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'Russia And Me' -- Lessons From Those Who Know Russia Best

WASHINGTON - As the world wrestles with a warring Russia, twelve former post-Soviet heads of state say that Moscow’s resurgence is no surprise.

An interview project titled Russia and Me, published today by RFE/RL, presents exclusive interviews with leaders who in 1991 helped establish or restore the independence of Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, and Ukraine. Their recollections are personal and individual, but they all reference the common historical moment when the constituent republics of the Soviet Union asserted their independence from Moscow.

Explaining the idea behind the project, Anna Sous, a journalist with RFE/RL’s Belarus Service who conceived the project and conducted the interviews, said that "every one of these countries has its own Crimea," and each of these leaders had the unique experience of negotiating -- some successfully and some not -- with Russia.

Many of the leaders spoke warmly of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who they said preferred negotiation over conflict and, according to Lithuania’s first post-Soviet head of state, Vytautas Landsbergis, had "honor and pride." Said former Belarusian President Stanislau Shushkevich, “[Yeltsin] strictly abided by the principle of a right to national statehood. Genuinely, not hypocritically.”

Regarding Russia's invasion of Ukraine, former Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis, looking back, said, "I couldn't believe the West didn't see it coming." For his part, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, forecasting the future, said, "It's Russia's plan to create a wound that will bleed for years."

In addition to those already mentioned, the former leaders included in the interview series are former Armenian President Robert Kocharian; former Estonian President Arnold Ruutel; former acting president of Georgia Nino Burjanadze; former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev; former Moldovan presidents Petru Lucinschi and Vladimir Voronin; former Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas; and former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk.

"Russia and Me" producer Anna Sous discusses the project