Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko dismissed what Moscow called “referendums” in occupied Ukrainian territory as a “Russian trick”, orchestrated by the Kremlin as a way to “legitimize” the presence of Russian troops.
“This is absolutely not a referendum… It is impossible to organize such a referendum within 48 hours,” Poroshenko told TSTIME.
Poroshenko, one of Ukraine’s richest businessmen, is the leader of the conservative European Solidarity Party and was president of Ukraine between 2014 and 2019.
The Moscow-backed votes will be held in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhya regions to the south and southeast, and in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions that make up Ukraine’s eastern Donbas. The regions of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhya are only partially under Russian occupation.
The Russian-backed “referendums” come as Ukrainian forces have made significant gains in eastern Ukraine and recaptured large swaths of territory.
The self-proclaimed “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk have been occupied by Moscow’s proxies since 2015, but so far have not formally attempted to join the Russian Federation.
Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014 after a referendum that failed to gain international recognition and which Kiev considers illegitimate.
Poroshenko said he was confident Ukraine’s constitutional court would declare the referendum unconstitutional, just as it did under his presidency, when Russia staged a vote on the annexation of Crimea.
The former Ukrainian leader also warned that Moscow could use the so-called referendums to justify launching an attack, including a nuclear strike, from annexed areas.
When asked about the likelihood of Moscow launching a nuclear attack, Poroshenko called Putin a “mad maniac,” who uses various forms of blackmail, including “blackmail by nuclear attack.”
Poroshenko stressed that Kiev gave up its “nuclear arsenal” in exchange for security guarantees, citing the 1994 Budapest memorandum.
Kiev handed over Soviet-era nuclear weapons to Moscow and acceded to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in light of the memorandum, which was signed by Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom.
However, Poroshenko argued that Putin would not use nuclear weapons if Western states committed to a “serious” response to an attack.
He called for a joint statement by nuclear powers that there would be a “rapid and decisive response” to a Russian nuclear attack.
Poroshenko urged the world not to be “afraid” of Putin. “If you are weak, Putin [will] go as far as we… allow him to go,” he said.
“Don’t trust Putin,” he said, claiming that the Russian president “will never keep his word”.
More military aid from Germany
Referring to the decision of the German Bundestag not to supply Kiev with battle tanks, Poroshenko said he was “disappointed” in Berlin.
“The more weapons, the more ammunition you supply, the shorter the road to peace,” Poroshenko said, asking the Germans to give Ukraine additional military support.
Poroshenko added that Kiev “definitely” needs German tanks and ammunition given the current situation in Ukraine, but does not need German soldiers. “Help us save you, help us save Europe,” he begged.
By supporting Kiev, German . “invests” [its] own safety,” Poroshenko said.
Edited by: Wesley Rahn