“I would like to express my condolences to the families of the injured, to the dead, I know that there are also Ukrainians. My condolences go to all the families from all parts of the world. Unfortunately this tragedy has united many countries. I know that there are also many injured in this accident.” Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech at the 20th anniversary event Sky TG24 begins with a memory for the victims of Mestre, where a bus overturned for reasons yet to be ascertained. The Ukrainian leader addressed numerous topics during the interview.
President, let’s start from the situation on the ground. There has been a lot of talk about the Ukrainian counteroffensive. What are the difficulties you can see, also thinking about the next few months, about the winter. Are you satisfied with how things are going?
It is important to understand what the Ukrainians are doing. We are doing our utmost to ensure that this war becomes the last war not only in Ukraine, but throughout the world, to ensure respect for territorial integrity and respect for people’s lives. And I would like to thank everyone who watches us: thank you for the support, it is very important for us because this support from Europe and the whole world has allowed us to unite all forces in our fight against the Russian Federation. And we managed to defend our land and not allow Moscow to occupy our country. Everyone would like to see quick results on the battlefield but you know that the war on the field is a large-scale war that has been going on for almost two years. We are tired, but very motivated. We will do everything to win against our enemy and our counteroffensive continues, albeit slowly. Step by step, we do everything to repel the enemy. The difficulty is given by the fact that there are minefields, there is a lack of shells, a lack of anti-aircraft defense. Anti-aircraft defense is important not only for the counteroffensive but also for protecting people. We have winter ahead: another challenge for our entire population and also for the Ukrainian military. We must get through this winter without losing initiative on the battlefield we have today.
Given that 2024 will be an election year and given what happened in the United States Congress, are you worried that the support of allies may fail?
It is important that our allies are not tired and that they are motivated in the same way as us. We resist and want the people of different countries to have faith in their leaders. The United States is a very important country with a leader who provides support to Ukraine to defend democracy. I feel that there is support coming from the United States, from the White House, from Congress. Although different opinions have been expressed, mostly there is support from Ukraine and I am convinced that we will have this support in the future as well. Compared to the slowness of the counteroffensive, we have no intention of giving up while the Russian Federation is weaker than it was at the beginning of this war. Their intention is to freeze the conflict, but this will not help Ukraine. Any pause means helping the Russian Federation. I would like to be convinced that the United States will remain with us and that Europe will also be on our side. I would also like to express thanks to the President of the United States and the countries of the European Union, most of which are on our side. We will do everything not to lose this support. At the same time, however, world leaders must understand that it is very important to defend the Ukrainian people because this also means defending their country. Because if Ukraine’s aggression is not stopped it will spread throughout the world and this will mean not only financial loss but also the loss of freedom and human lives.
Putin, according to the NY Times, is ready for nuclear tests. Do you think that the Russian leader is now stronger or weaker than before? Do you want a negotiation?
Demonstrations involving nuclear weapons in the media, in media messages, or even in the exercises themselves are not a manifestation of strength but of weakness: it means that other methods, such as battle on the field or diplomatic methods, did not bring the result they wanted . They wanted to destroy Ukraine’s independence in a couple of weeks and lost the diplomatic battle when we managed to reunite all the countries of the world. And even when they killed and tortured Ukrainians, that was the demonstration they couldn’t win on the battlefield. Now we are pushing them back, step by step, from our land. I said that the world must be ready to see threats with nuclear weapons: the closer we get to the end of the year, the more such threats there will be, according to our intelligence.
President, speaking of your allies, obviously we cannot help but ask you about Italy. You recently said that you had never had doubts about Italian support. Italian Minister Tajani came to Kiev with his European colleagues and she also thanked Italy for its solidarity. How have relations with our country evolved in recent months?
Yes, we received Minister Tajani with the other foreign ministers of the European Union, in support of Ukraine. We had fruitful talks and then also bilateral discussions. I want to express my gratitude to Giorgia Meloni: with her there is a human relationship based on shared values and I am convinced that our relationships, those between our teams, are based on the principles of honesty and correctness. I wish I didn’t lose them. I know that Italy has its own challenges and that it also suffers a strong information campaign from the Russian Federation, which spends millions to destroy relations between the nations of Europe and the world. I would like to thank you because you have a very strong prime minister. And I hope to maintain the support of the Italians and not to lose faith in our common values and we will do the same.
President, there have been many diplomatic initiatives. We talk about peace negotiations: there have been Turkish and Chinese attempts. Even diplomatic initiatives from the Vatican, and there was no shortage of criticism from Ukraine. I ask you, will Pope Francis be in Kiev soon?
The Pope was invited to Ukraine by me, I would be very happy if he came to Ukraine. We must first of all focus on humanitarian issues, on the return of children deported from Ukraine to the Russian Federation: this is a very, very important task. I would be very happy to have the support and support of the Vatican and Italy. We have come a long way, we have had many talks, many meetings in the Normandy format, or in those in the format of the Minsk agreements. In all formats the Russian Federation has always blocked everything. Years have passed like this. So now when someone offers a peace initiative with Russia, I would like to say that Moscow is not interested. Some contacts have been made with the Vatican, Turkey has been involved seeking diplomatic consideration but the result is always the same. No one has succeeded: not because those leaders are not strong, but because the president of Russia does not want to end the war. He decided to occupy Ukraine and move on. Any agreement with this person (Putin, ed.) by definition will therefore be blocked. Take as an example the agreement on wheat which has nothing to do with war, with weapons, with oil. He blocked the Black Sea in violation of international law. But let’s talk about bread for families in Asia and Africa. Even when Putin gave his word and made a deal with President Erdogan, he ultimately blocked this grain corridor anyway. This person, the President of the Russian Federation, is not capable of making an agreement with anyone or anything.
His wife, Olena Zelenska, recently spoke about the impact the conflict is having on your family too. How are you experiencing this period, from a personal point of view? Elections were scheduled for next year in Ukraine, do you imagine yourself in this role and this political mission for many more years?
I miss my family, my children. They give me support and I can say that sometimes I just want to be close to them, hug them. Any person will understand me. But we can’t complain because we live like all families in Ukraine. Many families were separated by this war, but they will return to be together in the future. We are fighting for the existence of ourselves and our families, for our children and their future. We will win because justice is on our side. We must get to the bottom of it without betraying the interests of our citizens. Compared to the elections, yes the situation is difficult. However, if Parliament manages to resolve all challenges to ensure access to security for all citizens, it will be possible to conduct elections. We must ensure the right to vote for those who find themselves at the front or abroad. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the hospitality you give to our citizens. Therefore it is important to organize elections in Ukraine in a safe way to ensure that people can vote without being attacked by missiles: if our country manages to introduce amendments on the topic into the legislation then elections will take place.
20 years at Sky we hosted Evgenia Kara-Murza, wife of Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Russian dissident sentenced to 25 years in prison. A message from you for Russian dissidence, President?
I would like to say that it is very difficult to send messages to the Russian Federation. To the people who are in opposition to Putin’s tyranny I can only say that they must continue to move forward, there is no other way out. Ukraine must win against the enemy. Europe must support Ukraine for the benefit of common values and in Russia people must do something concrete to change the situation.