I interviewed Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv

I interviewed Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv

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President Zelensky, thank you so much for taking the time. - Thanks so much, first of all, for coming. Do you think French soldiers could end up fighting directly on the front line? - It depends on what we mean by “the front line”.

- Do you think the last two years have changed you? - A lot, a lot. President Zelensky, thank you so much for taking the time today. We're going to talk about various topics, which I think are interesting and important for the people following us in France.

Maybe to begin with, we are today meeting in a tense international context. We have the critical situation in Gaza. We have the tensions we've seen between Iran and Israel for the past few weeks now. What links do you see between the situation in the Middle East and the war here in Ukraine? - Thanks so much, first of all, for coming.

It's important for us to speak about Ukraine and for us, it's very important when a journalist and media from different countries come to Ukraine and then people in your country, in France, in other countries, throughout the world, can see what the real situation is. Thank you for this. What we understand now is that it really plays in favor of Russia. You have to understand that we are proud of our soldiers and all our achievements, but we also have to acknowledge the strengths of our enemy. So when we refer to the different conflicts around the world, the Russian narrative has worked out. The question to the world is: how to stop that? Not just the war in Ukraine but also the other conflicts.

How did the situation work in favor of Russia? With all the attention focused on Ukraine at the beginning of the full-scale invasion of Russia, the pressure on Russia was enormous. It started with political statements and media coverage, and it went all the way to financial sanctions and warnings. But then Russia did everything to provoke the other conflicts, in the Middle East, in Africa, so that the attention and the aid, whether it is from the military or the media, becomes divided. These are the tactics of the Russian Federation. I see their success in that regard. We also understand that the US Congress, with the beginning of the crisis in the Middle East, started to focus its attention there.

And all of the American media too, let's be honest, focus on the situation in Israel, Gaza, and the entire Middle East and now on Israel and Iran as well, as you rightly noted, which results in less attention given to Ukraine. Less coverage time and less media attention also means less attention from their people. And if the people react less to the situation, it results in less responsibility to be taken by political leaders, which may result in the decrease of aid given to us. So, in brief, this is the influence of the situation in the Middle East on Ukraine. And speaking frankly, between us, I am shocked by what happened after Iran hit Israel.

I am shocked by how the allies have worked together. First, it was a very positive reaction, and it probably remains so as there are people who live there, and thank God they are alive. There are casualties but they are rather insignificant. In any case, I express my sincere condolences. But let’s be honest, the allies helped, regardless of the country, even though Israel is not a NATO member, even though there has not been any formal agreements between France and Israel, contrary to the US and Israel, nor any document covering the allies’ position regarding Israel.

That being said, we have seen that the armies, pilots, weapons of several allied countries destroyed 99% of everything flying above Israeli’s heads. This is what we have witnessed. So why was I shocked? What’s wrong with us? What’s wrong with the Ukrainians? - And are you asking for the US to help with aerial defense the way they helped Israel? Why do you think they are not doing it? You are from France, so the question is not only about the United States. The question is about the United States, about France, about the United Kingdom, at least right now. At least these three countries.

So if they can defend Israel, if they can really close the sky, their airspace, my message to them is - at the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, my main message - I asked all the allies to close our airspace, to defend our airspace. Please. They told us to defend it ourselves. They said they could not do it because we were not a NATO country, that defending our airspace would involve the NATO countries in the conflict. - But Israel is not part of NATO. - Yes, Israel is not part of NATO. That’s why I said I am disappointed.

And I think people in Ukraine are in shock because of this. It shows that the attitude of the allies, from NATO countries to some other countries, like Israel for example, with all respect, is different from Ukraine. - And in the current situation, as we said, there are important tensions and war going on, and many people fear the escalation and the building of a new ‘world war’.

And we see many questions from people about this. What do you think? Do you think like this? Are you afraid of it? And do you think it's likely to happen? - I think so, yes. If countries are not helping Ukraine with their forces by air or elsewise, because they are afraid of a war with Russia, it implies that they are truly afraid of Russia. And if the countries are ready to provide such aid to Israel, it implies that they are sure that no war is coming with Iran.

And this is the cynicism of the situation. It they are sure that no war is coming with Iran, I think there is this unpleasant realization, that there is a game going on behind the scenes. And perhaps for somebody all those victims are only politics. This is what I mean. And as for Russia, I think Putin himself is scared.

And if allies showed how they manage to intercept targets above Ukraine, and then they could say: “Listen, we are not engaging in combat on the territory of the Russian Federation, so no need to use ‘NATO’ as a cover. NATO countries would protect Ukraine’s airspace. But be warned, if you continue to move forward, and target and kill civilians, then we will provide Ukraine the support to the extent which will push you back to your territory. What will happen after… we don’t want to even talk about it. We don’t want to scare you.” That’s why the matter of a world war unfortunately depends on Putin’s will.

And this is the weakness in the positions of the Western countries. They are playing politics, especially after the situation in the Middle East. This is why it is a big challenge I think, and this is a very unpleasant narrative which gives Putin a ‘pass’.

You see? - Let’s talk about the United States too, because it has been in the news for the past few days. For the context, Ukraine has been waiting for several months for a $60 billion aid package. Before the aid was being voted in the same law as aid for Israel, for example, Now... - Now they want to divide it, separate it. - Yes, now it’s in two separate laws. I have two questions: Do you think this US aid for Ukraine will get voted in the next few days? And can Ukraine survive without this aid? - First of all, we have no other option. We need to survive, right? Ukraine will survive in any case.

We will withstand as we have no other option; neither for us, nor for our children because this is a big country. And we don’t want Ukraine to become a stateless country of migrants. This is why we are fighting, this is one of the reasons. It’s about our life today and this is about the future of our children, and with this or that help, we will have to find the way.

We do not consider the option of ‘no aid from the United States’, otherwise it will be cynicism at large. Not only we can’t get the same support as Israel, but it will be cynicism to prevent us from the means of fighting. And third point: I would like to remind you of the principle of these 60 billion dollars. We will not receive this money, either 60 billion or less. This money will largely stay with the United States. We will receive material aid instead, funded by this 60 billion budget.

The question is about the weaponry. Will we be able to survive without that weapon? Not everyone. There will be a lot of losses. There will be a lot of deaths. - And, as to the situation on the frontline, how would you describe the situation today on the frontline and for the past few weeks? What challenges is the Ukrainian army facing? And what do you feel like you need ? So the situation on the east of Ukraine is the most difficult for us for today. But I think that we are staying strong. We stabilized some very important directions and positions on the east.

Of course, our artillery is a ratio of 1 to 10 compared to Russia, the number of uses of artillery rounds is 1 to 10. And Russia has a huge number of artillery and systems and rounds. So what we need are artillery rounds, artillery systems 155, enough compared to the Russians’ numbers. That is what we need first. This is for the east.

Regarding other positions, we don't have huge challenges for now. We stabilized the situation everywhere. So it’s on the east that it’s most difficult. If we are speaking about missiles attacks, we have big problems in the Kharkiv region, in the Zaporizhya region, and in the Chernihiv region today. We have not finished counting our losses, but right now, there are about 11 dead people, more than 20 people wounded, three of them are children, and they destroyed a hotel.

- Yes, up north of Kyiv, about 2 hours north. - Yes, that’s it, and it’s like this every day. The second thing we need is help for the civilians, to save Ukrainian infrastructure, and energy networks etc.

We need air defense, more air defense, much more than we have. And when it comes to the jets, We don’t need something out of a fairytale, where everyone says they will give us F-16’s, don't feed us with empty promises, give us a huge number of modern jets. That’s important. - Since the very beginning, when we have just been needing those packages. That’s what we asked from the very beginning of the war. - And in terms of help, of course, you followed it a few weeks ago, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, said he didn't exclude sending troops to Ukraine.

As you know, this statement raised many questions all around the world, but of course, also in France, including young people asking themselves what that would mean. Do you think French soldiers could end up fighting directly on the front line in Ukraine? - It depends on what we mean by “the front line”. So the first point, when Emmanuel refers to the training mission with the instructors coming to Ukraine, it means that the French trainers would come here and we would not send our soldiers to France to avoid wasting time until the brigades return, which would save us about 1.5 to two months. That is a good idea. Second point we discussed with Emmanuel, let’s quickly build the hubs on reconstruction of our weaponry or at least of military aid that you’ve sent: Caesars, AMX, light tanks. we will not waste months sending them to France or other countries in Eastern Europe, which are located closer.

We spend too much time on this. That’s why we have to build hubs to build and repair them here. And the third point, which Macron talked out in the media, is how to maybe send some French contingency troops to Ukraine’s borders. Those three points, I am all for it. But I have no right to say that tomorrow the French army at its fullest has to be in Ukraine and fight against Russia. I simply have no right to do that. So I never raised this question.

But if we discuss this, if there is a way to have French troops sent over here, then I have a question: if French jets, with the French pilots are able to protect the sky of Israel why can’t French planes protect the sky of Ukraine? I would support the afore-mentioned points to the fullest. But in any case, such initiatives have to come from someone who approves such decisions. And Emmanuel discussed many questions with me but we have not finalized these points. He promised to come to Kyiv and I think we will have a chance for that dialogue.

- And also, we see this debate of course in France, like in many countries in Europe and the United States. Some politicians in France, or even some people, are opposed to giving more weapons to Ukraine, or more help to Ukraine, because they fear it would lead France into a war against Russia. At which point do you think France would be considered at war with Russia? - I don’t think it’s a matter of weapons. It’s not about launching training missions or not.

I think it depends on when Putin will want to claim so. And if countries are afraid of Putin’s reaction, what we’ve started to talk about from the very beginning, unfortunately, what we see is that the West is afraid of Putin. Even though the West is much stronger than Putin, the economy of France, Italy, and Germany, even not together, each of these countries’ economies alone are stronger than the economy of Russia. And any army directly depends on the economy. The military, their morale, their income, their protection, their training missions… it costs a lot. It’s also about the capacity to get access to the newest technology.

Each of the NATO countries which I have mentioned, the key NATO countries, key European countries with significant economies, the economies of G7 countries, they all have these advantages. So each of these countries alone has the luxury of not being afraid of Russia. Look at how Ukraine is fighting. We have a smaller economy than yours. But we understand what the Russians are capable of and what their army looks like.

It’s challenging for us, their army is bigger. And I took each country individually as an example. But what if they are together? What if they are NATO countries? What if they are even more than NATO countries? Who are they afraid of? Putin? It’s funny. - And we hear again, many people in France, perhaps probably a growing number for the past year or so, asking those questions, “why would France get involved in the war in Ukraine?” “It's not France’s role to get involved in Ukraine.”

Those questions, are getting more and more important, even among young people asking themselves why they should get involved in what's happening in Ukraine. What would you say and answer to them? - Because today France is fighting with weapons and not with the people, not only for the values, for democracy, for freedom, but also for its physical protection. And Putin will not stop with Ukraine and will go further.

It will be land warfare with troops on the ground or he will attack with drones, or he will violate the airspace with missiles or he will impose economic terror. We don’t know what would happen, it’s the age of hybrid warfare. But the fact that he will do that to countries that are NATO members is an undeniable fact. It will become the fact when Putin actually does that. So it is cheaper to stop Putin today. But when he engages at war with the NATO countries, Baltic States, or Poland, or any other country then the French youth will undoubtedly have to take arms and fight, protecting themselves, protecting NATO, protecting the existing agreement between allies.

- And what makes you believe that Vladimir Putin plans to target other countries than Ukraine? - Because he is planning to restore the Soviet Union. This is the minimum of his ambitions. He speaks of that intent openly and honestly. There is no secret about it. Without a doubt, these would be the Baltic States, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, these are NATO member states, part of Poland, maybe he is even thinking about all of Poland. But the USSR used to have influence over parts of Poland, and Eastern Europe.

He will also think about Kazakhstan, about destabilizing the situation in Moldova. He is acting upon it, and he does it all the time. And if there is a military action on the territory of Moldova, it will also encompass the territory of Romania, which is a NATO member state.

- And French President Emmanuel Macron has called for a halt, a stop to fighting during the Olympic Games that will happen in Paris in a few months. Are you in favor of an “Olympic truce” during the Olympics? - I don’t believe in that when it comes to Russia. It’s not that I don’t believe in this truce, I do not believe in any kind of truce with the Russian Federation. This is a lie, Emmanuel knows it. He is a witness of it. Together, we participated in the Normandy format.

We went through the Minsk Process together: France, Germany, Ukraine. Together we are living witnesses that a frozen conflict with Russia cannot exist. It would allow Russia to regroup, and gain more forces to later destroy us.

We have been through it. When we signed the agreement in the Normandy format, agreeing to a ceasefire, the moment the doors shut at the Elysée Palace, people were still shooting at our soldiers on the frontlines. They trained their snipers who passed through and killed our people every day.

There is evidence of this, Emmanuel is aware of it. They were simply on a “hunt”, we heard all that from the military intelligence service. They came in groups of 20-30 professionals and were killing our people with sniper bullets for several months in a row, in spite of the ceasefire in place. So for Putin, there can be no truce, and the Olympics have no authority for him.

- So you don’t believe it would be able to happen. Talking about looking for peace, a peace summit will be organized in June in Switzerland, where 80 countries are expected to join, except Russia for the time being. Do you think this meeting can have a positive outcome? And the question linked to this: do you think it's possible to bring peace without having Russia in the discussion and at the table? - We don’t want Russia to destroy the only capable and functioning diplomatic initiative on ending the war, as it has always been the case, such as the Normandy format I mentioned.

Russia will do everything possible to undermine any proper peace initiative. We have seen that in hundreds of meetings. And I am telling the truth as there were over 100 meetings in the Minsk process during the Normandy format. That's why I think, first of all, that over 80 countries will join the summit. I think that we will come forward with a document, with at least three items for consideration, if we all agree on them. If the whole world agrees that these would be fair points, we will find a way to make Russia accept that.

I am sure that there will be strong countries capable of exerting political pressure on the Russian Federation. This was the case with the grain initiative. We did not let them block the grain initiative.

We have developed it with Turkey and the UN General Secretary António Guterres which was then transferred to Russia through Turkey and António Guterres as intermediaries, and it worked. Indeed, it did not work on a permanent basis but it worked long enough. Later on, Russia blocked the initiative.

Why? Because only Turkey and the UN Secretary General were on our side. If we happen to have 100 countries behind our backs and if we present fair and just points, the whole world will then be able to exert pressure on Russia. And if after the first summit we come to an unanimous agreement on certain items, it will mean that we will also work on additional items if the countries at the table demonstrate a commitment to peace and demand peace from Russia. Then, we will prepare the document on resolving all matters, with our vision, and we would find the right time to transfer and discuss it with the enemy’s side. We see that several countries are trying to, you know, bring those discussions for peace. - And talking about negotiations and peace, about a month ago, Pope Francis made a statement, a declaration that has created a lot of discussion and debates He said to Ukrainians, I quote here, “Have the courage to negotiate. Do not be ashamed to negotiate before things get worse.”

What do you think of these words? - He will have a chance to support peace in Ukraine, to come in June to the Peace Summit in Switzerland. And we can discuss all the points because it's a very open summit. We can discuss proposals, peace solutions… Because I heard from the Pope a lot of different messages during this war. I had two meetings with him and I heard some of the messages, I mean, we’ve had a good dialogue and then some strange messages. So I mean that… when you want to help you have to do something to help. And as of today it's important to involve as much as possible the respectable leaders and representatives as well as religious leaders.

So that's why we need them at the peace summit in the middle of June. - Maybe one last thing about the question of Russian threats. We've heard many times, whether it's Vladimir Putin, whether it's his close politicians talking about and threatening with the use of nuclear weapons I can see it on the comments and messages we receive, we have many questions of French people and young people regarding this.

What do you think of these threats? Do you think they're credible? Do you think it's just some rhetorical words? - This is one of the ways the Russian Federation is imposing fear on the rest of the world. They threaten to use nuclear weapons. We are familiar with this narrative.

We’ve shared intelligence interceptions with our partners. We were aware that Russia would openly threaten to do that. But we think that today Russia will not actually use it because this would open the door to a new era of world-wide war, the nuclear war.

And that would be the end of the existence of today’s world as we know it. - And talking about young people, you recently signed a law lowering the draft age for the army from 27 to 25 years old, in Ukraine. So it will, of course, impact many young people here in Ukraine. What prompted you to sign this law? Why did you decide to sign this law? And how do you see the future of the youth here in Ukraine? - Thank you for your question. There are specific criteria regarding the age and physical condition of combatants so that they can be trained and sent later to the front.

This is a request from the military command. In response to the specific needs of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, there is the need to train new brigades that will replace those who have been fighting for 2 years. For the replacement to work, one must be properly trained and in good physical condition. With all due respect to our fighters, there's a difference between a 25-year-old combatant and a 50-year-old one. This is a fact. The warfare in each different area of the frontline has its particular challenges.

It’s a different type of war and different technologies are used. Younger fighters are needed in this war, as it is a modern type of war. It is not only about physical conditions, but also about their mastery of technology.

This is very important, especially if we refer to drone operators, cybersecurity, etc. in addition to physical fitness, as I’ve already mentioned. There are drones, maritime drones, etc. And we must be aware that the new generation masters new technologies much more rapidly They are aware of it, and they have created all of this [the drones, etc.] with their own hands - with their brains, the brains of young people. And this is one of the reasons why I signed this law that the Ukrainian Parliament voted for- and we did it at the request of the military. There is a logic to these steps.

So young people defend their country like anyone else. All citizens of Ukraine have equal rights. Indeed, the majority of adults involved fight for the future, the future of their children. But young people up to 30 years old, who can advance technological progress in this war, can also help.

They are also fighting for their country, for their lives and for their future. - One question is about the situation in Ukraine. Of course, you mention the defense of democracy a lot. You justify the need to continue fighting Russia in this war.

And in Ukraine, martial law has been implemented to address the urgency of the situation, the urgency of war. But in recent months, we have seen that the opposition in Ukraine has been demanding more democracy, even though the situation is as it is. How do you compensate for the deficit of democracy while managing this wartime situation? - It's hard to say because war itself is a consequence of a restriction of freedoms. And it was started by Russia, and not by Ukraine. Russia has brought us war and restricted our rights, the rights to freedom, to calm, the right to work and to rest.

It restricted our rights on our territory. To deal with this force, discipline is needed, and it is indicated in the legislation. And when one asks the question - How to find the right balance? Well, the balance is there. That's not the right balance in peacetime.

But there is martial law that dictates the actions to be taken during wartime. So when we want to find the right balance, the best to do is to consult Ukrainian legislation. It gives the answers to these questions.

Secondly, we remember the history of wars, and the wars of Ukraine for its independence. It was at different times. And every time there have been an internal tension in the history of Ukraine - all citizens of Ukraine know about it very well - everyone has learnt it through history and books - Every time a serious internal tension started Ukraine would lose against an external enemy. And that is my answer to your question. If we want to lose, let’s fuel internal disputes.

But if we are ready to win, we must act as a united society. - I have a very last broad question. We are followed by many people in France, especially young people and old alike. If you had one thing to say to the people watching this interview, what would you tell them? What would you want to tell them? - I don't have that much to tell to young people. I mean, all we do, of course, is for Ukraine, but also for democracy, for the world and for Europe.

And I don’t want to ask young people to do a lot for us, just do it for your freedom, for yourselves. Today, that means supporting Ukraine It means supporting Ukraine to make it stronger. And that is the first point.

And the second point… is very simple. Do you know the song “All You Need Is Love” ? And I think “All We Need Is Peace”, That’s our message from Ukraine and I wish young people from France only peace. And that’s all. - Thank you very much Mr. President Zelensky. - Thank you very much. - Do you want to go downstairs? - OK, we can go somewhere.

- How do you work with fear? You feel like fear is something that's good and that you need? - Of course, we’ve been, like everybody, we’ve been in shock. But even if we are under stress, we can't lose the focus on managing the country. You just have to… - Cope with it and manage it. - Yeah and live with it, and manage it.

And I think that the most important is, maybe it sounds crazy, but you can't afford any breaks in managing the country. - Okay, you have to keep going. - Yes, keep going and that's it. Otherwise you will think about a lot of things which are not the goal.

- Yeah, especially because I can imagine there's no way to be prepared for this. - There’s no way. - When you prepare for war. Even if you were talking about it at school.

I remember when I was a school boy, so we spoke about a lot of different wars, including wars which were in Ukraine, including the Second World War, including the periods I was at school at the end of the Soviet Union period. And I remember that we spoke about the situation in Afghanistan, when the Soviet army was there. And how it was. So you don't … Even your relatives had been in Afghanistan, our close relatives have been there. Anyway, you can't feel it if the war is somewhere else. That's why when you said “What do you want to say to young people?” That’s what I said about peace. Because it's very difficult to explain

what war means if you are not in the country, if you are not in it. - And even,you have a son, you have a daughter too. What do you tell them? How do you think they cope with the situation? What do you say to them ? - You don't… Believe me, you don't need to explain anything. They know more than us. They understand. They are on the right side. That’s what I think. But it's not because of my dialog with them. I don't have time, not enough. No time to speak with them. They understand themselves. They see it. They feel it.

They've been in shock the first few days, like everybody else. - It's changed their lives. - I think so... Yes. I think that they speak about it at school. I know that my son and his friends… they speak about this. So he's 11 years old, they are old enough, mature enough. So they speak to each other about it.

- It must not be easy for them too, I can imagine. - Yes, my son’s friend at school, his father was in prison. He was one of the prisoners of war, and that's why they understand all the details. - And for you personally, do you think the last two years have changed you a lot? - Yes, a lot, a lot. That's a different life. Different goals and a different understanding of life.

And I think it's not only the sense of life but also the value of it. - Do you sometimes think about life once it will be finished, once the war will be over? Do you think about it or do you try not to think about it and focus on it? - I'm just thinking about today. Really. Nobody gives me, even our partners, they don't give me the possibility to think about the future. I have to think day to day. Everywhere here was dark. - OK. - During a long period, there was no light here. We couldn't turn it on.

- For security reasons? - Yes, for security reasons. We lived in the darkness. It was… - Yeah I guess this place completely changed with the war. I can imagine.

- Thank you so much. - Thank you Mr President. - Thank you for coming. - Thank you so much. - Thank you bye bye, all the best. - Thank you.

2024-04-22 20:21

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