been given.

The world on the brink of World War III

Asked if he thinks the world is on the brink of World War III and that Russia might attack Lithuania or Poland, Kuchma recalls that when Hitler invaded Poland, no one knew yet that a world war was already underway.

Depending on how Ukraine responds to aggression, World War III will either be averted or already on its way. “If we resist – Putin won’t go any further. If we don’t – I’m afraid there’s more to come. But we will resist.”

However, even if the geography of Russian aggression were to expand, it would not be Lithuania or Poland, but the post-Soviet republics outside NATO, that would be under greatest threat. Mention of Moldova and Northern Kazakhstan is now commonplace, and now Georgia is also mentioned in this context. After all, Russia attacks only those who are many times weaker.

To make a real challenge to NATO, even more so to lose the most combat-capable part of its army, does not seem to me to be because of Russia. In a conventional war, NATO will destroy the Russian army, and in a nuclear war, Russia will simply be destroyed. Will Putin start a war with two options – lose or die? A normal person would give only one answer, and Putin, as Kuchma puts it, is not suicidal.

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