Putin's Former PM Warns: If Ukraine Falls, Baltics Are Next

Mikhail Kasyanov, Russia's former prime minister, has warned that if Vladimir Putin were to succeed in his invasion of Ukraine, the Baltic states would be next in Moscow's campaign of expansion.

Kasyanov, now an opposition leader, served as Russia's PM between 2000 and 2004, when Putin was president. Before working in Putin's administration, he had covered several roles in Boris Yeltsin's administration.

The 64-year-old politician turned against Putin in 2008, when as a rival candidate in the presidential election he was denied participation on political grounds.

Two years later, he co-founded the coalition People's Freedom Party "For Russia without Lawlessness and Corruption" and has since then become the leader of opposition People's Freedom Party, or Parnas.

Speaking to the Agence France-Press (AFP) in a video interview, Kasyanov said he "knew a different Putin" than the one who has unleashed war against Ukraine.

He told AFP he initially thought Putin was bluffing about invading Ukraine. But when the Russian president called for a major Security Council meeting on February 21, only three days before launching the country's invasion of Ukraine, Kasyanov realized Putin really intended to start a war.

He said he expects the war could last for up to two years, and said Ukraine must win to avoid the conflict expanding to other areas in Europe.

"If Ukraine falls, the Baltic states will be next," Kasyanov said.

But the Russian opposition leader stressed the importance of Ukraine winning the war. He said he "categorically" disagreed with France's President Emmanuel Macron's suggestion to avoid humiliating Putin and end the war with a compromise that would likely include ceding territories for Ukraine.

"What has Putin done to deserve this?" he said. "This is an overly pragmatic position. I believe this is wrong and hope that the West won't go down that path."

The way the war in Ukraine will end, whenever it does, will also change Russia, Kasyanov said. But the 64-year-old politician said he's "certain that Russia will return to the path of building a democratic state."

The former prime minister believes that a "quasi-successor" will eventually replace Putin, but that this successor will have a hard time keeping control of the situation, leaving Russia eventually able to hold free and fair elections.

Kasyanov thinks it would take about a decade to "de-Communize" and "de-Putinize" Russia.

"This will be difficult, especially after this criminal war," he said.

Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov
Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov speaks during a rally in central Moscow on May 13, 2018, to demand internet freedom in Russia. Kasyanov said that, should Ukraine fall, the Baltic states would be next. MAXIM ZMEYEV/AFP via Getty Images