A United Nations-brokered deal that Ukraine and Russia struck last year to allow grain shipments from Black Sea ports is due to expire Saturday, although negotiators are working on a 120-day extension.
On Wednesday, VOA interviewed former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko via satellite about the grain deal, allegations about who was behind an attack on the Nord Stream pipeline last year, and international arms shipments resupplying Ukrainian forces.
Poroshenko, who led Ukraine from 2014-2019, also discussed how he sees China’s role as a mediator in the conflict.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: The whole world is waiting for the grain deal to be extended. It's one out of not many, if not the only, agreement with the Russian Federation that seems to be working. The United Nations and Turkey say that talks continue, and Ukraine rejected a Russian push for a reduced 60-day renewal, offering a 120-day one instead. From your point of view, how fragile is this agreement?
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko: First of all, everybody should understand the real purpose and goal of Russia. And the whole world has a food crisis because Russia tried to weaponize everything, food, energy, and everything else under their influence. With this situation, I am absolutely clear that we should thank the United Nations for motivation; we should thank Turkey. And I support Ukraine's position for extending the minimum term of 120 days.
The second position with the Black Sea grain initiative, this is the official name of this project, is that Ukraine should demonstrate absolute openness and transparency, and accountability with access to the grain corridor of all the premium products because everybody should be completely sure that the access to the grain corridor is free, and support, fighting of the world against hunger, and support, Ukrainian ability to make an influence on this hunger. And with that situation, I keep my fingers crossed that our unity together with a whole democratic world, United Nations, and Turkey will definitely bring the results.
VOA: American and German media, citing anonymous sources, reported about a pro-Ukrainian group that may have blown up the Nord Stream pipeline. Journalists say that this group has no ties to the Ukrainian government. You may have read those articles from The Washington Post and The New York Times. The United States is quite cautious about preliminary assessments of these explosions. And according to our sources, there is some tension on how this subject may or may not affect Kyiv's and Washington's cooperation on military aid. Do you think those concerns are relevant?
Poroshenko: First of all, I always believe and keep believing that the Nord Stream project is, as I said before, not an energy project or an economic project. This is the symbol of Russia's weaponizing of the energy policy.
VOA: As Ukraine's president, you urged your European partners about this.
Poroshenko: Absolutely! And tried my best since 2015 to block, stop, and suspend this process of building up the Nord Stream. But at the same time, I want to confirm that I, as the fifth president of Ukraine, Ukrainian authority, and Ukraine as a state all the time, are acting only in firm accordance with international law.
And I can see that this attack, no matter who has organized it, no matter who is releasing this information, this is an attack on transatlantic unity. And those who are beneficiaries of this attack are only Russia — Russia which wants to disintegrate our unity at the most critical point of the war. And we definitely do not allow anybody to discredit our unity. This is my personal position. This is the position of Ukraine, my team, the Ukrainian government, and the position of the Ukrainian people.
We should be united and not give any enemies of Ukraine, any aggressor, any chance to attack our unity. That's why it's important not to distribute fake news. That's important to provide a transparent investigation, if necessary, with the participation of Ukraine. The investigation that can deliver trust. And with that situation, I am absolutely confident that it will be exactly as I said.
VOA: Briefly, do you see anything that may affect the weaponry flow from the Western allies to Ukraine?
Poroshenko: This is definitely the sweet dream of Mr. (Vladimir) Putin. And definitely, we shouldn't give him any tiny chance to implement this dream. The fact which surprised the world and Putin from the very first day of the wide-scale attack was the unity in Ukraine we demonstrated, including my team, from the first hours since February 24.
And now, the global unity, global solidarity with Ukraine, and total and complete isolation of Russia. This is also the key factor for the sustainable security situation on the continent. It is a key factor for our victory, a key factor for our peace.
And today's (Wednesday's) meeting of Ramstein, which is going on right now, should deliver a new ammunition deal and supply which we needed as air. Many of my team and many of my close friends are now in Bakhmut. And this is a direct message I want to deliver to you from them: We have a lack of ammunition. Any delay of ammunition supply, any delay of the armored personnel carrier, air defense, long-range artillery, long-range missiles, or any suspension would not only affect the April counter-offensive operation. But this is the fact that Ukraine now pays a very high price on the whole front line.
Please, let's do our best to accelerate the supply. And I very much welcome today's initiative in the United States Senate, a bipartisan initiative that demands accelerating the supply and increasing the volume of supply. This is vital.
VOA: Mr. Poroshenko, you're saying that the world shouldn't trust Putin. But should the world trust China? Do you welcome China's attempt to mediate, even though they neither condemned nor tried to stop Russia from invading Ukraine?
Poroshenko: First of all, everybody should understand that the key to peace is definitely not in Washington, Kyiv, or even Beijing. The key to peace is in the hands of Putin in Moscow. And we should use every tiny possibility to increase well-organized pressure on Putin, starting from the battlefield and finishing with good negotiations, to motivate Putin to stop the war, to withdraw Russian troops from Ukrainian soil.
And with that situation, I can confirm that the role of China can be absolutely decisive. And if we can use the Chinese factor, we definitely need to do that as soon as possible. At the same time, we shouldn't allow any attempt to supply weapons to the military criminal, Mr. Putin. And in this situation, I think the document that the Chinese present is not a peace plan. This is the 12 points. This is the call for the process. And I definitely recommend that China should be involved in the process. But what is the way how China should be involved? During my presidency, we presented to the world, and this can definitely work until now: Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. With this situation, it is vital that (Chinese) President Xi visits Kyiv, visits Ukraine. And that would have great, not only symbolic, but efficient importance.
And I think that if we can do something to help it happen, from the United States to NATO to you from Ukraine, that would be extremely important. We use this experience when anybody goes to Russia on the way before meeting Putin. It would be extremely efficient if the meeting with the Ukrainian president (Volodymyr Zelenskyy) occurred. Let's together motivate China to follow this way.