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Interview with Petro Poroshenko; World War I Centenary; Imagine a World

Aired June 27, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST (voice-over): Tonight 100 years after an assassination in Sarajevo sparked the First World War, borders in the

very heart of Europe are still fragile.


PETRO POROSHENKO, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT: We need peace. We need that Russia withdraw their troops because all the troops which present now in

Ukrainian territory are Russian.


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the special weekend edition of our program.

One hundred years ago the assassination of an archduke in Sarajevo catapulted the world into the First World War, in which 17 million soldiers

and citizens were killed. It was supposed to be the war to end all wars. Of course it wasn't. And today borders that were drawn out of all of that

bloodshed are still slipping way in the sands of the Middle East and on the plains of Eastern Europe.

Coming up, my interview with journalist and historian Tim Butcher, who's followed the trail of Gavrilo Princip, that Bosnian Serb, who, in

1914, fired the shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and triggered World War I and another 100 years of

bloody conflict that is still being waged today.

In the very heart of Europe, Vladimir Putin's big Russia has swallowed up small, autonomous Crimea and redrawn the borders of Ukraine. At this

critical moment with that nation's embattled new president, signing what he called a civilization defining deal with the E.U., I sat down in Brussels

with Petro Poroshenko for his very first interview. And with war and peace hanging in the balance, he tells me that he's the one to forge a deal with

Putin, perhaps even within weeks.


AMANPOUR: President Poroshenko, welcome to our program.

POROSHENKO: Thank you very much indeed for the invitation.

AMANPOUR: How important is this signing to Ukraine?

POROSHENKO: I think this is, under my estimation, second important event in the history of my country. First was getting the independence;

second is signing that the association agreement with the European Union because this is a civilization choice. This is the Rubicon, when we cross

the Rubicon to the Europe and left in the past our Soviet past.

AMANPOUR: What do you expect President Putin to do?

POROSHENKO: He promised that they will have a negotiation in a trilateral format, together with the European Union representative. And so

we do not expect any immediate negative reaction. And we try to do our best to find out a compromise. At least Ukraine from our side.

And I'm actually sure that European Union from their side do their best to find out a compromise because this agreement bring nothing wrong to

Russia except of the better competitiveness, bigger markets, more position for the cooperation in the economy. I think that if something negative

happened, unfortunately, that would have only political background, no economy.

AMANPOUR: So let me ask you, because there is obviously a major political problem between you two, plus a hot war in the East. You had a

unilateral cease-fire that expires on Friday.

What are you going to do?

Is there any chance of extending it?

POROSHENKO: Look, first of all, when I go for the election, my main slogan, my main promise, that I tried to do my best to bring peace in the

country. I promised that my first visit would be neither to Brussels nor to Moscow nor to Washington. It would be on Donbas.

And I do that with their peace proposal and with the peace plan for the 10 days, first 10 days of my presidency, I developed a peace plan which

have 15 practical effects to different human rights, rights of the people living there, deescalation of the conflict and stop war.

At the same time, we plan the biggest and unique military operation in Ukrainian history, just to restore the Ukrainian control --


AMANPOUR: What you call the counterterrorism?


No, no, this is not just a counterterrorism operation. But we want to -- we already done to restore Ukrainian control on the border, with the

Russian-Ukrainian border, because we have, can you imagine, 290 kilometers of border between Ukraine and Russia, not under control. And we restore


We bring this peace proposal and said that we want to demonstrate to the whole world if we really pray wanting for peace. This is not just a

declaration. This is a practical steps with the cease-fire. We already declared and this is the second chance because first chance we had after

Normandy, when I have a feeling that the window of opportunities is open.

Unfortunately next day after that, our military plane with the 49 soldiers were hit there. Very next day, after cease-fire, our sanitary

helicopter, who delivering food and medicine to the soldiers was hit by the anti-aircraft missiles of the terrorists. And believe me, this is very

high price for that.

We declared the cease-fire without any precondition for one week. For one week, we expected that we -- they release all the hostages, that we

launch consultation what to do on the situation with the -- does they accept or does they want to modify peace plan proposal.

We prepare intent to the parliament the changes in the constitution for the decentralization of power, giving them a right to elect the local

council, which would be elected leader of the region. We propose the amnesty, full-scale amnesty, which give them an opportunity to withdraw.

This cease-fire expires.

POROSHENKO: This cease-fire expires tomorrow --

AMANPOUR: And what does that mean?

Do you go back to fighting?

POROSHENKO: If we -- unfortunately, if it would be nothing delivered, if it would be no negotiation, no consultation, no releasing of the

hostages, no cease-fire from their side -- because this is not possible to give long-time cease-fire unit when Ukrainian army not make fire and these

bandits, this leader of the terrorist group constantly killing our pilot, killing our soldiers, trying to grab hostages and not have any

negotiations. So that means that they are not -- they rejected peaceful proposal.

AMANPOUR: Secretary Kerry and European leaders have said that President Putin must immediately take steps to show that he's trying to

disarm these separatists or the implied threat is that there will be more sanctions.

What do you believe President Putin will do and do you think now is the time to add more sanctions, broader sanctions?

POROSHENKO: Look, I hate the idea to bring the sanctions that is a punishment for Russia. We need peace. We need that Russia withdraw their

troops because all the troops which present now in Ukrainian territory are Russian. All the leader of this band groups --

AMANPOUR: They are Russian?

POROSHENKO: -- they are Russian citizens. All these leaders of the band group, Karyakin, Girkin and blah, blah, blah, they are Russian.

They're officers of Russian secret services. And we demand just the truth (ph). We -- it would be quite easy for us to find out a dialogue with the


But if it is tanks, if it is armed personal carrier (ph), if it is trucks of troops with weapons, with drugs, with the finance, it is a real

war and real participation and we ask -- and I really want to thank all the leaders of the whole world which within these seven days support my

peaceful initiative.

Very, very strong position of the United States, absolutely firm position of David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Branislav

Komarovsky from Poland, all the European leaders are together with us because we demonstrate that this is a real peace proposal and real steps

Ukraine has already done.

AMANPOUR: So what do you think President Putin wants?

Are you the person who can forge a peace deal with him?

POROSHENKO: Look, I am ready to make a peace deal with anybody. I want to bring the peace to my country, not because we are weak, but because

we are less plotting than anybody. We are ready to defend my country because I hate the idea not to use the last opportunity to bring the peace

in the region.

Sometimes the position of Mr. Putin is quite pragmatic. Sometimes it is very emotional. I just try to find out the time when he's more

pragmatic than emotional.

AMANPOUR: Now is he more pragmatic since you've been elected?

POROSHENKO: It feels to me I have some feeling during the phone call when he was quite pragmatic. It seems to me that sometimes it is very

harmful, the position of Russian media, because it just war propaganda. Nothing together with the reality.

And if you stay in this atmosphere of Russian media, you have to be the same emotional.

But when you -- we start a discussion that, OK, Mr. President, how you can react if your military plane with the 49 soldiers would be hit by the -

- by the bandits, if a sanitary helicopter would be hit, if a 1-year-old boy in the -- not in the zone of operation would be killed by a grenade, so

we should stop that.

And it seems to me that sometimes appear some hopes.

AMANPOUR: Sometimes appears some hopes?

POROSHENKO: Cross fingers.

AMANPOUR: Cross fingers.

Do you agree that in order to have peace, in order for this to be resolved, that you do actually have to deal with Mr. Putin?

POROSHENKO: Absolutely. I think that, look, again, Russia is our big neighbor. Maybe somebody wants that we can have another neighbor, maybe

United States, maybe Canada, maybe we are Milwaukee and we are having Canada as a neighbor. But Russia is our long-term neighbor and to talk

about long-term perspective of security, would be simply impossible without Russia.

And we should build up the relation which from the very beginning should be relation of trust. Now I think there is a high level of mistrust

and maybe together would be the whole world, you know, we try to build up the new architecture of the security.

It bring us to build up some new relation. I really hoping that.

AMANPOUR: Now we almost don't talk about Crimea any more. Is Crimea gone for good?

How long do you think it'll take to get Crimea back as part of Ukraine, if ever?

POROSHENKO: Today I have a -- my speech from the Parliamentary Sunday (ph) Council of Europe. And I said that Crimea are a top priority. We

never have said that and we all the time fighting. Because Crimea is Ukrainian and the whole world can turn to Crimea is Ukrainian.

Now this is a humanitarian catastrophe in Crimea on the national basis and the national field. Those ethnic Ukrainian in Crimean Tatar has a

problem with the job, has a problem with the property, has a problem with security, has a problem with to learning their own languages and I am

absolutely sure that we use all the opportunities to bring Crimea back.

AMANPOUR: The conflict is also aggravating an already shaky economic situation.

POROSHENKO: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: It's predicted that the Ukrainian economy, the GDP, could shrink by around 5 percent this year. That is what people want you to

fix. They want their leaders to fix the economy and give them jobs and a decent standard of living.

How are you going to do that? You're a business man. Do you know how to tackle this terrible economy?

POROSHENKO: Absolutely. Look, you should understand what is the top priority. Now top priority is peace and stop war because it's impossible

to reestablish or renew the economy when we have a war situation because economy under the time of peace and economy of the time of war, this is

completely different economy.

But I am optimistic and I am thinking that they -- within few weeks, maybe months, not likely, we can have a deal and establish the peace. And


AMANPOUR: Really? You hope that within a few weeks, maybe months, you're going to have a peace deal?

POROSHENKO: Exactly. And this was deal's deal, not on the -- on the military operation basis, because by the war, it is impossible to have 100

percent win the situation. We should establish the new relation with the society.

Because mighty Russia, Russia not to want the victory in Donbas. They don't need Donbas. They don't need neither Donetsk nor Luhansk.

But they want present, emotionally. They want a house in the country. They want a weak Ukrainian government, maybe weak Ukrainian president.

That afterwards, to change the situation in the whole country. And we don't allow them to play this scenario.

AMANPOUR: On that note, President Petro Poroshenko, thank you so much for joining me.

POROSHENKO: Thank you.


AMANPOUR: So while President Poroshenko struggles to maintain Ukraine's territorial integrity, around the world maps are being redrawn

every day, reflecting national, ethnic and sectarian claims. Many of them were first created in the aftermath of World War I by diplomats,

presidents, potentates and princes, meeting amid the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles in France.

But it could be argued that one teenage boy with a gun did more to alter the map of Europe if not the world than all the leaders and

cartographer put together. We'll go to Sarajevo next, where two fatal gunshots still reverberate 100 years later. That's after a break.




AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program. Now we may never know whether the shot that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28th,

1914, were the accidental trigger to a century of war or whether that conflagration might have happened anyway. That's for historians to

continue debating.

But what is certain is that 19-year-old Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip pulled the trigger that was, quote, "not just the opening round of the

First World War, but also the starting gun of modern history."

Those are the words of my next guest, journalist and historian, Tim Butcher, who's chased the trail of Gavrilo Princip through the Balkans.

His book, "The Trigger," also echoes his own experiences, covering the bloody Bosnian War of the 1990s.

And Tim Butcher joins me now from Sarajevo.

Tim, welcome to the program.

TIM BUTCHER, AUTHOR: Thanks for having me on.

AMANPOUR: So there you are and projected behind you is this incredible picture of Sarajevo, the river and the place where Gavrilo

Princip fired those shots.

Describe where we are and what happened that fateful day.

BUTCHER: Well, we're in a city sense it's very small because see the river there, the corner on that corner is the town hall. That's the town

hall that the archduke goes to as his last building that he walks into alive. Because when he leaves that building, he then goes down that river.

You can see there's a boulevard that runs alongside.

And this is where the devil's luck enters this story, because the car should have carried straight up quite quick, nice and fast, no chance of an

assassin to get a bullet. But the driver didn't know this. And he makes a right-hand turn.

And on that corner is standing Gavrilo Princip.

Someone shouts, "Hey, stop. Stop, driver. You're not doing what you should have done." And then again bad luck holds us because the vehicle

now stops . Princip, he's right there and it was shooting fish in a barrel. It was that close, just four or five feet away. He fires those two shots,

aims one at the archduke then swings the gun around to aim at another military person.

His arm is knocked; the bullet goes down through the door and hits the wife of the archduke. Two shots, two fatalities and those are the gunshots

that still reverberate around the world.

AMANPOUR: And in that moment, a very human moment, too, where the archduke pleads with his wife, Sophie, Sophie, stay alive for our kids.

But beyond that, what have you discovered in your new trail for your book, "The Trigger"?

Who was Gavrilo Princip? Did he know that he was altering the course of history?

BUTCHER: I don't think he did. No one could have predicted it. No one, not even the greatest minds of the early 20th century could have

anticipated that a shot on a street corner in the Balkans would spin out into the First World War. And of course this man is not the cause of the

First World War.

He is but the trigger. But history has bestowed on him this great, great significance.

AMANPOUR: We remember the multiethnic fabric of Sarajevo that was ripped apart during the war. And we remember now what's happening in

Eastern Ukraine and frankly across the Middle East, where ethnicities seem to be either pulling apart or being forced apart.

And I don't know whether you feel this right now, but isn't it a sad legacy of the 1990s that Sarajevo of all cities is now become so much less

multiethnic and almost monocultural now?

BUTCHER: I think you're right. It was a beautiful kilim, a weave of different ethnicities, Muslims, Croats, the Catholics, the Serbs, the

orthodox, even Jews, an amazing Jewish community of Sephardic Jews who left Spain 400 years ago. It was a beautiful Turkish kilim, woven together,

sadly ripped to pieces and then the fiber's now slightly ugly and knotted. That's what I find particularly tragic.

But you're point is right. He played with fire, Gavrilo Princip. It was a dream, a concept, nationalism -- remember, this is the era of empire.

Frankly, it was the era of "Game of Thrones," great sort of dictators running great swaths of territory, not caring about the people.

Nationalism runs like a course through the 20th century. Gavrilo Princip had a sort of dreamy hope of it, a utopian -- we'll all get on.

We'll all get on. We'll -- we've got more in common than we have apart.

But then of course the nationalism of fascism, national socialism, the -- that toxic version. And then in the 1990s, there's a bitter irony here,

that into Sarajevo, in the city that we're looking at, there was a plaque on the wall put up to praise Gavrilo Princip as a freedom fighter.

Guess what? Then the Germans took this city; it was ripped down and there's an amazing powerful photograph of Adolf Hitler receiving that

plaque. So in a way, it kind of connects Gavrilo Princip with that toxic version of nationalism.

So the dreaminess of that young child -- he was a romantic.

AMANPOUR: Tim Butcher, an amazing tale. Thanks for being with us. Your book, "The Trigger," about Gavrilo Princip.

BUTCHER: Thanks for having me on. It's great to be with you.

AMANPOUR: And so they called it the war to end all wars. But as we've seen, the First World War began a cycle of revolutionary change and

conflict that is still very much with us today. And like no other war before or since, it has left an undying legacy in words. The poets who

became soldiers and the soldiers who became poets. That's when we come back.




AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, they called it the Great War for a reason. Great carnage, great loss of innocence, great folly, great

courage. And as the years go by and the poppies bloom again and again in Flanders Field, great literature.

Imagine a world with 100 Homers, where the lasting legacy of war isn't rows of gravestones or territory, but poetry. Even now you can't separate

them, the lines of trenches which still scar the land in France and Belgium and the lines of poetry that still stir the soul and stab the conscience.

The names on the bookshelves have become a literary roll call of soldier poets, among them Rupert Brooke, the golden boy who prophesied his

own death at the war's beginning; "If I should die, think only this of me, that there's some corner of a foreign field that is forever England."

Siegfried Sassoon, beloved by his men, decorated for valor only to become an antiwar activist and sent to an asylum by his friends to prevent

his court-martial and Wilfred Owen, his protege, killed only seven days before the shooting stopped. His mother received the telegram informing

her of his death on Armistice Day as the church bells rang out in celebration.

Perhaps no one wrote more simply and eloquently than Edward Shillito, a poet few remember who never fired a shot, but who speaks to us across a

blood-soaked century.

"Around me when I wake or sleep, Men strange to me their vigils keep; And some were boys but yesterday Upon the village green at play. Their faces I shall never know; Like sentinels they come and go. In grateful love I bow the knee For nameless men who die for me."

And that's it for our program tonight. Remember you can always contact us at our website,, and follow me on Twitter and

Facebook. Thank you for watching and goodbye from London.