The former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko told Euractiv he was “absolutely sure” that instructors from the Russian mercenary group Wagner were transferred from Syria to Gaza to help prepare the terrorist attacks on Israel on 7 October.
Poroshenko, president from 2014 to 2019 and now heads the European Solidarity party, was visiting Brussels ahead of an expected decision by the EU Commission on 8 November to greenlight the start of Ukraine’s accession talks.
In an exclusive interview on Wednesday (11 October), he warned that “not everybody should think the decision is in our pocket”.
Asked about what appears to be sabotage on the Balticconnector pipeline and telecommunications cable linking Finland to Estonia, qualified by the authorities in Helsinki as damage caused by “outside activity”, he said:
“I’m absolutely convinced that this is a terrorist attack, the aim of which is to destabilise the energy situation in Europe, in the same way Russia attacks with missiles the energy system of Ukraine.”
He said the same Russian signature was seen in the assault the Islamist militant group Hamas launched on Israel last weekend.
“I’m absolutely convinced that there is Russian interest, Russian hands, in the preparation of the Hamas terror attack on Israel.”
Though without concrete proof, he said he knew very well how Wagner mercenaries operate.
“I have known it since 2014 when the first Wagner group appeared in the east of my country. I know the signature of Wagner from their attacks in Lysychansk, Severodonetsk, Soledar, Bakhmut. This is exactly Wagner tactics.”
“I’m absolutely sure that the Russian Wagner instructors in Syria were transferred to Hamas in Gaza and participated in the training of terrorists to prepare the absolutely barbaric attack on Israel from the Gaza strip.”
How to deal with Putin
Asked about his personal impressions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he met many times, including for the negotiation of the now defunct Minsk agreement following Russia’s occupation of Donbas, he said:
“I have several conclusions. Conclusion number one: never trust Putin. Putin is a KGB officer who especially learned how to lie. Number two: never ever be afraid of Putin. Because if you are afraid, you lose. Number three, keep in mind that Putin understands only one language: strength. This is why he will go only as far as we allow him to.”
Poroshenko said the best negotiator with Russia was the armed forces Ukraine has built.
The security of Europe, he said, resided in the “blue and yellow shield of Ukraine”, which he said was strengthened under his presidency.
The strongest army in Europe
“I’m proud that I created with the people of Ukraine the strongest, the most efficient armed forces of Europe,” he said.
He said that as a leader of the second largest political party force, his mission was to be “a watchdog” for the progress of reforms and civil society’s power.
Challenged with the question about a pessimistic scenario, in which the war in the Middle East would eclipse the war in his country while the prospects for NATO and EU enlargement would fade, he said such doubts only fueled Putin’s narrative.
“Stop talking about fatigue. If you feel fatigue from Ukraine, it means you feel fatigue from freedom, you feel fatigue from democracy, you feel fatigue from the EU, from NATO, in favour of Putin”.
“And please stop thinking that you are helping Ukraine. You are also helping yourself, you are investing in your own security”, he said.
“For us, NATO is life, it’s survival, for Ukraine, NATO means life”, he repeated.
Nuclear arsenal again?
Asked if Ukraine made a mistake back in 1994 when it gave up the nuclear weapons on its soil under the Budapest memorandum, he said:
“That happened almost 30 years ago. But I agree that the positions of the Ukrainian negotiator would be much stronger if we had nuclear weapons. Even more: if Ukraine had had nuclear weapons, Putin would have never attacked us.”
Asked if Ukraine should develop a new nuclear arsenal again, given its experience and potential, especially if the NATO candidacy fails, he gave an answer suggesting that plan A was NATO accession.
“Ukraine will fight for our independence. Ukraine will fight for our existence. No matter if or without any assistance. But it would be much more efficient than nuclear weapons to have NATO membership. Without Ukrainian membership in NATO, war will be never-ending.”
Poroshenko leads a foundation which he said has gathered from the companies he previously created as a businessman $100 million for the armed forces of Ukraine since the start of the Russian aggression.
Due to the sensitivity of the issues discussed, the transcript of the interview was double-checked by his cabinet.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]