Full version of the interview of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Politico Europe. The conversation took place on October 3, 2020.
- The European Union helps Ukraine defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, in particular by imposing sanctions on Russia due to the occupation of Crimea and Donbas. How do you think Europe can still support Ukraine? What do you expect from the Ukraine-EU Summit in Brussels?
- You said it correctly. In informal terms, sanctions are the number one issue. The EU's support for our sovereignty and territorial integrity depends on a strong sanctions policy against the aggression of the Russian Federation. You know that we have a war in the east - we can talk about it in more detail, if you want. This is a great support for Ukraine at the geopolitical level. And it is related to the economy. That is why sanctions are the number one issue.
Second. Ukraine's participation in vaccine development. I want to tell the EU that, unfortunately, we do not have a vaccine yet, but we want to get one, we are prepared in terms of vaccine production. We have companies that are ready to help when we are given vaccines. We are ready to help EU countries in mass production of vaccines. Ukraine has already shown how in a difficult moment with COVID-19 we helped with the manufacture of antiseptics, its supply.
The next issue is access to markets. The economic support of the EU is very important to us as the economy of Ukraine was focused on the import and export of goods from/to Russia for many years. Since the beginning of the war, almost all of Ukraine's exports have been reformatted to EU countries. That is why we need free and fair access to markets so that the EU considers us a full-fledged partner.
Ukraine's course is unchanged - to the EU, to become a member of the European Union. We want the EU to support us in this, especially now, in times of COVID-19 and crisis. We are talking not only about access to markets, but also about "industrial visa-free regime".
We show that we are serious partners, and we confirm this by building an anticorruption system together with experts from EU countries. What have we done in the year of my presidency? I understand that the EU expected that all this would be built five years ago. I understand why it was not built, but you and I are the people of the future, so we will not talk much about the past. Let's talk about us. Within a year, we gave full independence to NABU, the main anticorruption body in our country. We launched the Anticorruption Court, it is working today, it is fully technically prepared, and we have already had results for six months on the sentences as regards those corrupt officials who, unfortunately, still exist in our country.
I believe that we, as partners, are very well prepared for this strategically important Ukraine-EU Summit. We have finally voted on laws on electronic communications, laws on blood donation. A bill on water transport in Ukraine is already under consideration. We have also passed important laws on concessions and deregulation. They are not populist. Also - complex reforms supported by the EU, including land reform. You do not know how difficult the implementation of land reform is. For 30 years, throughout our independence, no one has been able to vote for this reform.
I think we are ready for this Summit.
- I was at a conference in Paris at night, with the participation of Macron and Putin. They said that Ukraine should change its Constitution. Do you think Macron and Putin have the right to demand a change in the Ukrainian Constitution, since Putin is the President of the Russian Federation and should think about the constitution of his own state?
- The issue of the Normandy format is technically resolved in the Minsk process in the TCG format. When the war broke out, there was a need, and “Minsk” was signed. I am personally dissatisfied with the format of "Minsk" and the sequence and wording of some of the items that were signed. Personally, I am completely dissatisfied with the composition of this format. This is the only format in which we work today so that there is a dialogue which, I am sure, will lead to the return of territorial integrity. When we talk about one of the items of "Minsk" - granting a special status or amending the Constitution, which, as you say, Macron and Putin talked about, I openly say that the details that this item provides are regulated by changes to the Constitution in accordance with decentralization. We change decentralization, we vote for an important bill, and then these changes to the Constitution provide Donbas with the opportunities they need.
I believe that the main thing is the functionality of one or another item. The functionality of this item envisages just such a solution, and this is the most important thing. Regarding the second part of your question. No one can influence the change of the Constitution of Ukraine, except the people of Ukraine. This is stipulated only in this format.
- A brief answer please.Yes" or "no". Can local elections take place in the uncontrolled territories of Donbas?
- No. I can give a more detailed answer. I told President Macron, German Chancellor Merkel and President Putin that we would not have observers there if there was no border (under our control) and we could not control the election. None of the Western observers will be able to get there. Therefore, elections will never be open there. From the point of view of the security situation, there will be no free access for all parties. And this is what it should be - there should be a free choice of the people of Ukraine. The law enforcement system will not work. We do not know what will happen if there is no (Ukraine-controlled) border between Ukraine and Russia. The Ukrainian border should be controlled by the Ukrainian authorities. I say this openly. I believe that it cannot be otherwise. A social explosion in Ukraine, one point or another - it is simply physically impossible.
In one of the "Minsk" items there is a withdrawal of all illegal military groups from the territory. How they will be withdrawn, where they should go… Then - transfer of control over the border to us. And then we will know that nothing else is happening, that there are no other militarized groups and they do not return.
- On Thursday-Friday, when the EU Summit was held, the President of Lithuania delivered a message addressed to President of France Macron. He said that when discussing the restoration of relations with Russia, Navalny's issue should be taken into account and the Russian President should be informed that he could not kill people. And without this, the restoration of relations is impossible. Do you think Putin kills people?
- The whole world today is closely following the details and results of the investigation into the tragedy with Mr. Navalny, which should be published by the German party. We have to see it. We - as a society, you - as a journalist, I - just as a person, not even as President - to draw certain conclusions about Mr. Navalny, we need details. We understand that any policy aimed at such complex issues is aimed at threatening the people in this policy. I am convinced that all leaders must unite in their statements, sanctions policy and do everything possible to prevent the continuation of such a tragic, complex policy.
For comparison: we have a process in the Normandy format, and separately situations with good results. I believe that the return of our captives, 140 of them as of today (returned - ed.), would never have happened if we had not had a dialogue with President Putin. Only in the Normandy format it does not work, it is not enough. We have issues that have not been addressed in the Normandy format. It is the issue of returning our sailors, humanitarian difficulties of the Crimean people who are in captivity, many of them imprisoned. Such issues should be resolved with the President of Russia.
- Given the situation in Russia's Khabarovsk, the situation with Navalny, this can be considered a sign of weakness of the Kremlin. Also taking into account the situation in Belarus and Nagorno-Karabakh... It is believed that there is a split in the Kremlin, they are nervous or feel a certain paranoia. Do you think this poses a greater threat to Ukraine?
- What is happening today in Khabarovsk is a very clear position of people who go to rallies. They have their own opinion. And most importantly, they cannot be influenced only by the information policy of the Russian Federation, they cannot be brainwashed. It is clear that at any moment there will be a social explosion. We see the same thing in Belarus today. People are tired of this policy. And when people are tired, it speaks in any case - I do not know if it is a weakness of a particular organism, but it is definitely a problem for the organism. I can't say whether Russia can have the same thing that is happening in Belarus now. But what I see is that the people of Belarus will no longer put up with the policy that was before. Authorities need to listen to the people. And most importantly: throwing people who have a different point of view into police vans or using batons, other means, you cannot build a dialogue with people. And this applies to each of these countries. There must be a dialogue, people need to be heard. If people want change, then it's time for that change, and change should have taken place earlier.
There were two Maidans in Ukraine. And I see the same situation there: people do not want to live as before. People want something else. If there is no dialogue, if the authorities do not talk about it with the people and pretend that it is happening "somewhere, in one area or another, which is not the whole country", then there will be a wave. And the wave always washes away all the past.
- Mr. Tikhanovsky (Belarusian blogger Sergei Tikhanovsky - ed.) was in Crimea and expressed support for the idea of "Russian world", in which Ukraine, Russia and Belarus should be a single nation…
- The Kremlin has a desire to bring back the Soviet Union. We understand this perfectly. There are always two "weaknesses" on which information policy is based: religion and language. These things either unite or split society. There is such a policy of the Russian Federation. Not only Mr. Tikhanovsky, but many say that Russian-speaking people should unite under a single country.
Ukraine is a democratic, liberal, unitary state. The state language is Ukrainian, but believe me, we have Russian language. Many people speak Polish, Hungarian, Romanian and Bulgarian. We have such a rich, big country. Nobody will unite around the language, and this has already been said at the beginning of the war, when Donbas was occupied. It seemed to everyone that, for example, in Dnipro and the Dnipropetrovsk region, where most people speak Russian, they would also join Russian policy, the escalation of the conflict and the split in Ukraine.
This is the region where I was born. And I want to say that the great patriots of Ukraine live there. This was a big, tragic mistake of the Kremlin as regards our country. Bring back the relationship that existed between people… I don't know how many years it takes and whether it is possible in principle today… People who loved have been brought to a state where they hate. This is what this erroneous policy of wanting to return to the Soviet Union has led to. I'm sure it won't happen anyway. Ukraine will never exchange its independence for anything.
- Now elections in the USA take place. When you talked to Trump, maybe he already wanted to demand something from you. In a telephone conversation, he talked about Biden, not yet knowing who would be his main opponent. Now he is his main opponent, and the question arises: Hunter Biden, "Burisma" - do you see that they are really guilty of something that law enforcement bodies see. Do you see that they have committed any crimes, or can this affect US election policy?
- First of all, it is very important for us that Ukraine does not interfere in the elections of any country - now we are talking about America, especially in the policies of our strategic partners. By the way, we have bicameral support from both Republicans and Democrats. They support the sanctions policy due to the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas. With all due respect to the United States, to their main political decision - the presidential elections - it is more important for me personally to resolve the issue of war than the elections in another country. You have to understand me, because I am the President of Ukraine, not another country.
We will not interfere in the elections and in anything that can then be used as interference. As for criminal cases, this is what our law enforcement agencies are doing. I don't even want to have all the information, and, according to my authority, I cannot have all the information about the course of any criminal case in Ukraine.
- Do you still live in your apartment or have you moved to the presidential residence?
- I'm not moving anywhere, I have an apartment. I left my house, I had a private house near Kyiv, but it was impossible to work there because of COVID-19. The house was sold. Then I temporarily moved to the residence. Today it is just a hotel for me, otherwise I would not use it. Although, according to our legislation, I have every right, I want to live at home. Now my wife and I are looking for a new place. We will either build a house or rent it. It is important for us to have, as they say in Ukraine, our own personal family nest. (The President later added that he had sold his house.)
- Recently there was a report that caused a big wave in the media that Kolomoisky built many houses, residences in the United States, and he could use the money that was actually withdrawn from PrivatBank. Are there any investigations?
- To be honest, I don't know what this person bought, for what money and in what countries. We see and read this only in the media. Today PrivatBank is a state-owned bank. It has an excellent income, it is one of the best banks in Ukraine, and supports the stability of the banking system. And I'm happy with that. As for the investigation of these cases, I know that law enforcement officers are doing this in both Ukraine and the United States. Do they exchange information at the law enforcement level? I think so, but I don't know.
- Do you support the idea of developing nuclear energy and building a new nuclear power plant?
- Nuclear energy in Ukraine is very highly developed. And I believe that we need to support nuclear energy. We need a balance between both renewable energy and thermal generation - it will also be good in our country, but it is losing its relevance, as, in principle, in the whole world. We plan to develop nuclear energy in Ukraine in a safe format. This will have nothing to do with the Chernobyl tragedy. During the times of independent Ukraine, we have many operating plants. Among other things, Khmelnytskyi NPP, in the Rivne region as well. Now we are talking about construction together with Western partners - the United States, with French companies, when we are talking about nuclear energy, hydroelectric power plants. Today, with modern technology, it is safe and, most importantly, environmentally friendly. I support this energy, because Ukraine can generate it not only for itself, its society (it is cheap), but can also export. When we talk about hydroelectric power plants, both French and Chinese companies are willing to be our partners.
- Of course, you did not want to support any of the parties in the US elections, but do you have a favorite in the Kyiv mayoral elections?
- According to the law of Ukraine, I cannot campaign for this or that person. But you understand when there is a representative of the party that today represents the interests of the state, the largest party - the Servant of the People... Of course, in any case, the closest person to me is from this party.
I also live in Kyiv. And we, the people of Kyiv, want and expect changes. I am sure that first people need changes, and only then - people who will implement them. We do not want traffic to be loaded, we want less garbage, we want an ecological waste processing plant to be built at last, we want a normal transport interchange, we want old networks to be modern. That's all. We all want change.
- I see that boxing is not your favorite sport. And what is your favorite?
- I don't know what she (the representative of the Servant of the People party in the mayoral elections in Kyiv) is doing.
I like different sports, but I don't know which candidates share it.
- Unlike other countries - Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Ukrainians are the only people who died on Maidan under the EU flag. They still aspire to Europe. 14,000 Ukrainians have died, six years have passed since then. Do Ukrainians still want to go to Europe?
- Ukrainians aspire to Europe. But this does not mean that they want to live like one country or another. Ukrainians want to live in European Ukraine. They understand that this is the way to be a member of the EU. We are mentally more European than, sorry, some EU countries. We are more Europeans, remembering the Maidan you mentioned. Ukrainians defend the main principles, the main values of the EU. Economically and, according to our statistics of natural resources, we are one of the most powerful countries in Europe. I would like the EU to consider Ukraine, which wants to be a member of the European community, as strong as we do.
I believe that Europe must remember that it was the Ukrainians who have given their lives for European thinking and have fought in Donbas for many years. I think it's like a marathon. Ukrainians can be great runners, marathon runners, and know that the finish line is 42 kilometers away, and they run to it. And when we go to the EU, and in some bills we "run" there to show our desire, we must see exactly the "finish flag", so that we understand that after some time, after specific steps Ukraine will be invited, not ask to join the EU. And this is what all EU countries should understand.
- When Serhiy Leshchenko first went to the parliament, I talked to him, and then he said: "Now I understand why these politicians are lying". He spent most of his life attacking them for their lies. He said that when politicians go to people, there are so many problems, they try to solve them, and sometimes there are no answers. And then politicians think that it is better to lie, no one will notice, but there will be an answer. Then I told Leshchenko that when you find a way not to lie to people, I will go home and run for Congress. But, as you can see, I am still a journalist. Have you ever had situations where you realized you had no answers for people? Maybe you would like to stay in the TV sphere as I stayed in journalism?
- No. If I didn't want to be President, I wouldn't run for the President and become one. I wanted to try to make fundamental changes in Ukraine. And I continue to believe in it and do it. Sometimes there are questions that cannot be answered. Sometimes you are faced by the mothers of, for example, dead men, who ask you a direct question: "When will you end the war?". There are some mothers who say: "You have to wage war against Donbas, did our boys die for nothing?". These are different formulations of the same pain that Ukrainian mothers have, who, unfortunately, lost their children in this war. And at this time you find the answer. I'm not lying to them, but I have to find the answer. I do not have an honest answer that, for example, on the 31st of the 21st year, I will definitely end the war and we will return our territories. But they are waiting for an answer, they do not want to hear from the President that he is unsure, does not know or is hesitant. So there are things when you give answers, and in this case I do it sometimes, but in order to support people who ask me this question.
- Maybe they are not very grateful for it. Because they want you to stop the war, but when they hear that you start to talk to Russia, they actually consider you a traitor.
- I would put the points correctly here: in what sense does the President of Ukraine not want to talk to the President of Russia, and who exactly is spreading information in the media that Ukraine should not talk to Russia. I am sure that we will never stop the war if we do not talk to Russia. A separate case is the support of our Western partners. But if we do not talk to President Putin, we will not be able to fully restore Ukraine, to return all our territories.
Unfortunately, the media do everything to disrupt any opportunities for dialogue. Even in the framework of "Normandy" or the Minsk process. This applies precisely to those media that belong either to large financial structures or to politicians who were in power before me and held the highest positions. They all have media. They belong to them - unfortunately. Although we never give up and believe that in any case, in the issue of ending the war, we will move forward and talk to both partners and Russia in order to return the people and territories.