President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky gave an interview during the Townhall on Ukraine panel at the 56th Munich Security Conference. The Ukrainian president did not hesitate to reproach Europe that the topic of Ukraine had left the first page of the agenda, protested against the 12 steps proposed in Munich for Ukraine, noting that the world forgets that the Crimean issue is no less important than the Donbas one, actually emphasized that Trump does not want to meet with him, and also noted that, if necessary, the Ukrainian army will increase to 300,000 and will fight to the end.
President Zelensky, we welcome you to our program. Your political path is unusual. You were an actor and even played the president in one of the TV shows. Do you sometimes regret leaving TV?
Sometimes I think about how my life has changed. When I see the result that my team is doing, we do it every day, especially when we return live people back, and people with tears in their eyes are grateful that they can see their children, their mothers, I understand that we lived this the day in a right way. And I think this was the right decision to run for a presidency. If we can really end the war during these years (to be honest, I am sure of this), we will return our people and territories, I think I did not do it in vain. It's my goal.
How has the impeachment situation in America affected your main tasks in the country? And how will this affect your ability to focus on important points?
When I was a producer, screenwriter, actor, I dreamed of getting success. I wanted to be very popular in the USA - and now I am very popular in the USA. But I didn’t want such popularity. If this helps Ukraine, then I’m ready to speak with Mr. Trump for the second time. But, seriously speaking, we have very good relations with the United States, and I want to thank everyone who was involved in this: the president, senators, ordinary Americans, first of all, for the support they provide to Ukraine, especially today, during the war. I am very grateful and would like to applaud every American family, every American. We feel it in our hearts, physically, and also politically. And I can tell everyone, both in the USA and in Europe: please, help us even more.
You just said that this is not a war of Ukraine, but a war of Europe too. You may have heard the Secretary of State who was dissatisfied with a journalist from America, telling him: "Do you really think that Americans care about Ukraine?" Do you really think that America is your strongest ally and supports you during these times?
It is difficult for me to comment on what the Secretary of State said because this is the Secretary of State of the United States – another country. I talked with Mr. Pompeo after that and I feel that he was really proud of the new level of our relationship. I am sure that he thinks about Ukraine. We have important contracts, and we are now talking not only about weapons. Do not think that Ukraine speaks only about war every day. We have a strong army - one of the strongest in Europe, 200,000. I want to thank our soldiers – we are ready for anything. But we want peace on our terms. In a strong army. We have not only history and war – we are talking about investments, about gas production, etc. We have many relationships and many investment programs, both for Ukrainian businessmen, enterprises, and for the western sector, the USA, European partners. I see that we have a good relationship. There was the Nord Stream, there were Crimean sanctions – the United States took Ukraine’s side in all complex issues. Therefore, I am grateful. The question is not in words but in steps.
You said that there was no pressure on you, and you told The Times that we are at war, and if you are a strategic partner for us, then you are not blocking anything for us: it is about justice and honesty.
Yes. And now no one is blocking anything. Now we are talking about other US military support. In general, support is very large, there are several programs worth about $ 700 million. For us, this is one of the priorities today.
You said that recently 125,000 new Russian passports have been issued to Donbas residents. How could you respond to what Obama said in 2016: the fact is that Ukraine, which is not a NATO country, will be vulnerable to military intervention by Russia no matter what we do?
This is partly true. We have always talked about Ukraine’s direction to the EU and NATO. But internally, when I was not yet president, I was offended. Ukraine cannot constantly say that we want, that we see ourselves in this or another alliance, and hear the answer only in words. I am a man of the result, so I did not understand why we were talking about this without any result. We must go to each other. We make many meetings, and we do a lot to ensure that our army reaches NATO standards.
Ukraine voluntarily renounced nuclear weapons in exchange for the fact that Russia will guarantee you independence and territorial integrity, as well as other signatories: the UK, the USA. Did this happen? There are sanctions, but the territory is still occupied. You say: temporarily occupied. How temporary, actually?
I have an inner sensation, and not only a sensation, but also the steps that we are taking, that we can really achieve a ceasefire and the return of our territories. I do not know how much time we need. This is what Europe wants, now Russia should need it. Russia should want to return our land. No one thought that Russia would annex Crimea because everyone once lived in the Soviet Union. We all understood each other, we had common holidays, common families. You will never expect this from whoever is nearby.
And despite the Budapest memorandum, on the civilized world, we all understand that a strong army, nuclear weapons, NATO, are the protection of the independence, territorial integrity of a country. No documents, memoranda, signatories do not protect – we, as Ukrainians, can tell you that by our own example. They do not protect. Therefore, I personally do not believe in any papers. And to all countries my suggestion is from my own experience: you can’t believe in any documents – no one guarantees anything, unfortunately. Although, we talk a lot about international law: 21 century is the time for the right of the strong. Where are we?
I think that you are under pressure; we need to fight Russia in the east. So you do not want a military confrontation because you do not want to lose many people’s lives?
We do not want an escalation of this conflict. How many people’s lives each dialogue “costs?” Not everything measured in hours; in our country, it is measured in people. Ukrainian watches are not with hours - there are people. 14 thousand people are no longer. Hundreds of thousands of people are injured. It does not matter whether someone is pressing on us or not, I think about our army. There are 200,000, we’ll be ready, there will be 300,000. We will defend our Ukraine. We are defending it, we are not attacking anyone, because it is wrong, immoral, untimely, uncivilized. What should Europe or the USA do in our case? They must decide for themselves because if there is no powerful Ukrainian army, there will be no Ukraine, then everyone will understand that this war is not in Ukraine, but in Europe. Therefore, we thank you all, but you are all protecting yourself.
Ukraine is called one of the most corrupt countries in the world. And it is very damaging to its reputation. And President Trump said: “Why do we give money to a country that is corrupt? We know that this is the third most corrupt country in the world.”
It is not true. When I met with Mr. President Trump, he said that in previous years the country was significantly corrupt. And I told him that we fight corruption every day. But stop saying that Ukraine is corrupted because from today it is no longer true. We, our entire team, are trying to change this. There are different people in our team. What did we steal? What have I done in my previous life to be called a corrupted official? I earned the money that I have with my talent; we paid taxes, so we should stop talking about Ukraine like that.
President Trump invited you to the White House during your first phone call after your victory. Will this happen?
I'm sure it will happen. When I had a meeting with Mr. Pompeo, we talked about this. And I said that I would like for my visit to the US to be something personal for the two countries. With some very important results, something beneficial for both countries. I want to come and start our relationship from scratch. So that we sign some contracts, sign some strategic things, investment things. Let's prepare a package of documents and meet. Now the ball is on the side of the US president. But, we are always glad to see everyone in Ukraine, and therefore I am ready to invite and invite President Trump to Kyiv. And I am ready to accept him faster than he does me.
In your opinion, will Ukraine move to receive large security guarantees from Russia? How does Ukrainian politics experience European or American politics or do they not contradict each other, and do they contradict your desire for peace?
We understand that in order to drag investors here so that people – especially in the east, 2 million people – could find their right place, we must end the war, stabilize the whole system. Ukraine will continue to be the country that it use to be before the war – a transit country. Open skies, planes do not fly around, airlines do not go bankrupt, and other issues. When I say “war,” I am not talking only about war. We are talking about war, and about people, and about money. For example, smuggling. We fight with it, and smugglers fight with us. Imports has reduced at times. Wagons stand and do not go, they are on strike. We have a contact line with the temporarily occupied territory. And we stopped smuggling there. The war is a global drag on the Ukrainian economy. Life is a priority, the second thing is the territory, while economics is the third.
The new government has been operating for seven months. We are restarting the Prosecutor General’s office, but what is the cost of restarting the Prosecutor General's Office in Ukraine? We could not dismiss the Prosecutor General until we elected a majority in parliament because we are acting and want to live by the law. The new Attorney General dismissed thousands of prosecutors and has now begun recruiting new, clean prosecutors. He scored only 600, and he needs thousands. That is, it is not so easy to fight corruption - there are a lot of laws, a lot of actions. This is what we are doing in parallel with actions to end the war.
I was always offended when someone started talking about Ukraine, resolving issues somewhere behind our back. It’s me that you asked how I feel about the new plan in Munich, how to resolve the war in Ukraine. But did someone asked us about it? This is our war, I would like to remind. First of all, the priority is our independence.
Our policy, and our vision for resolving this situation. Indeed, there is no other platform than the Normandy format, which gave birth to the Minsk process. It is the only one that gives now some results (albeit small for someone). I do not like that there is no Crimea issue - it is not discussed in a serious way. Our territory is also occupied, our people are also there. Do we need a new site? The United States could have been stronger here.
I am very grateful to everyone that came to talk with me. I am grateful to the OSCE monitoring mission for the enormous work that they are doing in Ukraine.