Former first lady of Ukraine visits BYU, talks politics

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People gather during a rally in Kiev's Independence Square, Sunday, March 2, 2014. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
People gather during a rally in Kiev’s Independence Square, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Former first lady of Ukraine Kateryna Yushchenko recently spoke at BYU, expressing her beliefs on Putin’s desire to create an empire. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

Former first lady of Ukraine Kateryna Yushchenko spoke to BYU students on Oct. 16 about the dangers Russia poses to the rest of the world. Yushchenko, who still remains active in advancing freedom in Ukraine, spoke with grim conviction about the current Russian invasion of Crimea.

“Putin doesn’t look at the world the same way as we do,” Yushchenko said. “The U.S. looks at the world as a win-win situation. Putin looks at it from 19th-century power politics where if I win, you lose.”

Ukraine has been at war with Russia since pro-Russian forces took control of the Crimean Peninsula on Feb. 26. Russia annexed Crimea months later with a referendum currently not recognized by the United Nations. The U.S. and Europe have placed economic sanctions on trades with Russia in an effort to push back on Russia without violence. According to Forbes, these sanctions have failed.

Yushchenko said she believes Putin wants to create a Russian world that goes from the Atlantic to the Pacific, a world that is no longer based on democracy or America.

“Putin wants to create an empire,” she said. “He has said that he believes the greatest tragedy of our century was the fall of the Soviet Union.”

She also said she believes Ukraine’s democracy offered an opportunity for other surrounding countries to have democracy. Eventually the people of Russia will want a free market and a democracy, and Putin’s power will be in jeopardy.

A large part of her speech was dedicated to her hopes for Western intervention.

“The world needs to make clear demands on current leadership,” she explained. “The U.S. must honor commitments made in the Budapest Memorandum.”

Yushchenko was referring to a memorandum signed in 1994 by the U.S., Russia and Ukraine in which Ukraine promised to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, the third largest in the world, in exchange for territorial integrity. Those who argue in favor of stronger actions against Russia rally around this document as proof of their argument.

She also opened up about her fears that Russian expansion will not end with Ukraine, believing Putin has his eyes set on many nations in the Baltic.

“Once you start questioning any borders, you start questioning all borders,” she said.

She called on citizens of the U.S. to learn what is happening in Crimea and get involved by writing to Congress and the media.

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