President of Ukraine

Skype interview of Volodymyr Zelenskyy to The Globe and Mail: full text

22 June 2020 - 17:07

Skype interview of Volodymyr Zelenskyy to The Globe and Mail: full text

Journalist Mark Mackinnon asks President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to talk about a recent conversation with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and negotiations on visa facilitation for Ukrainians.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy: It depends not only on us, first of all, it depends on both countries. Canadians and Ukrainians have long, historic relations. Many Ukrainians live and were born in Canada - they are Canadians with Ukrainian roots. I think it is this story that brings our countries much closer. Yes, we really have a very strong diaspora in Canada. I am always grateful to them, because at the beginning of the war in our country in 2014, the diaspora collected money and humanitarian aid and helped us a lot. This is in addition to the state, the government of Canada.

I think that it is in such difficult times that this closeness, which is at the genetic level between countries and people, is manifested.

When I arrived in Canada at the invitation of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, we immediately found common ground. Probably because of youth or interest in common things. We got acquainted, and I saw in him not just a politician with experience - I saw a very nice, very smart person who cares about Canadians, who is a patriot and with whom a lot can be connected in the future history of Canada and Ukraine.

Then, unfortunately, we had a common tragedy - the Iranian tragedy, in which Ukrainians and many other citizens, including Canadians, died. I want to express my condolences once again.

Different things in life unite. Unfortunately, tragedies as well. At the time, we were working with Justin (Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - ed.). We had a lot of communication, and we were able together with American partners to make Iran admit that they are guilty of this tragedy. Now the investigation continues. At that time, the Prime Minister (of Canada - ed.) and I talked several times, at some point it was several times a week, and we solved really important problems.

I would like to thank Justin (Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau) for the fact that under his leadership Canada supported Ukraine in a sanctions policy against Russian aggression. This is very important for us. Canada is one of the leading countries supporting Ukraine in this process. There were several such examples. In particular, the introduction of a sanctions package against Russia. Canada has always been on our side.

An important point we also talked about with him is the liberalization of the visa regime. There are economic relations between our countries, there is geopolitics. And our people need to feel equally free, simple, open - both Canadians in Ukraine and Ukrainians in Canada. That is why we are talking about liberalization. It seems to me that Justin supports this direction, and I want to bring this moment closer step by step.

As for the economy and our cooperation,  it is in real actions, not in words. For example, Black Iron, a Canadian company that wanted to invest in Ukraine, in a mining and processing plant. I know this very well, because I am from Kryvyi Rih and this is the investment in my hometown. This problem has been "hanging" for 10 years, but it is such a big investor. The size of the investment is 1.1 billion US dollars. They could not enter Ukraine. Now we have almost solved this issue. The Ministry of Defense is working together with our Ministry of Economy, we have already found this place (for the construction of a mining and processing plant - ed.). It will be a very big cooperation. After all, this is more than a billion of investment in Ukraine, it is very important for Canada, for Black Iron, and it is important for us.

Journalist: Regarding the elections to the UN Security Council. How did Ukraine react to the results of this week's election and how did it vote?

Volodymyr Zelensky: Ukraine has always and will continue to support Canada. I can't say how this or that country voted, because this is confidential information. I understand that Canada really wanted to be in the UN Security Council. And I, as we say, kept my fingers crossed. This did not happen, but I think it is very important for both Canada and us, and we believe in Canada's success. Canada has enough time - we do not live one day or one year. I am absolutely sure that next time Canada will be the winner in this situation. Now there are many platforms in the world where Canada is respected and listened to by the whole world. In particular, it is NATO and the OSCE. Everything that is important for Canada is also important for Ukraine, because we understand that Canada always supports Ukraine on such large-scale geopolitical platforms. And we will always support Canada

Journalist: Ukraine promised its support to Ireland and Norway before Canada asked Ukraine for support. Is this information true?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy: I know this information, but I cannot disclose it because it is confidential information. This is a secret ballot structure, and I want to tell you that all the candidates, without exception, including Canada, which fought for this non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council, are our partners and really deserve to be in the UN Security Council.

Journalist: Mr. President, you came to office last year to bring peace to Ukraine, when there has already been Russian aggression. Do you still hope that a peace agreement can be reached with Vladimir Putin, especially given that they are now showing their power in preparation for a military parade in Moscow?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy: This is the most tricky and difficult question. I will tell you frankly, I do not have time to believe or not to believe Vladimir Putin. I just have to do my job as I consider right to achieve the result. Over this time, we have returned more than 130 people from captivity. I understand that this is not a big victory, but these are the small victories that are sure to lead to a big one. And for us it is the return of all Ukrainians and all our lands. And that's what I really believe in. And I have time for that.

Our people remain (in captivity - ed.) on the territory of the Russian Federation, there are Crimeans who are also behind bars. We negotiate their release as well with the Russian Federation and will do everything we can to bring them home. Next, we talk about the opening of the checkpoints between the controlled (by Ukraine - ed.) and the occupied territory for humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians living in a particular territory. We do everything for them - we open checkpoints, build bridges destroyed by that side. And not only by war, but also by time. And now, for example, an ambulance car can drive to the occupied territory. Of course, there are difficulties, because militants very rarely allow vehicles with humanitarian aid and OSCE vehicles.

As for the youth we are very interested in, so as not to lose them. Due to the information war, children who studied in school in the occupied territories are now going to enrol in higher education institutions. It is very important for us that they enrol in Ukrainian universities on our territory. We do everything for this. For example, we abolish standardized external testing for them so that children from the occupied territories of the Donetsk, Luhansk regions and Crimea have an opportunity to enrol in the best higher education institutions in Ukraine without exams.

Journalist: Would you go to a parade in Moscow? Were you invited?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy: No, I would not go. It seems to me that there was no official invitation.

Journalist: Regarding flight 752 (UIA Boeing shot down near Tehran - ed.). Do you still hope that the "black boxes" can be returned to Kyiv?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy: I hope that the Iranian side will fulfill what they promised at the level of their head of state. They promised it to me personally, but most importantly, they promised it to relatives, people who lost their children, their loved ones in this disaster.

We are counting on a constructive policy in the end. It is not only about "black boxes". They didn’t make official apologies and paid proper compensation to the families who have lost their loved ones. And although human life has no price, they must provide compensation. Otherwise, we will have no choice but to go to international courts. And they know our clear position.

Journalist: Is your next step, if what they promised is not fulfilled, to force Iran to take a step on their part?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy: In any case, we understand that the international court is a tool to solve this problem. At present, Iran does not give us "black boxes" because of the situation in the country and in the world due to COVID-19. We are all normal people and we all understand that this is really a problem. Ukraine will wait for a certain time, but we have been waiting for a long time already. This time is limited in any case.

Journalist: You really had a very turbulent year. We can raise many topics for discussion, because the last time I spoke to you was during your press marathon, which lasted a very long time. For example, aren't you upset that Ukraine is again being involved in US domestic politics given the fact that John Bolton has published his new book?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy: I have not read this book yet. When I became President, we had many questions from Ukraine to some countries, and vice versa. But I immediately said that Ukraine would never interfere and influence the domestic policy of any country, regardless of population and remoteness. I don't know how it was before me. Indeed, there were problems in relations between Ukraine and the United States. But now we enjoy bicameral support for Ukraine by the United States, sanctions are being implemented, there is support from two parties and personally from President Donald Trump. This is very important, and I do not want to ruin these relations with one of our strategic partners - a very influential country with an influential geopolitical position. We do not want to lose such opportunities.

I have talked about this with the President of the United States, with Mike Pompeo (US Secretary of State - ed.), with many representatives of the Senate, both US parties. They understand that all these cases, which are now being considered, when there attempts to involve Ukraine in these affairs, were all during the time of the former President. I know that they treated us as a "scandalous" country, I do not like it, because we are a different country. I will not allow to create the image of Ukraine as a scandalous country and I will not allow the involvement of our country in the election or any other political process in the United States.

Journalist: You just mentioned the previous administration. Yesterday (the interview took place on June 20 - ed.) at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress there was an appeal, a kind of call to respect the rule of law in Ukraine. In general, how do you assess all these cases that take place in Ukraine today with Mr. Poroshenko? What are your views on relations with the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy: The people of Ukraine gave their answer to Mr. Poroshenko when I was elected President and during the parliamentary elections. The people of Ukraine expressed support for other people, other politicians, and responded to the policy pursued by Mr. Poroshenko over the past five years when he was President. It seems to me that this answer is not enough for Petro Oleksiyovych. We have local elections ahead, this is another of his great political cases. He wants to be a victim, he wants everyone to believe that there is political persecution in Ukraine. Most people in Ukraine understand that all this is like a political theater. I am not interested in Mr. Poroshenko, I am not interested in the issue of political persecution, because I do not do that. I am sure that he is simply heating up the situation, because he was not heard six months before the elections, his political force in the parliament did not vote for any major reforms in our country that are taking place now. I didn't see anything but this latest story when they started using this hype. I am calm about it.

I believe that the representatives of the diaspora, to whom I am grateful for their support of Ukraine, should not support this or that party now, it is wrong. It seems to me that the diaspora, first of all, should support all Ukrainians, not (individual - ed.) politicians.

Journalist: Now Ukraine is opening its borders with other countries. Does this mean that the battle against COVID-19 has been won, or is it just an attempt to save, in particular, the economy?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy: We only know the beginning of this battle, and no one knows the end. All we can do and all we do is keep our balance. We are like a tightrope walker under the dome of the circus who walks and keeps his balance so as not to fall. We keep the balance so that there is not a large number of infected, and therefore a large number of fatalities. All people who come to Ukraine from other countries, where the epidemiological situation is worse than in Ukraine, must spend 14 days in observation. Only then do they have an opportunity to move freely around the country. We have implemented a special digital program "Act at home". When people undergo self-isolation, they have an app through which we can control the observance of the regime by a person. We are talking about those who come from countries that have also opened borders. I don't know if it can help save the economy, but it is the rights and freedoms of Ukrainian citizens, and we must give them the opportunity to get home. But at the same time we should keep the balance that I mentioned: ensure self-isolation and safety of people around them.

We open some things related to SMEs, we open parks where there may be summer cafes, but we do not allow to sit inside a cafe where there is a large crowd. We open barbershops, gyms, but without mass gatherings. Life in Ukraine is being restored. We had a problem with transport. I believe that this is it, as in the rest of the world, because when in transport, especially in the subway, not everyone has masks, not everyone uses protective means, the number of infected increases.

Journalist: What is your vision of what will happen after the pandemic? Will everything return to what it was before, or will the world be completely different?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy: The world has already changed. All countries have paid attention to their healthcare reform or healthcare system. I think we all understood that we are vulnerable, we all have outdated medical system. The world was not ready for a pandemic.

Now we see the pandemic claiming so many lives around the world. It is necessary to change priorities, to stop all wars, all funds and technologies should be directed on public health services, on medicine, climate problems. We need to review the debt system. It will be very difficult for all countries now if we do not do that. And the strongest economic crisis will begin around the world.

What has already happened is a change in the attitude to oneself, to one's profession. If my daughter (she is 15 years old) asked me, "Father, what profession should I master?", I would answer that she should study to become someone who can earn money alone, at a distance, without a team, using digital programs. There will be a new direction in the world, a new approach to education, to educational programs. I understand that it is important for children to study together - it is a society, a microclimate - but we must be ready for such challenges. I think the future Rockefellers will come from IT-technologies. They have already come, but there will be even more.

Journalist: Did you ask for a ceasefire in Donbas during the pandemic?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy: Yes, we are talking about this process right now. We called for a ceasefire at the Minsk platform. There are many more important challenges now. Consultations are currently underway on this issue. We talked about this with Germany and France - we had the first international visits of delegations to these countries after the quarantine was announced. This shows that it is very important for us. Now we have changed the approach to the Minsk process, our delegation (in the Trilateral Contact Group - ed.) includes people who not only listen and speak, but also make decisions, because they are civil servants at the level of Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, deputy ministers of our government. We must do everything we can to hold a meeting in the Normandy format in the coming months, without waiting for the end of the pandemic. At least we do everything for it.

As for aid, we send humanitarian convoys to the other side, humanitarian cargo from the Red Cross as well. Unfortunately, that party does not listen and does not allow most of the cars of the OSCE representatives. Nevertheless, as you said, we still believe (in achieving peace through diplomacy - ed.). On June 1, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Russia could not be returned to the G7 until Ukraine's territorial integrity was fully restored. We are grateful for this support. The whole world needs to put pressure on Russia, otherwise there will be no result.

Journalist: You have been the President of Ukraine for a year now. The war in Donbas, Trump’s impeachment scandal, the downing of the Ukrainian aircraft in Iran, and now the COVID-19 pandemic and the impending economic crisis. Is this what you expected when you came to office?

Volodymyr Zelenskyy (answers in English): I think your question can be organically concluded: "What do you think will be next?"

It's hard to answer you, Mark. It’s a very good yet a very difficult job. I don’t want to cry or say ‘Oh, it’s so difficult for me. I never see my children; I don’t have any hobbies; I don’t have time for sports. This is responsibility. It’s not everybody God gives a chance to have responsibility, and to do something which can help Ukrainians and make a difference and, exactly, stop the war. I have this chance and I want to use it. This is all I want.