Yulia Tymoshenko: Peace only comes when we ‘finish’ Vladimir Putin by military might

·5-min read
Yulia Tymoshenko says that appeasing Vladimir Putin will only lead to more war - Julian Simmonds for the Telegraph
Yulia Tymoshenko says that appeasing Vladimir Putin will only lead to more war - Julian Simmonds for the Telegraph

Hopes of a peace deal with Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine are "illusory", the leader of the country's 2004 Orange Revolution has said.

Yulia Tymoshenko, who swept to power as prime minister in Ukraine's first anti-Kremlin uprising, warned that any deal that conceded territory 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 of Ukrainian troops.

Ms Tymoshenko, 61, made her uncompromising comments in an interview with The Telegraph in Kyiv, where she has remained during the war.

When the city first 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 Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president.

Her remarks are a rebuke to Western leaders who have hinted that giving up parts of Ukraine's eastern Donbas region would be an acceptable price for peace.

Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko at a press conference after talks in Moscow on June 28, 2008 - AFP/AFP
Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko at a press conference after talks in Moscow on June 28, 2008 - AFP/AFP

France and Germany have expressed openness to the idea, despite an apparent toughening of their stance at last weekend's G7 summit, when Emmanuel Macron, the French president, declared that "Russia cannot and must not win."

Ms Tymoshenko, who is the first and so far only woman to serve as prime minister of Ukraine, fears that as the economic cost of the conflict to Europe rises, the temptation to push Kyiv into a peace deal will increase.

She told The Telegraph: "I am surprised that some countries continue to try to pursue appeasement policies.

"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 suffering heavy military losses himself, Mr Putin was trying to prolong the war in the hope that splits within Nato would eventually emerge. She backed Mr Zelensky's calls for more Western missiles to even up the conflict in the Donbas, where Ukrainian forces are reported to be losing up to 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 stateswomen, Ms Tymoshenko's political 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 overturned 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 pro-Western uprising in 2014, when Mr Yanukovych fled the country to Russia.

She lost to Mr Zelensky in elections in 2019, when the comedian-turned politician's party won a landslide majority, but has voiced support for him since February's invasion. Despite the bloody nose that Ukraine has given to Mr Putin's forces, she fears the war is far from over, either in Ukraine or elsewhere.

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 currently authoritarian regimes and Putin allies, both have opposition movements that could distance themselves from the Kremlin if they ever took power.

"My advice to those countries would be to not waste time, to start building strong armed forces and become Nato members if they are not already," she said.

The former Ukrainian prime minister, pictured last month, said a peace deal will only encourage a further land grab by Russia - Julian Simmonds/Julian Simmonds
The former Ukrainian prime minister, pictured last month, said a peace deal will only encourage a further land grab by Russia - Julian Simmonds/Julian Simmonds

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 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.  "He is prepared to cross all red lines and play against all the rules, that is the source of his strength."

Echoing a view held by many Ukrainians, she also expressed gratitude towards Mr Johnson over his military support for Ukraine - conceding that she had worried he might lose office as a result of the Partygate scandal.

"He should not have had parties at the time of Covid, but frankly, that is not a comparable episode to what we are facing here in Ukraine," she said. "It is hard to see how his party could have considered dismissing him, when his defence minister was saying it was the duty of every country in Europe to help Ukraine."

Asked about fears that Mr Johnson's support for Ukraine risked dragging Nato into a Third World War, she was blunt. "We are in World War Three already, as there are now 50 countries behind Ukraine. We need more weapons to ensure that we crush the Russian army on Ukrainian territory. That will be the end of Putin's regime, because the Russian people will not tolerate such a defeat."