Full text of the interview of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the Axios program broadcast on the HBO platform. The conversation took place on January 23, 2021.
Communication begins on the sixth floor of the Office of the President of Ukraine, where modern offices are arranged for events with the participation of the Head of State and employees of the Office.
President of Ukraine: Everything requires will. One of the main cases for us in Ukraine, what we started and became one of the best in is the digital sphere. We have a very good team, all young people. We currently have electronic IDs, driver licenses, identification code in a smartphone. We do everything to minimize communication with the official, the bureaucracy - where corruption begins. We have launched the Diia web portal, which we also use to hold coordination with people who need isolation due to COVID-19.
We want to restore the whole floor, make it modern. Here we watched Biden's inauguration. We want to move away from monumentalism, gilding of the premises, but preserve the architectural heritage. I don't know whether I will have made it by the end of my term, but I want to make a museum of contemporary art.
We met Mike Pence in New York and Poland. And Walker (Special Representative of the US Department of State for Ukraine in 2017-2019 Kurt Walker - ed.) was here (in Kyiv - ed.) many times, we met before I became President as well. He is a good man. He has done a lot for Ukraine.
– Mr. President we are meeting here three days after a new administration has sworn in in the United States. What would you say to Joe Biden if he was sitting right here?
– First of all, my congratulations. I really congratulate US President Joe Biden. I understand - there are many challenges now, and I will not be selfish. If he were sitting in front of me, I would not start with what Ukraine needs or what relations between Ukraine and the United States need.
First of all, I will honestly wish him to cope with all the challenges he will face - global challenges, COVID-19. In fact, a lot has been done, we see it now. We thought that we had an unmodernized, not the best medical system, but we see that all European countries have not coped with COVID-19, and the United States is no exception. Therefore, I wish him on his path to do everything he promised the people of the United States - I wish him to succeed in it. First of all, I would wish him to overcome all the challenges - the most important, the highest priorities. I understand that it is impossible to overcome everything, no matter how talented someone is or no matter how lucky someone is.
As for Ukraine, I would like us to enter a new phase, go on a new path. And the path for me is an open conversation. Now we are having a very open conversation with you - we see each other's eyes, it's not just communication of diplomatic advisers or exchange of views or letters. It is an opportunity, looking in the eyes, to understand, to say that we are partners, that we appreciate the support of the United States, by the way, bipartisan support - that is true. I would really like the United States to succeed in what President Biden was talking about. He said he cares and will continue caring and working on the security of Europe. That’s of the utmost importance, because the security of Europe - this is us. There is the war in the east of Ukraine, there is the aggression by the Russian Federation, the annexation of Crimea. So, maybe it's kind of selfish, but first of all we address his words to Ukraine.
I would like the United States and personally President Biden, who, by the way, is very familiar with Ukraine, to help us exit this truly tragic situation. I call it a tragedy when the war in civilized Europe takes place in the 21st century.
– Apart from congratulations, what new would you ask about for the people of Ukraine? What is that thing that you need from the United States?
– Speaking frankly, not just as the President of Ukraine, but as the citizen of Ukraine, I would like to ask him this. We are grateful for everything, but Ukraine is not just saying in words that it wants to be an equal member of the Alliance, an equal member of NATO, because this is one of the most important security points - the same security that President Biden is speaking about. How should we further state the desire to accede, if it is enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine - the movement towards the European Union, European integration, as well as accession to NATO? Therefore, I have a very simple question - why is Ukraine still not in NATO? Putting away these phrases that we will all contemplate and communicate, the first simple question from me would be: "Mr. President, why are we not in NATO yet"?
– And what do you think he would answer to that?
– I believe that the answer may sound like this: “Mr. President, we consider Ukraine a strategic partner. We understand that Ukraine really has a powerful army in Europe today and protects not only Ukrainian, but also European citizens in the east of the country. That is why Ukraine should accede to NATO during my presidential term". Or the answer will be different, but I would like it to be very honest.
– What else?
– Geopolitics is very important, and you're asking what else? I believe that we are making a lot of reforms in Ukraine today. Later about them? No problem. But we ourselves - we do not print money, we do not have this opportunity. We have partners: the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, but I think it would be fair in such a difficult time… We are ready to do everything to have a normal investment climate, but American companies with their capital could have entered the Ukrainian market faster. For us it is jobs, it is the real involvement of real US business and its presence.
– Do I understand you correctly - if Ukraine is not allowed into NATO, then there’s no way of getting Russia out of your country?
– If Ukraine had been a NATO member, there would have been no escalation in the east of Ukraine.
– They would have to defend you. Yes.
– Yes, and rightly so, because we are now defending Europe, be that as it may. We are grateful to Europe for their help, for their sanctions policy, and we are grateful to the United States. Sanctions are important. But you cannot restore human lives using sanctions. And we all understand that.
– But I heard Putin said sanctions were not a big deal. What do you think?
– I think many sanctions turned out to be effective. For example, it really worked against the Nord Stream 2. And yet it is energy security for Europe, this issue is not only about Ukraine, but it worked. With all due respect to our European friends, the United States has played a decisive role here, and it is true.
So sanctions are effective.
Second. We do not know whether the escalation of the war would continue without sanctions. We do not know. We can't suppose.
But I want to tell you frankly that then, at the beginning of the war, we were without sanctions, without NATO, not ready, we did not have a technically modernized army, there was no help when the war started. But we managed not to let the enemy go further. Therefore, saying that Ukraine will not be able to do anything without NATO is a false statement. But NATO is a powerful signal to everyone, when they say - Ukraine is us or Ukraine is not us, you are not on the fence about it…
– Was this enough for Ukraine in the fight against Russia?
– It wasn’t. Sanctions are just the moment of freezing the conflict, stopping the escalation. This is a good first step. But this is the first step. And we are no longer children. When we have a baby, we look at it, waiting for this first step. That is, this first step has already been taken. And then we want to see the child start running, living, developing. So I want my people and my country to be united, to grow and develop, I want us all to “run”, I want people and territories back. And sanctions are not enough for this.
– But what should be done to achieve peace? How to understand Putin, how to work with him?
– I'm afraid I can't tell it to TV viewers, otherwise it won't work later. Because everyone will watch your program, even he will watch. I'm sure of it.
– One of the big obstacles to peace is Vladimir Putin. Putin sees Ukraine as part of Russia, he spent a lot of blood and treasure invading your country and taking this territory. What is actually going to get him out?
– I think if anyone knew 100% how to do this, that person would have done it. The war is in its seventh year now. Such situations occur not only in Ukraine, and everyone wants to find a way out. We have an example in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh... In Ukraine, in Moldova. These cases are all different, but yet very similar in certain aspects. Therefore, to say one hundred percent that someone knows how to do it - no, 100% - no. But there are certain steps.
The first is unification. I'm not just talking about the European Union and NATO. The question is not in the legal form: whether you are in one alliance or another, in NATO or not in NATO. No. It is the unity of people all over the world who will begin to put pressure on the person or on the policies of those people who do not respect international law, international order, international borders.
– I feel empathy for your situation, because you were not the President in 2014. This didn’t happen when you were there. But the previous US administration did some little things around the edge, but they didn’t even send weapons. And this was the Obama-Biden administration. Joe Biden was the point person for Ukraine. When they really needed to have your back, they didn’t. What I want to know is what do you say to them to persuade them to actually put their skin in the game to help you?
– They must feel, understand that this is Ukraine now, and who is next? It could be any European country, it could be the United States. We are talking not just about the armed invasion, as is happening in Ukraine. What we are facing now is an information war. And the United States is one of the most vivid examples of how this can happen: information warfare, cyberattacks. You understand that the distance between countries does not matter. We are all talking about nuclear weapons, about disarmament, that there should be no nuclear weapons, because this is a potential destruction of the world. But at the same time we forget that information weapons have long been more powerful in the world than nuclear ones, because they are not banned.
What happened, for example, in Donbas? The first step was not about weapons, it was about information. Part of our country has been subjected to an information attack that "there, in Kyiv, you are not respected, there, in Kyiv, you are forbidden to speak Russian". I always said it was a lie. Because I was born in a Russian-speaking family. I have already spoken about my relatives from Odesa, about 80% of which speak Russian. But the people of Odesa defended Ukraine just as each of us from the very beginning of the war.
Therefore, first there is an information attack. How can you help? Military aid is not enough, let the United States not take offense at me. Although we are grateful for the increase in this military assistance. $ 25 million more has been allocated for lethal weapons this year. But these sums will not be enough for the information war. This is a question for everyone. We must talk about the center of countering cyberattacks.
– Don't you feel betrayed in Ukraine because of non-fulfillment of security guarantees after the abandonment of nuclear weapons in the early 90s of the last century, because of non-fulfillment of the Budapest Memorandum?
– In general, I believe that this is a betrayal of Ukraine. I think this is a big mistake. After all, any world diplomatic agreements are "multiplied by zero” from the moment the Budapest Memorandum is not observed. And no matter what we sign next, no matter what the countries agree on, there will always be a risk that someone will say it's just a piece of paper and you don't have to observe it. That is, in the XXI century there are still traditions of the Middle Ages, when it is not the force of agreements, but simply force. The one who is stronger, who has more weapons writes the Constitution of your country so to speak. This is an offensive situation. There have been several such situations in Ukraine.
I understand that nuclear weapons are terrible. But if there were nuclear weapons in Ukraine now, if we had not made such a big mistake then, and I believe today that this was a mistake, there would have been no invasion, and we would have our territories now. Because we could always speak on an equal footing with the Russian Federation and the whole world. That's all.
– Do you think about trying to return Ukraine's nuclear status?
– I think it is wrong to do it today. After all, we must not turn from humans into beasts. After all, civilization will eventually win. No matter how we treat democracy, as Churchill said, there is nothing better in the world yet. With all the disadvantages of democracy, with all the disadvantages of nuclear disarmament, with all the challenges that we had and still have when our territory was taken and 14,000 people were killed, after all, if we want to build a democratic, civilized country, we must follow world law, we must remain humans.
It is the same as they once said about me and Ukraine that when you become President, you understand how the country lived before, many people were corrupt, they took bribes, and how can there be one "white crow" if many people around you take bribes? But this is an example. We say that fish rots from the head. That is, even if everyone around you takes bribes, it does not mean that you have to live by the laws of the majority. It is wrong. The same is here.
– Unfortunately, for many Americans when they hear your name what comes to mind is that phone call with Donald Trump and the impeachment of Donald Trump. They wonder what was going on for you. What was going through your head?
– When my name appeared in different media outlets, I read that Trump put pressure on me. I was very offended to hear this. Because I am the President of Ukraine. We may be smaller than the United States, but we are an independent country! And we proved it to Russia when we kept our territory. And we are proving it now.
That's why Trump didn't put pressure on me, and I will never say that. Because we are talking about the President. I'm not just a citizen.
There was one unpleasant thing. I haven't spoken about this until now. There are conversations between people, between politicians, between presidents, which contain this or that information on both sides. And you should be responsible for the information you convey to the other party. I did not want me or Ukraine to be accused of being involved in US domestic politics, influencing that politics, influencing, God forbid, the choice of a free American people. I did not want that, and that is why I really did everything to prevent Ukraine from being involved in it. And it was hardly involved in it.
But things were not very clear to me when our conversation was published. I think this is totally wrong. And it was not Ukraine who made it public. I would never let that happen. It doesn't matter what we talked about. This was the first serious conversation between two presidents, between strategic partners. And in any case, neither of us has the right to make such things public. These are personal issues. Sure, we do not belong to ourselves, because we are presidents elected by the people. But I think such things cannot happen. This is wrong, and it was the beginning of this whole case.
– I can see you’re angry with President Trump? Maybe a little bit?
– A little bit.
– After all, you became President with the slogans of fighting corruption, he is your biggest partner, and all he wants is an investigation against his opponent.
– Honestly, I did not see it that way. For me, the most important thing was to preserve our relationship. The most important was to hear that we as countries support each other. Yes, there was a conversation, certain topics were raised. And I'm really open. If there are any criminal cases, law enforcement officers should investigate them anyway. I do not want to stop them or, conversely, turn on the accelerator of these events. They have to do their job.
Then, I know, there were statements that the issue of Biden's son was the most important thing. And because of the recordings that were later published, a telephone conversation during Poroshenko's time, where allegedly Mr. Biden talked to Mr. Poroshenko ... For me, the most important thing in this case was to understand how, in principle, something can be recorded in the office of the President of Ukraine. This is the main problem. Because this is the destruction of the institution of the president in Ukraine. Therefore, a criminal case was initiated, and our law enforcement agencies are dealing with it.
– You spoke about the great importance of the United States in resolving the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Describe the role of the United States. Do you want Joe Biden to be one of the participants in resolving this conflict?
– I'll explain. Today we have only one case - the Normandy format, which, as you know, includes Russia, France, Germany and Ukraine. Today, unfortunately, there is a moment of stagnation. I believe that this is due to the reluctance of the Russian Federation to move forward. Because they thought we would slow down this negotiation process, the Minsk process. But we are moving forward very quickly, we are ready to talk about all the details and move to the end of this war - move to peace. So far it is not a question of restoring relations between our countries - it is all further. But we must stop the war between our countries, go to the borders, return our people and our territories. That is why we are moving forward.
Indeed, I believe that if the stagnation of the Normandy format continues - and there are many reasons for this: at first there was COVID-19, and for six or seven months we’ve heard that we could not gather because of COVID-19 - there were video meetings in Minsk format and even video meetings of advisers to the Normandy process. Then Ukraine does not want to do something. But all this is idle talk. If you want to stop the war and you do care that people die, you will do that. That's what we do. I do not see a desire from Russia. Sometimes they really show it - especially after our conversation with Merkel, Macron, Putin in Normandy, and we talked to President Putin alone after… I really believed that we had an opportunity to move forward and resolve issues. There was a big exchange, we agreed on disengagement locations, we even resolved the issue of gas security for Europe - a new contract with Russia. I had an impression that now we will move fast. But then the stagnation of this process came.
A year and a month have passed since the Normandy meeting, and I do not see any serious steps forward. So I say again: I think it's idle talk. And Russia understands this perfectly well. They are playing because they do not want to promote this process according to Ukrainian requirements. Yes, they only want it their way. They see further federalization of Ukraine, and it is true. Weakening of the Ukrainian central government, preservation of separatists in one way or another - I understand what they are doing. We have seen this in Transnistria - the same effect.
And I told European leaders this frankly: if we continue in this format, this format, unfortunately, will be exhausted. And that's why I wanted such a powerful world player as the United States to have an impact. Not theoretical, not outside the circle of the "Normandy Four", but to have one of the crucial missions. I would really like to involve President Biden in the Normandy format. I am ready to do anything to reach an agreement with the President of the United States and the Normandy Four. It seems to me that this may intensify negotiations. I also told our European partners openly: if this does not work and if everyone is not against it, I do not see a big problem to create another format in parallel with the Normandy format, which must include the United States and Russia.
This is a parallel case. This does not mean that we give up on the Normandy format. But there are issues that are not on the agenda of Normandy, namely: what to do with Crimea. When I arrived for the first meeting of the Normandy format, I did not understand why we are not talking about Crimea. All partners said that Crimea was not on the agenda. And this was an agreement with the former President (Petro Poroshenko - ed.). Then I asked my partners and Russia: “Name the platform where Crimea is on the agenda. Are you saying that we should give up on Crimea and stop mentioning that this is our territory? As the new President, I cannot afford this. I do not want to. And I will never accept that". And, I'm sorry, if I had been President then, we would all have died in Crimea, but we wouldn't have let the "green men" in there. And if the "green men" had not been let in there, Russia would not have helped the separatists and would not have been in eastern Ukraine. That's why this format should exist, I think.
– I’ve been thinking about the challenge that you’re facing with COVID-19 and with the vaccine. And it seems to me that the situation with Ukraine trying to get the vaccine is like a microcosm of the awful situation you often find yourself in. You turn to the United States, your great ally, you say: “Can we have a vaccine?” and they say: “Bottom of the queue”. Then Russia says: “Come in, have our vaccine”. But we don’t know if their vaccine is safe. So you had to turn to China. Help me understand how this painful process has shaped your view of Ukraine’s allies.
– There are several emotions about the global vaccination campaign. They may not all be nice, but I have to voice them. The fact that Ukraine is not an equal member of the European Union or the world was confirmed by the terms for vaccinations. We are not a priority for the countries that are receiving the vaccine now like other countries are. The countries of the European Union, the ones we have wonderful relationships with, I did approach their leaders and they did say they would help little by little from their own supply of the vaccines. This would be difficult to explain to their people, I understand. But they will little by little give some to us. But this is very unpleasant to feel that you are standing there with your hand out. This is the same war in the east.
– But there is a Russian vaccine that they offer ...
– I cannot risk the health of our citizens. I do not want to say any unpleasant words, because due to my words, the delivery time of vaccines may be even longer, so I will not take risks. But this is an example when the world reminds us that Ukraine must, above all, build itself a strong country that has everything: its own weapons, its own army, its own vaccine, its own money - its own everything. We reacted like civilized people. During the outbreak of COVID-19, for example, we sent planes to Italy with disinfectants, with all the means that could help prevent the disease. Because we have a pretty developed distillery industry, and we helped where we could. And I think we have shown more humanity than many countries around the world.
You talked about China. Yes, we will reach an agreement with all the countries that can give us the vaccine. There is Sinovac - one of the Chinese vaccines. We have AstraZeneca. We have Moderna. I know it is more expensive, but Ukraine does not choose what is more expensive and what is cheaper - we are choosing the timing now. And, unfortunately, we are not in the first line of vaccination. We are somewhere at the end, and I want Ukraine to be at least in the middle in terms of vaccine supply.
Regarding Russia. I want to talk about the Russian vaccine so that we understand. This is one of the manifestations of the powerful information war that is being waged. The question is not that it says Made in Russia, the question is that no one can guarantee the quality of this vaccine. And they take advantage of the fact that the European vaccine comes to us very late, and therefore offer their own.
– In the United States there’s concern, bipartisan, emerging consensus, that China is the number one geopolitical threat. Do you agree with that assessment?
– I can't agree with that, because we don't feel this in Ukraine.
– You don’t feel China is a threat?
– It's hard to say. I believe that there are many different potential threats from powerful states. Because any powerful state sees itself as an empire. And when the state becomes an empire, it sees only itself, and then - the whole world.
We are neighbors with one "empire", so it is difficult for me to say what will happen to China. Now the United States and China seem to have a sort of cold war, although it is public, because the war is at the level of business and so on. We know that the United States is represented in Ukraine, business is represented, but we also have Chinese business. I believe that regardless of nation or nationality, if people, if business, if a certain country treats you with respect, respecting your people and borders, they can be present in your country.
– China has a global reputation as an investor in the defense industry. China has become one of Ukraine's largest trading partners. China is also willing to buy Motor Sich. Will you allow it?
– Let’s divide the answer to your question into two parts.
First of all, I welcome the investment from the United States, and Chinese investment as well. There are Chinese investments in the United States and around the world. Because many brands - both European and American, if you, in addition to the name and brand, take the label, you can often see Made in China. That is true.
But I would divide investments in business and in strategic areas of the country.
That's why the second part of my answer is about Motor Sich. The issue is not about China. The issue is not even how the shares of Motor Sich were bought under the former President, under Poroshenko. The issue is that we do not have the right to sell a controlling stake in the management of strategic defense enterprises of Ukraine to any country. First. Never, at least under my presidency - I'm not here forever, I'm not the Secretary General. During my presidency, this will not be the case.
– On January 6, President Trump held a rally. He incited his supporters to storm the United States Capitol to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power. I’ve been thinking about how you must have seen it. How did you feel when you watched that happen in the United States?
– We were very shocked. Because similar things have happened in some countries around the world, we have seen such cases. I was very surprised and could not even imagine that something like this could happen in the United States. I believe it was a strong blow to US democracy. We were used to seeing in books, films and television the ideal institution of democracy in the United States, in which power is transferred from one President to another without war, peacefully, without revolutions. Yes, there may be conflicts, but everything is very consistent, calm.
We’ve had two revolutions. We have seen this. We understood that such things could happen in the world, but no one expected it to happen in the United States. This shows that not everything is ideal. I think there was a serious attack not only inside the United States, but also outside.
I am really glad that US independence has withstood this challenge. And I think there will be serious conclusions… September 11 - we all remember it - was horrible. We watched, believed and disbelieved that in the United States where security is always at a high level this can happen. I watched this situation in the same way. And thank God there were no such consequences. This is exactly the information war in the world that I talked about at the beginning - countries must unite to counter such challenges and threats.
– Sounds like you were profoundly distrubed watching this.
– I was seriously worried. I didn't want you to have - I can't say revolution, but I didn't want you to have a coup, shooting, and, God forbid, casualties. After that, I think it would be very difficult for the world to see the United States as a symbol of democracy.
– I’d like to ask you about corruption. One of the phenomena with which international companies associate doing business in Ukraine is corruption… Can you explain to the audience what corruption looks like inside Ukraine and what you do?
– First, I want to say that we have done a lot. We launched the Anticorruption Court immediately three months after I became President. It was very difficult to do, but today the Supreme Anticorruption Court works. Judges were elected together with international partners. I cannot say that as a citizen I am 100% satisfied with the work of the Supreme Anticorruption Court. Nevertheless, there are sentences, there are people, there are corrupt officials who received sentences. I think this is an important signal.
Second. We show actions. We have restored criminal responsibility for the illegal enrichment of officials. We voted. Then we had a war with the Constitutional Court of Ukraine - I'm talking not about the institution, but about some people, judges of the Constitutional Court, when they wanted to destroy and almost destroyed the anticorruption infrastructure of Ukraine. I have put everything at stake that concerns my presidency. We acted quickly, tough. We have returned the powers of the NACP, e-declaration. Now everyone can see it, the whole world.
There are strategic things that we have already voted on. There are ongoing challenges, such as the Constitutional Court, and we are struggling. This war is not over. We work with the Venice Commission, they support us. It's true. It is very difficult. Why? Because the legislation was built and changed during Poroshenko's term. The reasons are not only in Poroshenko, I am talking not only about his name, but also about the fact that in five years they have changed the legislation of Ukraine so that you are basically unable to dismiss a judge if he is corrupt or fights against the anticorruption system of Ukraine or against security. Everything is built so that there is nothing you can do. I as President can do nothing. No one can. It is impossible. Even if he is corrupt, even if he is the Chairman of the Constitutional Court. During the war, during the annexation of Crimea, he bought several hectares of land in Crimea. He bought them under the laws that apply there, and today it is the legislation of Russia. Thus, he recognized Russia and its legislation in Crimea. And who is he? He is not just an ordinary person, an ordinary Ukrainian, he is the Chairman of the Constitutional Court. We are fighting all this quite strongly.
We are currently considering the reform of the Security Service of Ukraine in the Verkhovna Rada. It is to be adopted in the first reading this month, and the bill has already been on the agenda for the first two weeks (the Ukrainian parliament passed the bill on January 28 - ed.). This is about the Security Service, so that they do not engage in the economy, about the deprivation of their economic functions.
A bill on the Bureau of Economic Security was also registered in the Parliament of Ukraine (the document was approved by the Verkhovna Rada on January 28 - ed.). This is a new body, and it will be the only one to investigate economic security in Ukraine. We begin to create it. The reform of the Prosecutor General's Office is almost complete. There are a lot of issues. But the most important thing is a great judicial reform, which no one has ever gotten around to. And the confidence of business, of both Ukrainian and Western investors in Ukraine starts with it. This reform will consist of many laws. Next week, the commission set up under the President will present all the laws that we will vote on successively over two or three years.
– It is great that you personally understand the problem and scale of corruption in your country and put forward various solutions to stop it. But it is clear that the oligarchs and people who have become suspiciously rich control the government, politics, individual politicians, industry, and the media. This is a big problem and this is the information for you. What would you say to people in the West who say that Zelenskyy is doing the right thing, but there is no "big fish", no corrupt oligarch who has been imprisoned, even though the President has already been in power for almost two years? Why?
– I’m not sure whether you will like such an answer. What are the oligarchs all over the world? These are large business structures. It is not just a person, it is large financial structures that have an influence on politics in the country or may even be the "owners" of some politicians. There is no slavery in the world, but there is financial slavery. They have an influence on politics, have their own media - television channels, other platforms that influence information policy in the country and abroad. That's who the oligarchs are. Ukraine does not have a law on lobbying unlike some European countries and the United States. Lobbying is the influence of large financial groups through legislation and through lobbying companies on the adoption or non-adoption of certain bills, which then give a profit to these financial groups. So when they say that there are oligarchs all over the world, I absolutely agree. They are just civilized. They have found the answer in the laws on lobbying and something else, but they exist.
Getting rid of the oligarchs is achieved in two ways: to deprive them of the opportunity to have a "TV", a media platform and to deprive them of the opportunity to influence the deputies. It is possible to do it, I want to do it in Ukraine. This must be accepted. It is not just a decision of law enforcement officers to imprison someone. I am not against imprisoning anyone who breaks the law. But others will come instead of these. Therefore, it is necessary to change this process at the legislative level. I believe it is possible to do so. Now about their influence: does the Servant of the People party or other parties have influence? I am sure that the oligarchs have an influence on all parties in the Ukrainian parliament. Not on the party as a whole, but on some people. They have an influence.
– These are not the same things, not the same people… like, for example, George Smith, my colleague in the party - they are not known as Kolomoyskyy?
– Not like this. You should know that we expelled several people from the party. There were no such precedents in this parliament. No party has gotten rid of its deputies, although it is known that they are influenced by some financial groups. When I had not only rumors and commissioned articles, but also proof that this person was financed by this or that financial group, I offered the party to get rid of this person.
– Regarding the recent sanctions against individual members of parliament who facilitated Russian meddling in the US presidential elections. Will these members of parliament be persecuted by the Ukrainian judiciary?
– Yes, of course. And not only these deputies. Everyone. I want a criminal case to be opened in this regard. I began to talk about it, how a conversation with President Biden, who was then vice president, was recorded in Poroshenko's office, who recorded it, to whom it was given or sold - law enforcement agencies are dealing with all that. Some work has already been done and there will be results soon. But I really want all the names on this list, as well as on the sanctions list. No matter which party they were deputies of. No party should be responsible for this or that person. People should be responsible for what they do. And therefore (it is necessary - ed.) to raise a question of deprivation of mandates and expulsion from the party. But we must have the whole list - even those who held very high positions before my presidency. All those who meddled in the elections in the United States, if it is true, must be held accountable.
– President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani met Andriy Derkach who the US government has since labeled as a Russian agent. Would you be willing to cooperate or to assist in the federal investigation of Rudy Giuliani in relation to his dealings with Russian agents in Ukraine?
– I'm afraid I can't talk about it as President. We are ready to help. Our position is very firm and productive. We are ready to help the United States obtain the truth and the results in this case. Because for us it is also very important.
– I would like to ask the same question. There is a federal investigation into Hunter Biden in relation to his dealings in Ukraine. Would you be willing to assist with that investigation if your administration is asked?
– I can't help the investigation. We can be open, provide the information we have. That is, there are no problems when criminal authorities, prosecutor’s offices or any other agencies of any country can work together. And I believe that's normal.
– Do you know that your government is willing to cooperate with the investigation in relation to the cases of Giuliani and Hunter Biden?
– I don’t.
– Finally, Mr. President, we’ve covered a lot of ground, but I want to give you the opportunity if there’s something that you really want to say.
– I really want the people of the United States to understand that Ukraine is having a difficult time, to understand that Ukraine is strong. We see our future with a strong democratic, European mindset. To understand the labeling of Ukraine as a corrupt country is not all how it is. There is corruption, we are fighting it and we will defeat it. To understand that we will be the best in the world in digitization - what we were talking about. We already have electronic document management, and not even because we have a young team. But because I know that in order to defeat corruption at the middle level, everything must be done in a modern format so that people do not even have the opportunity to talk to officials or other representatives of the bureaucracy. We will do it for sure. We are already launching a paperless program this year. That is, in 2021 all our authorities have to gradually abandon paper documents - electronic signature (will be used - ed.). Bank accounts in Ukraine are already in electronic format. It takes 15 to 25 minutes to start a business. I know Ukraine is changing every day. Frankly, if we did not spend so much time and money on the war in the east, Ukraine would make big leaps forward. Now, unfortunately, we are going pretty slowly. This is a great burden - the war, and we hope that we will manage to end it. Ukraine is changing, and I invite everyone to see it. Not just to believe my words, but to come to Ukraine and see it.
– President Trump has invited you to a meeting at the White House, is there already an invitation from Mr. Biden?
– I think I will definitely be invited by President Biden to the White House, and I will gladly accept that invitation. I believe that we have a lot to talk about and a lot to do. It seems to me that some changes in the world will take place during President Biden's term. Very positive changes. I would very much like us to be able to help him in this matter, and I would like President Biden to help Ukraine, which he knows very well. But not as deep as we would like. I am sure that after our meeting it will be so. And I think that the invitation, our meeting with the President of the United States, is a symbol and the answer to all the questions you asked me in the beginning about what Ukraine expects from the United States, whether the United States perceives Ukraine as a partner, whether we will reach a new level of relations, whether the United States can help end the war in Europe.