Zelenskyy: We will execute Russian ultimatums when we no longer exist
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy says in an interview to three European Broadcasting Union (EBU) journalists that Ukraine is only a step to the result Putin is talking about, going after Europe. First to take the Baltic states, countries that were part of the USSR, and then other countries that had Soviet army and Soviet influence.
The face-to-face interview with Zelenskyy (in Ukrainian) happened in cooperation with the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and three of its member journalists. Zelenskyy was interviewed by head of news for UA:PBC Angelina Kariakina, international corresponded for Czech Television Michal Kubal and international correspondent for France Televisions Agnes Vahramian Jeru.
Agnes Vahramian Jeru: Mr. President, thank you very much! First question. How are you? And can you tell us more about your personal life in this building? I know it's not about you, that's what you are going to say. But we'd like to know – do you sleep well? Do you have time for yourself? Do you see your family? Do you have time to read?
First, how am I? I feel fine. I believe that I am not sick, [I am] a perfectly healthy man. I understand exactly what is happening. I make accurate decisions calmly. I think it's important for us to be very balanced now. Our military is showing its strength. It is also necessary to show balance, to remain strong fighters, to defend the state. At the same time, to show [our] attitude even to the enemy, to show human attitude.
It is very important for me that people see that we are defending our state, but I repeat, with a human face, we do not torture people. We show that we are ready to defend and not ready, so to speak, to win, because this is not a game, to win at any cost. And so, we demonstrate the difference between the people who came to invade our state, who came to our land. It is very important for us to show that our people are even fighting in a civilized way. It is very important!
I'm more focused because a lot of things depend on me. I want to give only the positive. Not in the sense of smiles, but positive from my actions. And I do not want to harm any of our citizens. People are important because you see that the people themselves are defending our state. This means that this is our, if not the only, then the most important treasure and protection. This is our Iron Dome. This is our security union. This is our people.
Regarding what I read, I don't read fiction right now to be honest. I love it, but I understand that I cannot – I read the first page, [when I'm] on the second, I already think about what's happening here, then I read the second page again, because I didn't understand what I read there. Then I move on to the third and forget again. Because the head, the brain are clogged with other processes, other decisions. It is difficult to relax.
Michal Kubal: Mr. President, Ukraine is going through a very hard time. But also, it seems to be as united as never. Do you think that this historical change is taking place not only in Ukraine but in the whole world, maybe in Europe? And what is to be at the center of this historical change?
The world will change, it has already changed, politicians are already afraid of their people, they are afraid of social responsibility, they see that peoples react differently. And in many countries, people support us 100 percent, but the leaders do not support us 100 percent for one reason or another. I'm not even saying who is right, but it means that social, public opinion will be stronger than any leader in the world. That is, we all see changes in processes, such changes that lead not to theoretical but to popular democracy. Popular democracy is not a revolution, democracy is first and foremost real power [of the people]. If you want to be the leader of your society, you have to be the leader of society, not to command, but to be a leader and live with them in the same spirit.
Therefore, it seems to me that such a popular democracy is taking place in the world, which will lead to certain security alliances. I am confident that there will be new security alliances in the future. This does not mean that it is necessary to leave one or another union, it does not mean that it is necessary to destroy things that work – no, it does not mean that. People just want peace, tranquility, stability, and most importantly, confidence.
Here in all these challenges, confidence. Be it another COVID or, God forbid, war. A person who lives, pays taxes, who lives here, was born, or came here, is a citizen of the world, "for peace." And this person must know that he must be protected in this country, and if this person leaves for another country, the person will be protected there, the person will not suffer. The world is facing such a challenge, it will either accept this model and come to such alliances, or there will be a change of many world leaders and their societies will find proper people [leaders] for themselves.
Angelina Kariakina: Mr. President, I have a question regarding these alliances. Are you considering not joining NATO, looking at the war and looming external threats?
In the constitution, we have our intention for NATO. There is ambiguity of NATO in relation to our acceptance in the alliance. There is clarity of some countries, which see us there and only with them. At minimum, at least one third of all countries do not see us there. Some of them do not see us there publicly. Most of them are afraid to talk about it publicly. That is why we need to revert to the previous question. They think that society will pressure them.
Therefore, I think we need to divide it into several approaches to this major challenge. In general, we need to find a format in which we need to have an understanding whether Russia wants to stop the war. Otherwise, we may not come to all the rest. In principle, whether Russia wants it or whether Russia is able to do it? If we understand that Russia is able to do it or it will face problems due to sanctions, internal pressure, warring country, empty shelves at shops, or change of political elite, which are caused by their war against us. And we understand that all these things, we have launched with our Western partners altogether. We had the first step towards the union needed in the world. Getting united, we can stop any aggressor. In this moment, that is why I believe that without my meeting with the president of the Russian Federation, in any format. I repeat it again. And I repeated it and proposed it for several years.
I know only one thing. Our history will not forgive us for the loss of our population. Our state will not forgive us for the loss of our people. Our future generations will not forgive us for the loss of our territories. They will ask us – what were we fighting for? I want people to know exactly where we are. Who are our friends and who doubts. I am not saying we have enemies in the West. No. There are people who are ready for anything for us. But there are those who are not ready. That is all. Therefore, it is important when we talk about certain compromises.
I said when I became president that we cannot give up any part of our land because we must do everything for Donbas and Crimea to return. This is not a banality. All our people believe and think it. The question is when can we stop this war now? There is no need for Russia to throw loud phrases. We have an ultimatum. They will not lead to anything. We have an ultimatum. Here are the points. You will fulfill them and then we will end the war. It is wrong. It will lead nowhere. This question does not concern only me. This question concerns the fact that the people and government are united. None of us are going to be able to do that. You cannot do it with ultimatums. Ultimatums will not be fulfilled by Ukraine. We just cannot execute it physically. We have lost people, our people. How could we do it? All of us must be destroyed. Then their ultimatum will be automatically executed. For example, give us Kharkiv, yes, for example, give us Mariupol, give us Kyiv. Neither the residents of Kharkiv, Mariupol nor Kyiv, nor the president will be able to do this. And we even see it in the occupied cities, in Melitopol, in Berdyansk that when they enter, people will give them away. They raise the flag and people take it down. They killed a man, yes, people hid and came back at night and still removed the flag. Well, what do you want – to destroy everyone?
That is why I said we execute an ultimatum only when we will not exist. You can automatically capture this city but you will live there by yourself, you will work there by yourself. People will either leave the city or those who cannot leave, will fight until the end. Therefore, an ultimatum, is a bad thing because it will lead to genocide and the destruction of the Ukrainian people. We are so charged now. Therefore, it comes to dialogue. We are for peace. I repeat it again. No matter how difficult it is, it is better than war, even though we hate these troops that are out there. The right word is to negotiate. Negotiate as you must. But to negotiate, not to execute ultimatums. This is an important point. A compromise can be found in dialogue. For me, any compromises are relevant [and important]. Because, you know, now this hatred will be for every word, for every demand, for every course, for every guarantor of security. For everyone... You understand, right? Time must pass.
Therefore, at first, people, if they want to end the war, [have to agree on a] ceasefire, withdraw troops, for the presidents to meet, agree that troops are withdrawn, that there are certain security guarantors. Here you can find compromise. There are certain guarantors of our security. They must say tomorrow that they are accepting Ukraine into NATO, not to play with it anymore. Or say, "We're not accepting it now." That is true. And they themselves understand that they do not want to go to war with Russia, so they do not accept us.
The answer is very simple. We already understand everything. We are not accepted because they are afraid of Russia. That's all. And we need to calm down with that. Say, "OK, [we need] other security guarantees." There are NATO member states that want to be the guarantors of our security. Which, unfortunately, cannot provide us full membership in the Alliance, but are ready to do everything that the Alliance would have to do if we were members. And I think that's a normal compromise. It is a compromise for everyone. For the West, which does not know what to do with us in the NATO issue, for Ukraine, which wants security guarantees, and for Russia, which does not want to let NATO expand further and says that it has had such agreements with NATO countries, with the West. And so, a compromise must be found in this, because this will be the end of the war. For Russia, this is not the end. There is this letter, public. I don't know by whom, I don't remember, by the minister of foreign affairs or the president of Russia. Stop talking to us with phrases like "denazification" etc. We immediately said that this sounds like an ultimatum and we do not tolerate it, because as soon as we are accused of Nazism by people who follow in the footsteps of Nazism, we will not be able to tolerate it. Therefore, public rhetoric can be anything, it is the business of every state in this world. But this will not be in the legal rhetoric.
Angelina Kariakina: Mr. President, a clarification. And in this conversation about compromise where is Crimea and Donbas?
Still to come. That's why I'm talking about approaches. I'll finish now. I think this is a very difficult story for everyone. Both Crimea and Donbas. It will be [a difficult story] for everyone. And to find a way out, we need to take this first step, which, as I said, [concerns] security guarantees, the end of the war. At the same time, we should agree that we are resolving the issue of temporarily occupied territories. We have to resolve it, but after [the end of the war]. Why? Because everything is very hot right now, as I said. Very hot. And so, this block will end, and after this block, please, let's talk. At the first meeting with the president of Russia, I am ready to raise these issues, they are relevant, for us they are important about the occupied territories. But I am sure that this decision will not be in this meeting. Because there is, how do you say? If we are completely frank, we will have to talk about constitutional changes, changes in Ukrainian legislation when it comes to security guarantees. And if we talk about it, it will in any case be decided not only by the president but will be decided (it is quite a long process) by both the parliament and the people of Ukraine. And when I say, "the people of Ukraine," in principle, in these negotiations with the Russian Federation, we will still come in all these blocks, I explained to these [negotiating] groups. I did not meet with Russian [negotiating] teams, but with our negotiating delegations there – I explained to them: "Look, when you talk about certain changes and they can be historic, we will not avoid it, we will come to referendums." The people will have to say and respond to some of the compromise formats you mentioned. But what they [responses] will be is a matter of our conversation and understanding between Ukraine and Russia.
Agnes Varhamian Jeru: [I have a question] about European leaders. You are asking for more help...
Yes. Every day I have contacts. Every day. I don't if they are tired of me. You can ask them directly. But I love only one thing that I not only have special connection, government connection. I have WhatsApp, and some other [communication tools]. We are speaking with some leaders each day.
Agnes Varhamian Jeru: How many world leaders do you speak to every day?
Every day? About eight to ten.
Agnes Varhamian Jeru: Who is your preferred world leader?
Preferred? I don't know. I can tell you with whom I have too many connections… not too many (laughs), to be understood correctly. I have a lot of connections with Andrzej Duda, I have many connections with Macron, I have many connections with Boris Johnson, with the Baltic countries.
Agnes Varhamian Jeru: Are they your favorites?
Who is my favorite? My wife. (Laughs) Sorry.
Angelina Kariakina: What would you say to Ukrainians when they see Russian troops through their windows, in their villages, towns? Also, in your interview with CNN, you mentioned that if negotiations with Putin fail, then there's risk of World War III. What did you mean by that?
What I meant is that he [Putin] has no plan to finish this war, that Ukraine is only a step to the result he's talking about, to go on Europe. First of all, to take the Baltic states, countries that were part of the USSR, and then other countries that had the Soviet army and influence. I have been saying to our partners, including Mr. Scholz, that they might end up with Russian troops at their borders.
But then we can certainly understand that it's World War III. If our negotiations fail – then we can confidently say that it's not by accident he's asking for demands that will be rejected by Ukraine. He's setting such demands to which we [Ukraine] cannot agree and then to say, "they just didn't want peace." And then to go full force towards the borders of European or NATO countries. It would be World War III.
Agnes Varhamian Jeru: If you were to meet with Mr. Putin in Kyiv ten minutes from now, what would you tell him?
I would try to cover everything perplexing and say everything that the Ukrainian people think, in detail. If I had the opportunity, we would cover all topics. Would we resolve them all? No, but partially, the most important – to stop the war. And let them understand, that by destroying us – he will only destroy himself. I don't want our place in history to be that of a nation that doesn't exist. As president, I don't want such a destiny for our country and people.
Michal Kubal: This is the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. Ten million people have left their homes, 3.5 million gone abroad. What would be your message to those people who are abroad, and to countries that let them in?
Everybody needs to become Ukrainian, at least temporarily, to feel "in their own skin", that it's a war, that you can lose everything, your life and everything that matters to you. To feel that pain instead of just concerned. Just when you feel [it] – to do everything in your power to stop this. Because people, no matter who they are and what they do, still think about themselves first, about their life. So, what they can do for their own life is to be Ukrainians.
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Editor: Marcus Turovski