Full Questions & Answers with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, received on 17/06/2019
Picture: Presidential administration of Ukraine
Ukraine is entering its sixth year of war. How can you end it?
I will try a new approach to end the war. In first stage, we need to fight the propaganda that poisons our population on both sides of the line of contact. The new strategy for the Donbas reintegration is based on de-escalation, an easing of the humanitarian and economic conditions of ordinary people, and the continuation of our part in fulfilling the Minsk agreements with one obvious aim: to stop the war. We will still need the strong support of our allies and partners to stop the shooting and stop the aggression, to save the lives of our people, to restore our territorial integrity and to rebuild the territories that have been devastated by the war. I must underline once and again that we will not give up our territorial integrity, our sovereignty and our people.
Leonid Kutchma asked Ukrainian soldiers not to fire back in response to provocations. Does this mean the soldiers should not defend themselves?
I saw this as a misinterpretation of what he had actually said. Our team gets a lot of fake news thrown at us. No president, former or incumbent, orders his soldiers not to shoot back in self-defense or in defending the sovereignty and integrity of the state.
Leonid Kuchma, the second president of Ukraine who agreed to represent Ukraine at the Trilateral Contact Group dealing with reconciliation in the Donbas, is also under an information attack. In fact, President Kuchma insisted that Ukrainian soldiers should refrain from opening fire after being provoked by Russian-backed separatists who are firing from behind civilian buildings – like kindergartens, hospitals and schools, when the enemy is hiding behind a human shield – a tactic commonly used by the illegal armed groups in the Donbas. The Ukrainian Armed Forces adhere to the norms of the international humanitarian law. But rest assured our soldiers will adequately respond when they are attacked in the military zones.
Are you in contact with Vladimir Putin to reboot negotiations?
As of now contacts between our countries are limited to the framework of a consultation group in Minsk. So far, I have not had any direct contacts with the Russian president. I hope that the restoration of the Normandy format will give a new impetus to the negotiation process. But any dialogue format aimed at a ceasefire and returning our people and our territories is a civilized modern tool in this case.
What do you expect from your trips to Paris and Berlin?
I hope to get confirmation of support for Ukraine and its struggle for independence and the restoration of our territorial integrity, for peace and the reintegration of the occupied territories in the southeast. I will present my plans and the first steps already taken in the total reshaping of Ukraine, I will reconfirm the stability of Ukraine’s course towards integration with European and Euro-Atlantic structures, and outline ways to expand cooperation between Ukraine and France and Germany.
Should Ukraine keep cooperating with the IMF? If not, what is the alternative?
The International Monetary Fund has always been a reliable partner of Ukraine in times of need. Ukraine will also remain a partner that fulfills its obligations. It is true, though, that the Ukrainian parliament delayed some key reform bills that citizens, business, and the financial community have been waiting for years and that are necessary for further cooperation with IMF. I hope that the new parliament will adopt the necessary laws and clear the way for the next tranche of funding from the Fund.
Which reforms are the most essential for Ukraine according to you?
Ukraine has already started on the path of deep, painful, but necessary structural reforms that can lead to an improvement in the life of every Ukrainian. However, a lot of these changes were suspended due to deep-rooted corruption that was not dealt with because of a lack of political will. Rooting out the corruption will immediately bring positive changes in many spheres. Ukrainians are tired of corrupt practices that are stealing their future. I am also very keen to digitize the Ukrainian economy. I dream of creating “The state in a smartphone,” and we are already making steps in this direction. We will digitalize a lot of state services and provide people an opportunity to be pro-active in taking decisions about their communities and their own lives. It is also important for us to assure energy security, military reform, and changes in the judiciary sphere that will help Ukrainians be proud of our judicial system. Additionally, we will move forward with land reform, currency operations liberalization, a decrease of regulatory burden on business and we will enhance the growth of small and medium businesses. One of our priorities is the reform in ecological sphere.
You have denounced political corruption for many years. How do you want to clean up the political class? Do you believe some people should go to prison?
Ukraine has an extensive and comprehensive anticorruption architecture already in place. For years, its performance was, diplomatically speaking, mediocre. It seems that it was effectively privatized and controlled by political/oligarchic groups. My team will relaunch the National Agency of Corruption Prevention, we will make sure that the Anticorruption Court can function independently and effectively. We might also toughen penalties for corruption crimes, and we are planning to cancel redundant state functions and regulations that foster a high level of corruption. We must effectively treat the disease of corruption in order to become a prosperous and European country. If the therapy fails, we will resort to political and legal surgery.
You enter a totally new phase of your life. How does it feel to come to work as a president everyday? Do you like your new environment?
I feel the dramatic contrast between my previous life and my current position. I always escaped to be in power. I did not enroll to study diplomacy, because it was a university for privileged. I refused to take a leading position in a Russian entertainment corporation preferring to work in Ukraine and start business from nothing. My team has been with me for two decades. I have a family whom I love most of all. I always prefer to be self-made, or, more precisely, “team-made”. But once I realized that I could not be happy enough in a country with rampant corruption, poor conditions for life and where the vast majority of people does not see prospects in live. To change the situation, I had to go to what is called “Ukrainian politics”. To come to the world of lies, hypocrisy, bureaucratic hierarchies and class of privileged to change it forever. Every day, I walk in this enormously huge building of the presidential administration that once served as the headquarters of the communist party central committee and is full of communist ghosts. I feel here as if I am in the closed labyrinth. I think that President can stay in the modern open space office and this is a part of my contribution to the change of the idea of the presidency itself. That is why I am considering moving to another office. To become a politician and to remain a human is maybe the greatest challenge for me. The old system of power does not want to give up. By now, we work in the atmosphere of Soviet state buildings, asiatic traditions of power-people relationship and corruption skeletons in every closet. This hurts. But we also see people who believe us and who hope for change. This motivates. The main task for us is not to reload, but to reinstall the system. We want to take the country where the human is not a problem for the state but the goal and the highest value. And I am sure we will succeed. Because Ukraine and its people deserve it.