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Monday, February 24, 2014

Next Few Weeks Will Be ‘Critical’ For Ukraine

People lay flowers and mourn anti-government protesters killed in the past weeks' clashes with riot police, at a makeshift memorial on Kiev's Independence Square on February 24, 2014. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

People lay flowers and mourn anti-government protesters killed in the past weeks’ clashes with riot police, at a makeshift memorial on Kiev’s Independence Square on February 24, 2014. (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

Mikheil Saakashvili, who served as president of Georgia after that country’s Rose Revolution, says the success of Ukraine’s revolution is yet to be decided.

The hard part comes now, and Ukrainians must move quickly in the next few weeks and months to secure real change and democratic reform, he tells Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson

Ukraine’s acting government today issued an arrest warrant for President Viktor Yanukovych, in the aftermath of last week’s deaths of more than 80 people in clashes between protesters and police.

After signing an agreement Friday to form a unity government, Yanukovych fled the capital for eastern Ukraine, where he has a strong base of support. Officials say he has released his official security detail, and drove off to an unknown location.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.


  • Mikheil Saakashvili, former President of Georgia, and Senior Statesman at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He tweets @SaakashviliM.



From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.


I'm Meghna Chakrabarti. It's HERE AND NOW. Let's get right to the news in Ukraine, where the country's interim government today issued an arrest warrant for ousted President Viktor Yanukovych for, quote, mass killing of civilians in reference to deaths of dozens of protesters last week. Yanukovych is thought to have fled to the Ukrainian region of Crimea, where he enjoys wide support.

HOBSON: Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is calling Yanukovych's ouster an armed mutiny that threatens not only Ukraine but Russia. His statement came as European Union officials landed in Kiev to consult with those who are now in charge. Mikheil Saakashvili is the former President of Georgia, which had its own revolution back in 2003. He helped guide that country to democracy. He's now a senior statesman at Tufts University's Fletcher School. He has also flown to Kiev to offer his advice to the new leaders in Ukraine, and he joins us now. Mr. Saakashvili, welcome.


HOBSON: Well, what are the lessons of what happened in Georgia a little more than a decade ago that Ukraine could learn from at this point?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, the main thing is to move very fast. What Georgia did, within a few months after our revolution, we fired the entire police force to replace them by new people. We went after money, corrupt money of bureaucrats, but we didn't go into retribution, into like jailing these people really. But we really wanted to get their money back to the state coffers.

We decreased taxes by 60 percent, but Georgia's state budget increased 10 times because of reduced corruption. And Georgia made it to top 10 of the World Bank best places to do business. Ukraine is in, like, low hundreds. So actually now it's a very key moment for the next few months to proceed very fast. And they can have internal differences, but they should certainly unite around the principles.

HOBSON: Now, Ukraine remains in a serious economic problem here, and that is that they need around $35 billion, the interim finance minister has said, in urgent foreign aid. The question is where is that going to come from. Is it going to come from the West, or is it going to come from Russia? What needs to happen on that front?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, the - I don't think the Russian money is realistic. Even if Yanukovych had stayed, and Russian had given this cash, it would never have reached the (unintelligible) citizens. That's the usual story with the Russian money. So I don't think Russian money was any realistic prospect in the first place.

With European money, I think what European Union should do and will do, they will talk to the IMF, International Monetary Fund, to allocate funds to Ukraine. It still will be European money, but it will go through IMF. But one thing that should be understood, that long-term this is not going to make Ukraine sustainable.

What will really make Ukraine will be passed reform, change of tax services, technical corruption, making government more transparent and accountable. I think at this stage, because people already know what they want, it will be very hard for any configuration of future rulers of Ukraine to ignore that.

HOBSON: President Saakashvili, what should the U.S. be doing right now?

SAAKASHVILI: Well, I mean the statements, the last statements by President Obama were quite good. The point here was that for some years, this is true, that, you know, somehow the United States has courted Yanukovych, and they somehow tried to create some kind of legitimacy for Yanukovych, and he kind of abused that.

But I think what President Obama said, all Russia lately, what Vice President Biden did on a number of occasions, what the State Department did, and Victoria Nuland was widely criticized for that, but actually she really did a very good job here in Kiev.

So I mean, they tried their best. Now, American leverage, you know, inside Ukraine is not unlimited. They cannot do things that - for Ukrainians. However, what they can really do is to give to Russia very strong wording to stay away militarily.

What I've heard, that some of the people from Obama administration are already doing that. That should be at the level of President Obama himself. He should be the one who should be telling Putin stay away. They invaded Georgia on a fake, false pretext. They are now looking for false pretexts in Crimea. They made a number of statements that basically looks like preparation for invasion. That's what they might be preparing for.

However, it just takes tough stance from Obama administration, and the Americans can do it. You know, Russia cannot ignore American warnings. And some people are saying, well, we have a symmetry of interest, why would we care about Ukraine. Well, it's a very big - it's the biggest European nation, territorially.

If you abandon them, then it means that Europe will be in big limbo and turmoil. And certainly it's, like, vital U.S. interest not to allow Putin to have free hand in what should be a next European horizon...

HOBSON: Well, do you think the U.S. is doing that right now? Do you think President Obama is not being firm enough with the Russians?

SAAKASHVILI: I think some of his statements were very important. I think the thing is that certainly the U.S. keeps repeating the Cold War is over. Well, certainly it might be over for the rest of the world, but it's not over for Vladimir Putin. Vladimir Putin is fighting his zero-sum game. He puts a Cold War with us in Georgia and hot war with us in Georgia, thinking that he's fighting with the United States without the U.S. really noticing it.

He's trying to do the same thing in Ukraine. Well, I think it's high time to notice that there's this guy out there, this bullying, troublemaking guy, that somehow likes to have trouble during the Olympics. You know, he invaded Georgia during the Beijing Olympics. Now he basically stirred up trouble after he met Yanukovych in Sochi, he handed him $2 billion of cash with only one thing attached, that Yanukovych had to do crackdown, had to get tough, and that's when Yanukovych really started it.

So actually here we are. I mean, we have this guy Putin who is, from his standpoint, playing games with the United States. Now, and this is U.S. (unintelligible) interest not to (unintelligible) because it's not about just this region and this region is whole Europe, it's about the world reputation of the United States.

And I think the Obama administration does understand that. I think that what they think - that their leverage is limited, but I think they're underestimating their leverage because, you know, you don't have to send U.S. tanks to fight Russia in Ukraine. You just have send your own tax inspectors to check accounts of Ukrainian officials in American and Western banks. And Americans can certainly do that.

And, you know, once you do that, the sticking point in Ukraine was that people around Yanukovych started to defect at the very moment when European Union and America started to announce sanctions because people - these are the people who are very corrupt. Remember, they send their kids abroad. They buy houses in Florida and other places in the U.S. They themselves spend most of the time in Europe and America.

The other day I was in Miami, and the restaurants were full of rich and affluent Russians. You know, you just send a signal, it will not be just Putin. Everybody around him will be really scared. You know, soul of corrupt, Russian elite is in your hands because of their bank accounts and because of their lifestyle.

HOBSON: Mikheil Saakashvili, former President of Georgia, and senior statesman at Tufts University's Fletcher School, joining us from Kiev, Ukraine. Mr. Saakashvili, thank you so much for being with us.

SAAKASHVILI: Thank you so much (unintelligible). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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