– Do you like this office?
– Over the years, people in these offices have felt quite comfortable. I feel horribly uncomfortable, but legislation in our country stipulates that I cannot do renovation here, because by law it is a historic building and I cannot make changes. I really want to move from here, but we can't spend public funds on that today. We have a difficult situation - both war and economic problems - therefore, I cannot spend public funds on moving to another building. I’ve devoted a lot of time to this. You started with this and for me this is a painful issue. And security officials simply do not allow me to move into another building. I even "cut" the cortege. We had 12-20 cars there and now we have three…
– Very unpretentious. People are still indignant but we do not block off traffic.
– But they expected a bicycle.
– They expected a bicycle but I am not allowed to use it. Why? Because security officials are responsible for my safety and this responsibility is regulated by legislation. That is, they are criminally responsible, if, God forbid, something happens to me. So, no bikes. Well, for now at least. I think we'll put things in order so we can all ride bicycles in the future.
– Post-Brexit, we decided to do Europe Week - about the future of Europe and the future of the European Union. We really wanted it to be not only about the EU but about Europe as a whole. We have been working a lot in Ukraine for the last 10 years and we are very glad that you found time for us.
– Thank you. Same to you.
– First of all, probably, a simple question: Is it realistic to speak about Ukraine's accession to the European Union in the foreseeable future?
– Am I the right person to be asked this question? Ukraine, for its part, has shown this (desire) both at the legislative level and from a human point of view. Ukraine has always upheld European values and our choice is the direction towards the European Union. We have signed an agreement with the EU, we signed a visa-free regime. That said, there are pros and cons. On the one hand, visa-free travel is cool, meaning we are free, free Ukrainians. We are the same, with a European mentality - we go where we want. It became cheaper if we talk about transport and low cost airlines entering the market, so we are opening up to the world. I stand for everything liberal - it is a pity that I only have two hands as I would raise four for this. I stand for complete liberalism in everything. But, on the other hand, we see labour migration. It is probably unfair to call it a disadvantage of the visa-free regime and it is our problem - the problem of the state. Since we have not created more competitive conditions, we do not provide such competitive salaries, such jobs and such security. So, people choose the alternative.
In fact, every state has its advantages, because people who want to emigrate often do not really want to leave. It is their homeland, their family members are buried here, their families live here. Quite often, labour migration is not forever. That is, people leave, work and come back home. There is an element of economic discomfort: they rent apartments and several people live together because it’s cheaper that way. Money is tight, and they are trying to earn something and bring home.
Our people survive as best they can. Everyone wants to live better. The state should give opportunities. Our people leave, because we have not given that to them yet. That is why I have always said that the main value for me is a person. And we need to invest in a person.
– As for Ukraine’s potential future entrance to the EU, I remember that in 2013, when they signed this Agreement (Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement), they kept saying in Russia: you are not welcome in Europe, we love you, and they do not want you. Is there any truth in this?
– I do not think so. At least many European leaders confirm this - in words, with their help, support etc. But it is not about my personal opinion, it is about the opinion of people. And people don’t really believe in words. Or rather, people believe in words only for a stretch of time. Then they start to look for action. So, of course, I want this paradigm to become a reality. Because if Ukraine isn’t included in the EU, for example, if it is not considered as an equal member for the next 20 years, people will turn away because they will be disappointed.
– Turn east?
– No, turning inside. Look, this is Russia, our neighbour. Many have family ties. I believe we have to fight for those who have relatives in Russia, who live in border regions and have friendly, professional ties. They can very easily be influenced by any information warfare. Therefore, they need to be reassured that the European Union is waiting for Ukraine. Moreover, the EU wants to see Ukraine as an eventual member, especially with it being the largest country in Europe.
– Do the European leaders make clear what they are waiting for?
– They say outright what they are waiting for. But, I repeat, it is a matter of time. Time is ticking. I have never concealed my very simple, non-political message that I gave to the Europeans at the EU summit in Kyiv. I said that the fairest thing is when there is a set of criteria. Not a “do this - we take you” requirement, but the criteria for all countries that want to be a member of the European Union. Rule of law, de-monopolization, human life at its core, equality, freedom - all principles must be written for any country so that it can be a member of the European Union if it so wants.
If you started with the topic of Brexit, then I believe that the European Union is just like me and you: a group of people coming together to spend a nice evening around a table, and if someone does not want to sit at the table, he will definitely ruin the party. Or the party will be ruined for him. That doesn't mean he's bad. He has a different opinion. Meanwhile, there are other people standing outside the door, ringing the doorbell, knocking, and they’re told through the peephole: ‘Yes, you’re welcome to join but come back next time!’ And they’re still outside knocking when the party is over. knocking at the door and you say to them through the door viewer: "Yes, we are waiting for you, come next time". The party is over and they keep knocking.
– And the British are breaking glass at the table?
– No, no. The British just sat at the table and saw a different direction for themselves. It is their choice. Because as a liberal person, I believe that the European Union will be at its strongest when it is formed of all the countries that want to be in it. Therefore, entry should be easy and based on principle. And the way out too. No one should feel uncomfortable. Then this Union will be the strongest in the world and there will be no extras at the table. Then a chair for even the smallest country can be found at this table. You can be a big country or you can be a very small country, which at the right time using its brain and energy can help to strengthen any union. In other words, everything depends on the quality of people. This is the attitude to take.
– Probably the two most important political figures in Europe are Macron and Merkel. Did you manage to find a common language with them through friendly and human relations?
– We have very good relations, it's true. They are focused on the priority for Ukraine - peace, ending the war, return of territories and return of our people. More precisely by return of people, I mean captives, then return of territories. We are united by this purpose. This, by the way, is an example of a union that is united for one purpose. Because without purpose people do not unite - it must be beneficial to all.
I think that ending the war in Ukraine is beneficial to everyone. First and foremost, to Ukraine. People are killed in our country, but no one knows what will happen next if Ukraine fails. Nobody knows what will happen, what will be the migration, what will happen next. Where the breakup will be, where else in Europe separatism will be. Ukraine is an example to all.
– So far, we hear Macron saying that Russia needs to be understood.
– As President of the French Republic, he is concerned about his country and his people. And about their specific economic surges and problems. And he solves them. What I see from his rhetoric is that he wants to solve some or many of the problems through warm relations with the Russian Federation. These are diplomatic conversations. In fact, it is not possible to solve just one issue. We are truly grateful that the French President supports us through sanctions, but we will not be able to play on two fronts here because these things are interconnected.
– Does Merkel understand this better?
– Judging by the rhetoric of Frau Merkel, by her actions, it seems to me - yes. In general, this is the case of every leader. It's hard to get in someone’s head or advise something. I just always thought that if people are united by purpose, united by a problem, then everyone needs to move by identified stages. We all need an unambiguous dialogue with Russia, because no war has ended well. We also have some politicians who scream a lot and say: ‘We are going to battle tomorrow. Let's go to Donbas. Let's go to Crimea. Let's reclaim our land’. We really want to return it, but hundreds of thousands of people could die. Maybe millions. It could be a full-scale war. Such an approach would be the way of the Vikings, but our modern world of course is completely different.
– How then to return territories?
– Dialogue. Everything must be done so that we can bring our territories back without sacrifice and by minimising the casualties. Why is this important? Mineral resources, land? Who are we doing all this for? We are doing this for the people. It makes no sense that millions of people are killed, but we return the territory. Let’s say we reclaim it, we'll be very happy about that, and then we'll have one million people to bury. What is the most important?
There is a riddle for kids: what came first: the chicken or the egg? Some of us shout - the egg, while others shout - the chicken. But the question is not really about that. We don't have to choose how to strike or how to attack. It is wrong. If we are attacked, if the escalation continues, then, of course, we will respond. Firmly. We have a strong army and we have grown a lot in recent years. I think we have one of the strongest armies in Europe. And, by the way, everyone confirms that: European and American military experts. So it is… But we have to try without war.
– We meant that there will be Vladimir Putin on the other side of the negotiating table. To what extent can you negotiate with such a person?
– It's very difficult. Very difficult. Still, we have returned 111 people since September. I'm not saying we made a breakthrough. But. There has been no Normandy format for three years. The situation was completely frozen. After three years we achieved a meeting - now, we have returned 111 people. We sat down at the negotiating table. You know the saying, ‘goes like clockwork’? It wasn’t so at all. Everything has been tough going. But things are moving forward. When you see that there is no movement forward, you have to choose a different strategy.
– But from what we have seen - the conflict continues. Last week there were bursts of violence. Yes, exchanging captives is important. I know this is especially important to you. As for other issues, such as possible elections, etc., do you think that through negotiations you can convince Putin that this should be done?
– First, we observe the Minsk agreements. But after it hasn’t worked for many years and my attitude was very simple - I emphasised this in the dialogue because the leaders of Germany and France were not ready for that - I said that we had to be a little flexible. Okay, we're following Minsk - it's a treaty that brings us together at the table. But let's be a little flexible. If it doesn't work, let's look for solutions.
Of course, it was difficult for them at the beginning of our meeting, they said ‘no, there is Minsk and let's follow it’ and so on.
We need to come to this philosophy. It does not oppress anyone. It is simply saying that if the door is locked, try to find another door, not to break this one. Just give it a try. Water always finds a crack. I feel Ukraine is water. We are looking for these ‘cracks’ to just get out of this. That is why, when we talk about elections, my task is to make the country feel like one state and one people. That is why I suggested doing everything possible for local elections to be held throughout Ukraine. But that doesn't mean I'm in a hurry or something. I want everyone to go to the polls knowing that we are a united country. Not having elections in this area in October, in that area in December, if possible. This is my vision.
As for the elections, everyone in Normandy believes (according to the Minsk agreements) that the elections should come first, and then control of the border (by Ukraine). I actually think: let's take the issue of elections and the border away for now. What is important to us? That there are no people with weapons. It is important to all of us. When there are no people with weapons, the shooting will stop. But any such step is tied all the time in the conversation to Minsk and to the elections that are envisaged there prior to control over the border. I say let's take this step. Urgently, simply urgently. Withdraw all troops. All. They say: it is written in Minsk that at first this, then - this. I say: it doesn't matter. These points are written in Minsk. But if we shuffle them a bit, what will happen? Nothing.
– Is Putin's goal in these negotiations national strategic interests of Russia or just to destroy Ukraine? Is he a reliable partner at all?
– I do not feel him as a partner. Ukraine will probably be able to become partners with Russia, and I really would like to witness this not in 100 years. I would like to see it. Because I'm sure most Russians don't want war. I understand that the percentage of people with an anti-Ukrainian attitude is growing because of the information wave in the Russian Federation. But there is a generation that was born in the 1990s when Ukraine and all Soviet Union republics became independent countries. These people do not even understand what the Soviet Union represents Here is an independent country, no matter which - Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Russia. I'm sure they don't understand how one country can attack another. They do not understand why someone says that Ukraine is a part of something, that Crimea was given to them at a certain period of time. This doesn't matter to these people at all. They do not understand the policy of any leader who threatens the independence and territorial integrity of another country. They are modern. They want to live, work, travel.
Does the Kremlin see a way out of this situation? I will try to reach out to them, I will try very hard. And I really do try now. When will this happen? I want it tomorrow, but I can't live in a world of illusions. We live where we live.
– What did you feel when you met Putin in December in Paris? What did he tell you and what impression did he make on you?
– Well, he constantly appealed to Minsk, and my proposals were related to changing Minsk a little. He said: ‘But in Minsk it is written this way and that way. I think he should end up accepting the changes. Europe, and above all Germany and France as participants of the Normandy format, and other countries should fight to make Russia accept this message.
People say: ‘Then what? The conflict will be frozen’. I do not understand what a ‘frozen conflict’ means.
– It seems like it was a rather technical conversation about Minsk, without emotions?
– We also had emotive elements to the conversation. It is very difficult to say that we have ‘people with radical views’ here ... I say: ‘There are people with radical views everywhere’. There are such people in every country. The percentage of these people in Ukraine is no higher than anywhere else in the world. And certainly no higher than in Russia. These people exist, but they are not the core of the country. They do not influence the politics of the country.
Today it is very difficult to say that we restrict Russian-speaking people here. It is difficult for him to say that about me because I speak Russian with him. And in general I'm from a Russian-speaking family. I say: ‘I don't understand what you're talking about. Who is oppressing whom?’
– Did he hear that?
– I have a feeling that he’s started to hear something. And I wouldn't want it to be a false feeling.
But they also know my approach. We're definitely not going to do this forever. I will not give up five years that the people of Ukraine gave me to deal with Minsk. I just won't give these years away. I understand the statistics. I see how many people were killed. And there are five years ahead - I don't want that. That is why we have set ourselves a task, and I believe that the state can spend one year on all the agreements, and then there should be implementation. No longer. If not, we need to change the format and strategy and get back to talking when the time is right. To have a pause.
– And is there any plan?
– Of course there is a plan. Two or three of them in terms of what to do next if we do not move forward, but…
– But it’s already a frozen conflict if there is a pause…
– I don't really think so. I still think that the frozen conflict is what is going on now. There is shooting. Unfortunately, people are killed, but it happens everywhere (where there are conflicts). In Georgia, Abkhazia there is also shooting. It happens. Just more time has passed, the border is smaller, the territory is smaller, the terrain is different. That is, other conditions. People get tired of fighting. Of course, the number of casualties will decrease over the years but our task is to finish that. That's why I see it this way: one year for all arrangements, and then - implementation.
– A year from Normandy you said, right?
– In general, taking a one-year view from our first conversations with Putin. But the key conversation was, of course, in the Normandy format. I believe this process can’t be delayed anyway.
– And one more about Putin, just interested in your opinion: is he a cynic about what he says, or does he believe that there are radicals all over Ukraine and that there are such problems? Or is it just what he says?
– I think he's a man with brains. So, when he talks about radicals, this is either information imposed on him, which he already believes in, or his strategy of negotiations. That's it.
– I was at your headquarters the night you won. You said at the time that your victory was an example for the entire post-Soviet space. Generally, is your existence a provocation for Putin? Should he be afraid that such a presidential contender may appear in Russia as well?
– You should ask him this question. They refused to show the Servant of the People series. That is really funny: they showed the first few episodes, then removed it from air.
Russia is a very big country, and it is difficult to maintain a high standard of living in the absence of economic leaps and given European sanctions policy or isolation. Therefore, any such things in neighbouring countries may interest their population. They will see that this is how other people come to power. In a very liberal way. Yes, we have protests. People come out freely on the streets. They are unhappy with everything. If a sewer grid is put in the wrong place, they will make a protest. But that doesn't mean all Ukrainians are radical. They are just very, very, very free. But, unfortunately, in our country there is a strong political struggle and paid rallies take place. That is, if we look at the reality in our streets, I think that basically everything is calm. People have the right to speak. And this is the essence of democracy.
There are difficulties. Sometimes it is unpleasant because of what people say, what they shout at you, but it is democracy. You have to choose how you live: you go the democratic way and there are pros and cons, or totalitarian, but there are pros and cons, too. But taking into account what is happening in the world, all totalitarian regimes end the same.
– And is there a totalitarian regime in Russia?
– I think they live in the construction of the Soviet Union. Our grandparents lived in the Soviet Union, there were some pros, but as for the freedom of speech, freedom of thought, liberal values, the Soviet Union's seclusion from the outside world - those were certain cons. Therefore, I believe that the model of the Russian Federation is like that one. But it is their right, the right of the people. The people elect the head of the country, the people choose the model. But if the people do not like it, they choose another one. And if people cannot choose another one, then Maidan (the name of the latest Revolution in Ukraine) happens - just like we had. The steps are exactly the same all over the world.
– But Maidan would be much bloodier there.
– I don’t want people to die anywhere. But we should understand that if you keep tightening the spring, at some point it will snap. The question is not if, but when it will happen.
– The main factor that brought you to power in Ukraine was discontent, Russia needs its own Zelensky. Can it happen there - same feelings of political discontent, etc.?
– Of course, they will eventually have a new president. Of course, it will happen. I don't know who the president will be. I am more interested in what is happening in our country. Relations with Russia and other neighbours are important to us. That is, we have very good relations with the United States of America, but the US is far away. This is always the case: when you live in a house, you first of all think about your relations with your neighbour, how to live with him, how to talk. You have trade, you have economic relations. We have many things, we are close, and peace and mutual respect must always be between us.
– We wanted to ask a little about you. Cliché question: How is President Zelensky different from President Holoborodko in real life?
– The TV series was easier. It was a couple of hours there, and here I stay for five years.
– How is a real presidency different from a fictitious one?
– Everything seems similar. Very similar indeed. But there are more problems, and they are catastrophic. The problems have not just appeared today, but they need to be solved. The problems appeared many years ago. When we gained independence, we had to choose our model of living. It was very important - the model: who we are friends with, on what conditions, where we are going - to Europe. It was necessary to determine this precisely, and this was the biggest problem. So, a lot of economic processes - they are stagnant. They appear, I’m sorry to say, like pimples on an 18-year-old kid. You don’t know where they will pop up, or when. You just run around: there are holes everywhere, and with your arms and legs, you are trying to close them up. This is how we’re living. We are closing the holes.
– Almost like a sinking ship?
– But we’re not sinking. We are not a sinking ship because we are closing holes. So, when they tell me, ‘What is the strategy?’, I say: ‘Guys, wait, there will be a strategy. We will end the war, and close all holes first’.
And it doesn't work that way. You come to the mines, to the factories. I go everywhere, I was curious to see what people eat, what salaries they get, where they work... I talk about state-owned enterprises in general. Many European, highest-level commercial enterprises have already been rebuilt, upgraded and so on. But Ukraine is a large country in which the economy has historically been fully focused on the Soviet economic model, so many relations were only tied to the countries of the former Soviet Union, including Russia. That’s why when the war, the blockade of economic relations with Russia started, some companies really got into a stagnation situation. Since becoming independent, we have not made production, the economy and industry independent. Nothing has been done. And today we are reaping the fruits of the past. Of course, we are adjusting a little. The land reform is a good example. We started the land reform that no one had started for 30 years. It was supposed to happen 30 years ago - and that's it. The liberal land market is what it should have been. We are major exporters of agricultural and industrial products, but we could have been at a much higher level by now. And both Ukrainian and Western companies would then be here, but it only starts now.
– About your management style - you said at the start that you wanted to stay a human being. Is it difficult living in these realities or do you just deal with it?
– Of course, it's difficult. But it’s true that you’re getting used to it.
– Well, it's probably nice. Button pushed - bring some coffee.
– Not at all. I'm humble. I often open the door and say, "Bring me a coffee, please."
– What about your family?
– It's difficult. It is very difficult for them. They don't like my work.
– But they understand? Or not?
– It depends. My wife understands and helps me. My wife was not ready, she is a non-public person and does not like publicity in general. Although she performs well in public, she generally likes her circles of communication. This is, the wonderful world of people she is involved with as part of work, projects and family. And now there is a lot of attention. I am used to a lot of attention from my past profession and I am OK with that. Our daughter does not like all the security around us. She is at the age when a person wants to be completely free.
– How old is she?
– Yes, it's a disaster.
– This is the age when people are usually most free. I was a nihilist at her age. I denied everything, everything was wrong.
– Did she learn to hide somehow, to escape?
– It's impossible to avoid all the security. Therefore, it’s unpleasant for my daughter on a human level. But my son loves it. It's true. Son is happy. He says, my father is the President.
– And how old is he?
– He has turned seven. He is very, very funny. It was very funny yesterday. I came home and he was sitting with his mother. They were making jokes and I came and asked: ‘Why is nobody saying hello to me?’ And I heard my own voice on the television. It was my speech. And my son said to me: ‘Don’t disturb us, we’re watching the president!’
So we have a lot of attention, not much freedom. There are things that just became uncomfortable for some reason. The whole family feels uncomfortable because we could afford any restaurant or to go to any country, take any car, etc. Now this is uncomfortable. I'm the President. In Ukraine, to put it mildly, not everything is good. And, on one hand, you need a little rest. And on the other - you understand that you cannot somehow relax, because someone feels bad now. Some very complex moral moments have emerged that have transformed me.
– What if we ask a few questions now on your least liked subject?
– You are welcome to ask. By the way, they are not least liked. On some topics I really do not understand how to help journalists. There are state secrets. After five years, I'll be happy to talk to you about a lot of things I just can't afford to talk about right now. There are official secrets.
– Was there any benefit from this impeachment resonant story (of US President Donald Trump - ed.) for Ukraine or for you personally? Has it all been negative?
– I really think there can be good outcomes when there is a lot of discussion about Ukraine. And due to this story, a lot has been said about Ukraine. But the question is, of course, from what perspective. This whole story begins with frozen military aid. The US President has made it clear that when he talked about corruption, he was talking about the previous authorities. It was important to me not because the previous government was corrupt or had sins somewhere.
I really wanted to turn this page because it is unfair to say that Ukraine is corrupt. Corruption is everywhere. We are struggling, but we have been living in ‘sovok’ (the model inherited from the Soviet Union) for many years. We admit that. But I really wanted to break that point. It seems to me that people have started to see that Ukraine is different, Ukraine is changing.
– Although Pompeo (US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo - ed.) came and said in two days that Americans don’t care about Ukraine. It's also probably unpleasant when he says so.
– Very unpleasant.
– During your meetings with him there is another message?
– Absolutely not. We spoke frankly. He said he was not understood correctly. I didn’t witness the situation, the emotions there. Everything happens in life. Again, these are all words. Actions are needed. And the US supports us. I want them to be even more supportive. And I think Ukraine has passed through this story proudly, with its head raised high. We came out of it in the right way, so I am convinced that this situation should strengthen relations with the United States.
– After this story, there is a feeling that the US is a little afraid to touch the Ukrainian topic because there is so much noise about impeachment? Do you have that feeling?
– I don't have that feeling. We talked about having a meeting there. I had one meeting with President Trump. My visit to Washington was planned. I was told it’s being prepared. It’s hard for me to hear that. I am a person who works to deadlines. Our diplomats are discussing it with American diplomats. Let's wait. I would like us to have a fruitful meeting
– Maybe it would be better to wait for the elections and then you will know who will be president for another four years?
– No, I think it does not depend on the elections. I am very grateful to the USA here: they have two parties supporting us. They support Ukraine. Today, relations between the USA and Ukraine are so public that if there is any change in these relations it will definitely be seen to all. And this is important.
All messages from the USA, from the President, parties, Senators, Republicans, Democrats - from all - are pro-Ukrainian. They are really talking about help, about increase of military support. That is why I am very pleased that there is so much attention to Ukraine.
– I have one last question about Trump. In this transcript that was...
– Yes, I am sure you were not very pleased that they published it. You said you learnt a lot from Trump. Was that really the case, or was it a compliment? Did you really see in him an image that a non-career politician can win the elections?
– I saw his political campaign. It really was an example and a message... The methods are different for everyone, because there are different mentalities, different countries and different people. It was easy for me because I'm an open person. I didn't try to play a different person. I feel good to remain true to myself and say what I think. But he really is an example for me that one can beat the traditional formats in an offbeat way. That's it. And we really looked at what Trump’s team was doing. I don't know his team. But I think we're cooler. Because we have found new - completely new - directions in the electoral sphere. Nobody could beat us. Our plan was formed daily. We didn’t think: tomorrow we’ll do this, the day after tomorrow we’ll do that. We didn't work that way. Our plan was completely different: every day brought something unexpected.
– Do you think this was a special Ukrainian situation - to become President without political experience - or do you think this could work in other countries as well? It may be useful.
– I am sure that it could work in many countries. Especially where people are tired, where they are running like squirrels on a wheel. When they run and run, and there is nowhere to run. People in power change, and they keep on running. In such countries where there are these long-standing politicians with big financial resources and where people are searching for a breath of fresh air, it should work. But of course, the right person has to appear.
– In your TV show you criticised politics a lot. Do you feel more, shall we say, pity?
– To politicians?
– Yes, right now.
– No pity. But, trying to bring in as many new people as possible, I realised that without experienced people it is impossible to govern the state. But these experienced people are usually middle-ranking. These are the bureaucrats who know where to run, what to do and to whom they should bring the piece of paper. But I had a feeling it all started with the President. Indeed, the President cannot change the country on his own, but he can give an example. The government is good, excellent, bad, strong, weak. MPs - they are different, there are a lot of them, but they are all, even if they have bad qualities, looking at the President. They are watching him: does he take a bribe? No. And even the person who took it finds it is more difficult for him now. Maybe, he takes less now. I think it is very important for countries like Ukraine and others - you will not do everything, but the trend will change. I think we have changed the overall trend.
There used to be a bunch of 10 politicians, and people kept thinking: this or that one. I do not know for whom to vote. But one of our candidates gave UAH 1000, let’s vote for him. I showed by example that other people with different moods will appear. There will be many mistakes. We will be shaken from all sides.
– And have you already understood the role of oligarchs in Ukraine: will you just ask for money from them, hang them, shoot them?
– Well, we cannot, by law, hang or shoot. This is about the way we choose, either a totalitarian or democratic way. But if we’ve chosen democracy, of course we can’t hang people. Although! Sometimes you really want to. And do you know why? Because it would be quicker. Much quicker (laughs).
We choose the law. We are conceptually creating a democratic state, and everyone must follow the same rules and one law. As for the role as you have already used the word, - I really want their roles to be not the leading ones, but episodic, like in the TV series. For their part, they realise that I am not a criminal and begin to behave differently.
– Did you see Akhmetov’s new house that he bought in France?
– Of course, I did.
– Do you think it is appropriate when there is a war in Donbas?
– Of course, it is inappropriate. They have made a lot of money here over the years. And the state must do everything for them to buy not there, but here. For them to spend the money on hospitals, ambulances, roads. One of the Europeans once told me: ‘We saw that you, allegedly, gave the oligarch a task. You gave a task to the fund owned by the oligarch to buy 200 ambulances’.
I say, otherwise they will be bought somewhere else and not in our country. We follow the law. And I need ambulances to be bought now - there is no money in the budget for this. But they understand that if there is a war, if the authorities plunder, their relations with the authorities will be the same as before. They will affect the political elite, and if there is a war, everything they own in this country will have zero value. The value of their assets will be zero. Therefore, they must help - without breaking the law. And we must do everything for them not to withdraw money now and to make it profitable for them to bring the money withdrawn earlier back to the country.
– That means, for it to be profitable, not as an order: you buy ambulances, or ... Well, as Putin did with his oligarchs. They do not influence politics.
– They should not influence politics - this is a different story. Again, just banging one’s fist on the table doesn't work. It is either legally or I explained to you how. We are trying to live by the law. It is very important. Now this may be perceived as a weakness, but eventually people need to understand that the rules have become different.
– As for Kolomoisky, because there were a lot of talks about him, that you have a close relationship, he got a lot when you became President… What are your relations with him now? Does he expect anything from you?
– No, nothing.
– That is, he does not call, does not ask anything?
– No. Everyone knows my attitude: I do not provide a job or position to anyone in the state-owned enterprises. I have several people who work with me. They are my friends, we have studied law in university or have long been friends, I trust these people, but they are not related to any businesses and budgets. My friend Andriy Yermak - he became Head of the Office, and I knew him 10 years prior. My assistant Masha was my assistant when I managed both the channel and Studio Kvartal-95. I have five people with whom I have passed through a certain life period.
– Is the story of Bohdan (former Head of the Presidential Office Andriy Bohdan - ed.) somehow related to Kolomoisky?
– I would not like to comment on this story because Andriy and I have come a long way. I had no relation to him prior to politics. We went through the whole election campaign and then spent quite a few months working together. It's a little bit different, it's about human relations.
Short comment separately at the door.
– Did you commission the minister or did she want to go (to Novi Sanzhary)?
– I told her that would be a good idea. She made a decision by herself, but I suggested this.