Full text of the interview of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the French newspaper Le Figaro. The conversation took place on April 13, 2021 in Kyiv.
- You will meet with Emmanuel Macron in Paris, as well as with Angela Merkel via a video conference. What do you expect from them and from this visit?
- First of all, I look forward to this meeting. Mr. Macron and I have a very good relationship. A long-standing relationship, despite our age. I am grateful to him, because from the very beginning, when I have not yet been President, between the first and second rounds (of the elections - ed.), he supported me.
What am I expecting now? I would very much like Europe to have a 100% understanding of how they assess Ukraine. If they see Ukraine in the European Union, they need to say so openly. Not just in the future, when Ukraine does the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth… And if the security of any country is membership in the Alliance, then it is necessary to take steps towards the MAP… and the EU.
We are friends with Emmanuel Macron. If they really want to see us in the EU as a member of their family, I think now is the time for each of us to do what we have to do for each other. We want to increase trade turnover. This year, due to COVID-19, we have $ 2.5 billion. But if we want to reach 5 billion, we have to do it. Not just tell the press, the media, all our friends what we want to do. We have to do it, and we will do it. And then the media will ask: how did you do it? This is the question I want to hear as President. Of course, I am very pleased with the support of President Macron. But we want to talk directly about what worries us - the war in eastern Ukraine, the occupation of Crimea. Yes, he did a lot. He, the EU, as well as Angela Merkel, Charles Michel, many European presidents and prime ministers support us. But it is about security in Europe. And if EU leaders say that the security situation in Europe depends on Ukraine, if we pay for that with victims, and more than 14,000 people have already died, then we must have some status. Ukraine cannot feel like a guest in the EU and NATO. We want to be a member. I think we deserved it a long time ago.
I believe that we should be in the European Union, we should obtain a MAP. I always say that Ukraine should have such a status. That's fair. Then we will feel like subjects. Then the citizens of Ukraine will never feel alone. It is important. Because in the security situation in Europe, in the world, in the history of mankind, we are subjects. I consider France a great power, it is a subject. We need to have an equal relationship - that's what I'm waiting for.
We will also have a conversation with Angela Merkel. This is about equality. As there has been no meeting in the Normandy format yet, three leaders have already talked with the leader of Russia. There should be the same meeting, where Ukraine is the subject.
In addition to the economy, we have several projects with Alstom, Airbus, there are new projects, some projects will be continued. There are a few more things related to medicine, defense industry. But I don't like to just talk about projects. I think it's like a relationship between people - you can't go on dates all the time, you have to move on to a more serious relationship. And if we are one family, we have to make legal contracts. Maybe I'm conservative, but I think it's better to have “children” in this relationship. I mean a common future.
- What do you think about Emmanuel Macron's policy in the Russian direction?
- Let's be honest. I would very much like my relations with President Macron, and therefore the relations between Ukraine and France, to be even better than Emmanuel Macron's relations with other leaders, such as the President of Russia. Especially now, when we really need the support of Europe. When we suffered terribly from Russian aggression.
It seems to me that President Macron wants to be on friendly terms with Russia - I understand him. But he must understand my desire, which I spoke of. It always hurts less if it doesn't concern you, and it always seems like it won't happen to you. But history doesn't pat you on the head, it hits you when you don't expect. You have to be ready.
What is it like to be ready? To have such countries, such friends, such presidents whom you can always turn your back on and not be afraid of anything.
We lived like that in the post-Soviet times, and earlier we were one country called the Soviet Union, we lived like that with Russia. We fought Nazism together, we won together. That is why Ukraine did not expect such a blow and did not expect the occupation of Crimea, the war in the east, did not expect such deeply bad relations. Why are they so bad? Whenever there is a war between close ones it hurts three times more than when there is a war with someone you have never been close with.
Therefore, there can be no forecasts. And I believe that the President of France supports us. He understands us. But this is not happening in his country. And I wish he would never see that in France. I have seen many moments of conflict, and I do not know one hundred percent whether Russia was involved in these conflicts, strikes in France, or not. In any case, I looked at it, and I did not like the conflict situation. But this is zero compared to what is happening to us. It seems to me that he, as a wise leader, must realize the danger before any events similar to ours can take place, which, God forbid, will take people's lives. Therefore, the balance will not work, I think.
- What is Russia doing in Donbas now?
- They are definitely trying to show that we should be afraid, and they are definitely trying to provoke us. We see the number shots. We see sniper fire from the occupied territories. We have different intelligence data, and we see the growth of troops in Crimea, Donbas, and on the borders of Ukraine and Russia in different directions. They interpret this as preparation for the West 2021 exercise. But we all understand - it's pressure. The pressure is political, militarized, psychological. Why psychological? Because they shoot and expect us to respond in the same way. Moreover, they are "waiting" for us to go on the offensive in eastern Ukraine. But we will not give them "such happiness". We see their rhetoric, the rhetoric of the entourage of the President of the Russian Federation. I find this very dangerous for us, for Europe and, ultimately, for his country. This is dangerous rhetoric when you say that we are ready to protect "our" Russian citizens in any case.
This is dangerous rhetoric when you say that "we are ready to protect our Russian citizens anywhere". You know, there are Russians all over the world, as well as Ukrainians, Frenchmen and other nations. The world is wider than the former Soviet Union, Europe, the United States, China. We cannot restrict people on national grounds from living or working somewhere. Take the same IT specialists. We can say that in Silicon Valley we must protect the citizens of Russia, India, Ukraine, Great Britain and other countries. Americans are not even the majority there. But this does not mean that each of these countries must protect its citizens and send troops there. Then it is a world war.
That's why I say it's very dangerous. Initially, there was passportization in the temporarily occupied Donbas. Now there are 250-300 thousand people with Russian passports. They do it to then say that "we are protecting the citizens of Russia". Look: this is our land, our territory on all real, not conditional, maps of the world. And our people live in these territories. And we are very open, and there are citizens of different countries. Because it is such a world we live in. And one should not protect our territories from us.
The story of what happened in Crimea. We know that since the beginning of Ukraine's independence, Russia has been issuing Russian passports in Crimea. And then they came in and said they were protecting the Russian people. But when you defend, 14,000 people don't die of that. It sounds the same in Ukrainian, French and even Russian that when you defend - people are alive.
- Do you think that Russia's mobilization of troops is a test of the new US President Joseph Biden?
- In any case, it seems to me that it is somehow connected. I think everyone in the world is showing their muscles. I would like it to happen not at the expense of Ukraine. Russians take such steps constantly, conduct certain exercises. At the same time, they get nervous when, for example, NATO ships appear in the Black Sea. They get nervous when they see Ukraine's rapprochement with the Alliance. When Ukraine makes some economic breakthroughs in cooperation with other countries, the Russians are also very reflective. They do not need a strong, independent Ukraine. We understand that. Although I believe that such a desire is their weakness.
It's like life. There are people who rejoice in your victories: when you found your loved one, you have a child, you signed a great contract and earned money, or you just wanted a car and were able to buy it. And there are other people who see something negative in each of your victories. They think you stole something, so you have a car. That is, there are people who are just happy, naturally happy. And neighbors must live like that. Then the citizens of your country will be very happy.
I do not understand when this happened, when Russia stopped to rejoice in the Ukrainian victories, successful steps, the happiness of Ukrainians. Probably since independence. Because Ukraine has grown up and just wants what belongs to it. And we are definitely not the property of Russia. It's not about toys. I think they need to deal with their country.
- Do you think Putin wants to take Donbas to Russia, annexing it all?
- I think I know what he wants, but I would not like to push him. Because there is always one percent hope that he does not want it. Or even if he wants to, he won't. We heard this rhetoric that he will take the entire Donbas. But you should know our people, and I would like you to understand me: we will not give them a single centimeter of our land. Whatever it costs us. And this is very important to understand.
Therefore, I really hope that they will not go further in escalation. Because, as I said, it will be a loss for everyone. And historically, first of all for them. Because we are on our own land.
- How long does it take to return the temporarily occupied Crimea to Ukraine?
- This is one of the most difficult questions. People who do not live in Ukraine sometimes say that everything is clear with Donbas, it will return, and Crimea will never return. Other people, even in Ukraine, say that you will return Donbas, and Crimea, perhaps, only after the change of the President in the Russian Federation.
I live in a different paradigm. For me, Crimea and Donbas have never left, these are definitely our territories. And they will not be happy without Ukraine. We see this in the territories where there is occupation - in Abkhazia, Transnistria, etc. I did not see any scientific breakthrough, cool businesses, skyscrapers of Hong Kong there. I did not see life there. That's why I don't see happiness there. And when people are unhappy, they leave that territory. So, it will be "dead" territory. It will be worse than Chornobyl. Because there are tourists even in Chornobyl. And these will be just "dead" regions, unfortunately.
Or people on the ground must understand that they are all Ukrainians, and they must strive to be in Ukraine. Just as Ukrainians in the controlled territory want to be with them. Because, I know, many civilians live there as captives. But they consider themselves Ukrainians.
There are people in Crimea who once shouted that Russia would come and they would become a "pearl by the sea". But nothing happened. It got worse, there is no tourism, no enterprises, no work, high prices, no water. Therefore, I believe that there is no future for them without Ukraine.
- Will Joseph Biden be a better US President for you than Donald Trump?
- We are not in the "supermarket" of the presidents of the United States. And, fortunately, there is no possibility to choose. American people do the choosing. There are relations between the United States and Ukraine. Yes, presidents can improve these relations, but it is difficult to change the general mood. The United States treats Ukraine well and supports it. Whatever the President of the United States or the President of Ukraine is, such relations will remain.
But relations can be better, deeper, when presidents have more than an official call. And even more than when teams work. When there is "chemistry". And it does not depend on gender or age, it’s just there or not. And it still depends on your personal attitude towards this country.
President Biden knows Ukraine better because he has been to Ukraine. He understands the "Ukrainian issue" better, I think. But you still have to judge by the results. And the result takes some time. When time passes, I will definitely say which of the US presidents is the best for Ukraine.
- But you have been waiting for a phone call from Joseph Biden for a long time…
- Yes, for a long time. But that's fine. I understand that the United States is a great country and it has relationships, support, or difficulties with many countries. I'm not saying we are special and most important to the United States, but I would very much like that to be the case. Although, it seems to me we are very important now in the European part of the world because of what is happening in Ukraine.
- You have requested a phone call with Vladimir Putin, but he did not agree to it? Is it so?
- Yes, it's true. I requested it when four of our soldiers were killed and two were wounded. I asked the head of the Office to contact the President of the Russian Federation, and I wanted to talk to Putin. But they did not confirm the conversation - there was no conversation. At first, they officially said that there was no request. But I do remember.
By the way, this is an indicator. Because I am asked if Russia wants to end the war. This question can be answered with actions: I called and didn’t get an answer. This is the answer for today.
- What do you think Putin thinks of you?
- What does he think of me? Honestly, I don't know. I represent Ukraine, and it is very important to me what he thinks about my country. And I correspond this to myself. I don't think I'm the one he expected. Because I am about equality in everything. About equality of spirit, equality of relations. I respect a person and do not look down at him or her, but I am not ready to look at someone with reverence as well. Because I am the President of an independent country, I represent it. And for me the number of the population is not important. I'm talking about equal rights. Our territory is occupied, support of militants is not equality. Here they entered our territory. Here some guests came to my apartment whom I definitely did not invite.
- You were recently in Turkey. What did you talk about with Erdoğan?
- We have good relations with Turkey today. We have many issues. For example, the issue of Crimean Tatars or Crimeans who were deprived of their home and left after the occupation. We will now build 500 homes for them - for their temporary residence. Although we do not know when this temporary period will end and when they will return home. However, we provide them with this.
Now we have a turnover (between Ukraine and Turkey - ed.) at the level of $ 5.5 billion, and we want to double it. I would like the representatives of Turkey to come and support us on the Independence Day of Ukraine - on the 30th anniversary - and I think that will happen. I will also invite the President of the French Republic - I would also like him to support us. We will see.
- Do you think Erdoğan will help you get closer to joining NATO?
- It is important for us to cooperate in the Black Sea region. Much depends on Turkey in terms of security here. And I would like to have a common view on the security situation in this region. I know that they support Ukraine as a future member of the Alliance. I see and hear on international platforms, at least officially, that Erdogan supports it (Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration - ed.).
- Is the Normandy format dead?
- I think that artificial respiration can be done right now by Mr. Macron. Yes, right now. It seems to me that the Normandy format was in a coma, then we were able to meet at the end of 2019. And indeed, if we continue the allegory, I saw a heartbeat, a pulse in this format. But now we see that there are health problems with the format because one organ does not want to work. We need support here, first of all of Mr. Macron, and then, we believe, there will be a desire of Russia. Because now, no matter what Russia or its representatives in the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk say, I know for sure that they are blocking everything.
There are specific things. In the Normandy format at the end of 2019, the four of us agreed on specific steps that two must follow. And two more - France and Germany - must monitor how this is done, help and, if there are difficulties, push. For example, to open the checkpoints so that people from the occupied part of Ukraine can go (to the territory controlled by the Ukrainian government - ed.) and receive various administrative services. From the beginning of my presidency until today, we have opened four modern, high-level checkpoints with new roads. More than 80 services are provided at these checkpoints: pensions, banking services, post office, telephones, account replenishment. Everything you need, even a baby care room. They had to do the same - they did not open anything. There was one checkpoint with a destroyed bridge before the Normandy meeting... They haven't opened anything since then. We see that they can open. When humanitarian trucks went, they opened (the checkpoints - ed.). But they do not let people go. And they always have a reason - COVID, special mode, anything. I will sometimes return to the question whether Russia wants to end the war. Checkpoints are one of the answers to this question.
Then we agreed on an exchange. Exchange "all for all". We took the first step - we really exchanged a lot. Then they blocked (the process of mutual release - ed.).
Then we agreed on a ceasefire. The most important moment - in "Minsk" it is the first point - a ceasefire. We understand that nothing can begin without it. What kind of conversations, exchanges, elections, borders can we talk about, if there is gunfire?
On July 22, 2020, we started a ceasefire (an agreement was reached in the TCG to apply measures to strengthen the ceasefire - ed.). We really had a victory here. A ceasefire has been more or less observed for seven months. The first two or three months we were happy. I thought we were moving forward. It is difficult, but look what steps we’ve made. Then the situation becomes more complicated, and since the beginning of this year, 2021, until now - 27 dead. That's it. And they shoot, and the number of military increases. I ask for the third time: does Russia want to stop the war? Look at the photo from the satellite - that's the answer.
- You have common points with Macron. The first is that he loves theater. The second is that he entered politics without party support. So, my question is - is the work with the theater, the stage similar?
- There is something similar. In fact, sometimes you need… Theaters are different. Sometimes you can get into a theater where the audience behaves differently, for example, people start talking on the phone, and something happens on stage. It's the same here. You have to work on this "stage", despite what sometimes happens around.
It's not exactly the role you play on stage, because an hour and a half later you bow, and people applaud standing up. And here this "performance" does not end, no one applauds, and it is unlikely that someone will bring you flowers. In any case, this is a very difficult "stage".
- How difficult is it to engage in politics without the support of political parties at the start, without experience in this?
- I do not know how else, I only have this case. But I know from life experience: if you go up to the top, and I've done it several times in my life, you don't have to carry a heavy backpack. You will go very slowly, and then it is definitely not about reforms. So I go without this luggage, I have no experience of climbing, and I have a goal - only forward. Sometimes I'm confused about climbing this mountain in some issues, but I'm definitely leading the country quickly and only upwards. I do not want, however, to fall in the end.
- Why is it so difficult to reform Ukraine?
- There are many different people and forces - both outside and inside, who do not want to see a powerful country. As independent as possible. Preserving your history, writing, traditions, your face as much as possible, because it is always easier to manage the same. I understand that in many issuesUkraine does not march in step, and therefore all these forces from the very beginning (of independence - ed.) put pressure on our country.
Second. Many are interested in the fact that the country is resourceful, beautiful - subsoil, forests, water, mountains, Crimea. Historically, they have always wanted to have Ukraine subordinate, seeing it only as an agricultural country and a resource base for certain states. And they have also put pressure on the country for many years.
Third. When Ukraine gained independence in the early 1990s, because the country is so attractive and rich, it was plundered not only from the outside, but also from the inside by many people who are now respected businessmen. I consider them just bandits, that is, they have become multimillionaires or billionaires on what was left of the Soviet era - enterprises. They did not build them, but simply took them away, "raided" them. Those were the times. And these people are financial groups. Today they have real estate, yachts, by the way, in England and France, in elite regions, in Monaco. Today, they are respected businessmen all over Europe who not only visit it, but live there.
That is why we need to fight all these groups. And we do it.
- Is it effective?
- There is a lot of influence from Russia, which seeks to hinder Ukraine's reforms. How does Russia block the reforms? Propaganda or spies?
- Disinformation, propaganda. This is one of our difficult situations. The Center for Countering Disinformation was established in Ukraine two weeks ago. I am also going to officially open our Cybersecurity Center next month. It is very important for countering disinformation. Disinformation today kills everything - it affects the exchange rate, the investment climate - we understand how investors are attracted, and because of this new factories and plants may not be opened, so no new jobs will be created. That is, infiltration is such a new kind of competition. Unfortunately, this is unfair competition. But these are the modern challenges we live in. We understand that war is a "calf" that cannot be fed; it constantly needs food and money, and it sucks everything out of Ukraine's economy. That is, we must constantly have 200-250 thousand people on alert. They live by war.
- And the spies?
- Yes. We have cases, we find them. And the Security Service deals with that. They can be at different enterprises and in some state verticals that manage one or another direction, such as energy, medium and small levels. The Security Service even found them in its ranks. We do not stop and find new cases.
- What about the Constitutional Court, which is trying to hinder reforms in Ukraine? Why?
- We know some financial groups that influenced the CCU. They are also represented by some deputies of the Verkhovna Rada. I believe that they are losing their influence. And the Constitutional Court is such a strategic way, some judges have hit the anticorruption infrastructure hard. We’ve blocked all this very quickly with a powerful step. Today the Chairman of the Constitutional Court cannot be present at the meetings, he is not admitted. Two judges of the Constitutional Court have also not been admitted to the Court session.
All anticorruption bodies are working. The CCU has not been rebooted yet, but we are on the right track.
By the way, it has never been so difficult. In times of my predecessor, he changed the law on the Constitutional Court so that nothing could be done with it. They gave them too much power and made it impossible to dismiss them. That is, it was done specifically to control the CCU.
Thank God this man is in the past. We will change all this.
- What do you think a successful presidency is?
- When after the expiration of my term people say that I was a successful President.
- What do you regret the most since the beginning of your work (as President - ed.)?
- I never regret when I decide to do something. I always try to achieve the results. If after these five years I realize that I did not do what I wanted and wasted those years, I will regret that. I will terribly regret that.
I always think about time. This is my time or this is the time I spend with my children. Because of this work, I have very little time. And I don't see my children growing up. But I have a wife, so I'm calm.
- I had an interview with Macron three weeks ago, and the same question. And there was the same answer…
- I think the translation was similar.
- What is your biggest success?
- It will be in the future. I really hope so. I think we will give Ukraine a different speed, a different face. I am sure that after me the people of Ukraine understood that such a President is possible. I believe that this is a very important point that Ukrainians will no longer be able to choose a person with political mothballs. I think it affects a lot of things. Because, as they say, fish rots from its head, and no matter how hard Poroshenko or Medvedchuk try to tie some corruption to me, they fail. Everyone sees that this is impossible. Therefore, I believe that I set this tone for politicians. They see - if I do not allow myself that, they are ashamed.
This has always been the case in Ukraine. Everyone looked and said: if he can, so can I.
- What leader inspires you?
- I'm afraid to disappoint you…
- No one?
- There are great people, and they do not care what to do. I'm sure if Steve Jobs had gone into politics, he would have been also hated by a lot of people, still he would have done something breakthrough. If Elon Musk hadn't launched rockets, but decided to go in for sports, I'm sure he would have been a good teacher for Michael Phelps.
That is, they are just great people. This is beyond physics, but I want to say: the planet does not rotate, it is rotated at high speed by great, breakthrough people. And those who make the whole world change are such people to me.
It's hard for me to say. Roosevelt must have been such a man. But I can't judge only by books, because there is success, and this success is shared only by those people who were around at that time. I don't know when Churchill was great - when he was in dialogue with his wife, and she told him something after which he became great. Or when he was very young and was at war. I don't know at what point these people become great. I don't know when Lee Kuan Yew became a great man. When he completely changed his country with tough, dictatorial steps? He just made a great country out of nothing. That's why for me these people are great people, and sometimes they are not from politics.
- How will the Nord Stream 2 end?
- There are two factors. The first is the United States. And the second is the unity of European countries. I believe that the US sanctions policy will help Ukraine, and I am grateful to them for that. And here they have an open position. In European countries there are different positions. Russia uses that.
This is an energy war. As in any war, one cannot fight without unity. Someone will definitely lose. If the Nord Stream 2 is completed, not only Ukraine will lose. This is a precedent, it means that it is allowed. And this is the same as with our occupied territories. If people recognize and get used to it, live with it, then it means this is allowed. Starting from Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Transnistria, and now Crimea, Donbas... Crimea and Donbas would not be the case if the world had said "it is not allowed" back then.
Nord Stream is another blow, an energy one. Modern wars are called that way. Hybrid wars. This is an information war, an energy war. The same with gas, the food war. We know how countries are blocked and they do not receive food. Similarly, there is a vaccine war, when there is no supply of vaccines to a country, and you are blackmailed. This is a hybrid war.
So what's the difference which troops are fighting against you? Remember, this (Nord Stream - ed.) is not a business issue. Business of Europe and Russia. No, it's a matter of war.
- Among all European countries, which one do you think understands Ukraine best? And which one of them does not understand you at all?
- It's hard to say. We are very well understood by the countries that were republics in Soviet times. These are the Baltic countries. They understand us very well. I think Belarus understands us very well. I know how well they treat us, how young people treat us - they come, they love us very much. I believe that they deserve a different future, a different present even. We are well understood today in Italy and Portugal, because there are many Ukrainians there. And probably well understood in Poland, because many Ukrainians also work there. I know that Ukrainians are very much loved.
Canada has a very large diaspora. I think that, in principle, all European countries understand us from the point of view of our sovereignty and territorial integrity. But I mentioned the closest ones. Those who, I think, understand us deeply, who understand: if Ukraine falls, the Baltic countries will be next. The next may be Poland. It seems to me that they are thinking about it. And because there is such a threat, they understand you better.