Volodymyr Zelensky interview: This is not just a war, it is much worse

On March 27, Zelensky gave his first major interview with Russian journalists since the start of the war. The President of Ukraine was interviewed by Medusa Editor-in-Chief Ivan Kolpakov, Dozhd TV Editor-in-Chief Tikhon Dzyadko, journalist and writer Mikhail Zigar (who also told Zelensky a question from Novaya Gazeta Editor-in-Chief and Nobel Laureate Dmitry Muratov ) and the special correspondent of “Kommersant” Vladimir Solovyov (not to be confused with the eponymous propagandist). The interview, taken on Zoom, was published on the Medusa website.

A few minutes before the publication of this interview, it became known that Roskomnadzor had insisted that the Russian media not publish the interview with Zelensky. The agency said that “the degree of responsibility check” has been launched against the publications that were interviewed. The General Prosecutor’s Office of Russia announced that it would give a “principled legal assessment of the content of the published statements and the fact that they were made.”

Mikhail Zigar: Let’s start with the question of Dmitry Muratov. Dear Mr. President, I think you know the joke that the letters V and Z, which are now widely used in Russia, mean your initials. Sorry for the straightforwardness, but in your opinion, “the final solution to the Zelensky problem” is not one of the main objectives of the attack on Ukraine? ”

– I’ve heard that my removal is planned. Maybe there were several attempts – from different people.

I take it very calmly. If we talk about my political removal, Medvedchuk’s group, the godfather of the current Russian head of state, was looking for political formats for this removal. There was a lot of propaganda in the local elections. Weakening of local government. They understood that the Russian government was losing strong influence in Ukrainian politics. They chose another tactic – to win in the regions.

I don’t know about you. For a long time, there was a majority system in the parliamentary elections in different parts of our country. And elsewhere, as a rule, there were one or another group – financial and political. So to speak, hardened politicians who influenced local law enforcement agencies, politics, everything.

It turns out that you can win central power: you have the powers that your people have given you in legitimate and fair elections, but there is nothing you can do at the local level. You can make reforms that just don’t get there. It seems to you that you have a ton of ideas, ambitions, great energy, and enough young people. But you can’t get to the regions because everything is blocked there.

That’s why they chose this tactic. We also know that other parties go and buy locally. They have a lot of money, and as far as I know, the Russian Federation has always helped this political structure through one channel or another.

Then we saw their first steps. In some councils, districts, or districts, ultimatums were issued. This is on the occasion of political removal! Here they will block something, there they will remove the representatives of the ruling parties, etc. It was their ideology to move from local councils to new parliamentary elections. And that was it – re-election to parliament. They wanted him a lot. Left and right even merged. And they united with everyone else in the middle – to weaken the government.

Why? Because when the situation in the country is unstable, the economy is unstable, everything falls apart, chaos ensues in the Verkhovna Rada. This destabilization was necessary for them to be able to break up the majority of the parties with this strong regional power management. The chaos in the country’s economy and political instability in Ukraine would in any case lead to an escalation on the part of the Russian Federation and the rule of the current president of Russia. Just, in this case, they could occupy our country much faster. That was certainly in their plans. And we judge this not even by foreign intelligence, but above all by our intelligence. This is, above all, our understanding of how the Kremlin treats politics in Ukraine.

Unfortunately, they do not see the independence of Ukraine. This is our tragedy with you. This tragedy has happened – to be perceived not as an independent state, but as a product, as parts of some great organism, at the head of which the incumbent President of Russia sees himself.

We do not perceive ourselves as an atavism. We perceive ourselves as an independent state – with a great, deep history and morality. There is nothing to talk about morality and unification. I think that today [during the war] we are showing this in practice.

This destabilization did not pass. But there was an escalation both in the plans of the political groups inside the country that I told you about and in the plans of the external groups in the Russian Federation. I don’t know what they reported there on the tops of Russia, but they were probably told that we are waiting for you here – with flowers and smiles. That the situation is very difficult, that there is no support for the incumbent president and the ruling party. Maybe!

I am 99.9% sure of that. I would not allow myself to say otherwise in the given situation.

And when they saw that things were not going this way, they moved to the parallel exit – to neutralize as much as possible those who stabilize the situation. During a war, only the president can guarantee stability under martial law. Under its powers, by the current legislation of independent Ukraine.

Tikhon Dzyadko: Vladimir Alexandrovich, I would like to ask exactly what is happening today, about the fighting, about the war. One of the worst hot spots in Mariupol. We know that the city is practically destroyed, we know about the humanitarian catastrophe that its inhabitants are experiencing. After all, who controls the city? There are conflicting reports.

– There is no contradiction. Information chaos – yes, it is understandable what caused it. This is the reality. The city is blocked by the Russian military. All entrances and exits are blocked. The port is mined. The humanitarian catastrophe inside the city is unequivocal because it cannot be entered with food, medicine, and water. The Russian military fires on humanitarian convoys. They kill the leaders. What happens to these loads, I can’t tell you. Many of them were taken back.

Some agreements have been reached. There was a release during the departure of civilian passenger transport from Mariupol to Ukraine. There is also the forcible removal of people from Mariupol not to us, but in the opposite direction – the occupied one.

According to our data, more than two thousand children have been taken out. Their exact location is unknown. They can be there with or without their parents. This is a disaster. I can’t tell you exactly what this looks like. This is scary.

They keep them to use for the exchange fund. I have no cultural words – only emotional letters come out, unfortunately. But because we speak openly with you, I always try to be honest.

There are our troops in Mariupol. This is on the question of why there is information chaos. Because inside – where Russian troops could have entered, they entered. And they did not enter another part of the city, because there are our boys there who refused to go out when they were called. The families of these boys called me. I talked to these guys. I talk to them – once every two days I get in touch, I try very hard to find time for it, it’s important to me. I tell them that I understand everything, that we will come back. But if you feel that you have to go out, that it is so right that you can survive, do it.

I understand what this looks like for the military. But I gave them the right to choose. They said: “We cannot [leave the city]. There are wounded here. We will not abandon the wounded.” Not only that, they said, “We will not leave the dead.” To find out: corpses are rolling in the city, on the road, on the sidewalks. Corpses of Russian soldiers and Ukrainian citizens are just being rolled away – no one is picking them up. To everyone. These are crowds. No crowds, sorry. I can’t say “piles” for people. I can’t find the exact Russian word. I just do not know.

That looks scary. But our military is not ready to leave even the dead. They are not ready to go out and bury them somewhere like garbage. Not just the officers, but everyone.

That’s why they defend the city, they protect the wounded, they protect the dead who want to be buried. We asked them to let us collect the corpses. They did not give us or take out the wounded, no one. I don’t know if they are transporting Russian soldiers in the other direction, where they took our children. I don’t know that. There is different information and it is also wandering in terms of truth and justice, so I am not ready to sign these words. But everything else you’ve heard is true.

Zigar: There is conflicting information, including the number of dead. Especially regarding the number of Russian soldiers killed, which is reported by Russia and Ukraine. Why are these different assessments? What about the bodies of the dead Russian soldiers? Are they returned to their homeland, and are they buried on the spot? Do you have any lists of those killed?

– Lists are being made. I know that our boys, the military, make lists. For all those who are in our captivity – there are lists, there is all the data. I don’t know if they interest everyone. I think that politicians are not very interested, but from the point of view of parents, of course, it’s just hopeless. You can’t live like that.

Zigar: Will you publish them or will you pass them on to someone?

– I think the Russian side has all the lists. Our military addressed them in connection with the exchange, just as the Russian side addressed us. And to talk about exchange at all, they show lists. We do not keep prisoners of war a secret, as a rule, so lists were handed over.

The military approached me about how to make the exchange. It is not necessary to act according to some generally accepted canons – to wait for the end of the war or to gather more prisoners. I do not understand why. I think there is an agreement to exchange everything against everyone. Today we have so many and so many people – to exchange them for others as they are. Not to measure 10 for 10 and 11 for 11. Oh, wait, let’s collect more. This is what they are doing now with civilians.

I said: if they steal children, we of course will end so that there will be no negotiations, there will be nothing. We will leave everywhere. We will not negotiate anything with you. We will not finalize anything and we will not exchange anyone.

I watched this beast in the Minsk process. Even then I called it bestiality. We agreed with Putin in 2019 that we will exchange everyone for everyone (meaning those captured as a result of the conflict in Donbas – a note of “Medusa”) in the next two months. Our meeting was in December. We had about 110 people to exchange, in my opinion. There was still the list on their part, they still couldn’t give it – who are their people in our prisons. We handed over our lists. And everything ended. No one was exchanged, no “all for all” worked then.

That is why this is the story of exchanges.

Information about the exchange fund We have nothing to hide. I don’t know how public it is, to be honest, I haven’t asked myself that question. But God knows if they need it. I’m just not sure they need these lists. Because when they show up, you will see these boys – there are just children, especially those born in 2003-2004.

So I don’t think they want to show what’s going on with the corpses. We want to pass them on, to give them. We don’t want to keep corpses, you know that perfectly well. We want them to leave. At first, they refused, then something else, they offered us some sacks. I don’t even know what it all looks like. It has happened to all of us that people leave, not even relatives, listen. Even when a dog or a cat dies, they don’t do that.

I don’t understand, honestly, what people think. And especially – what do the parents of these children think. I do not understand. I would just set fire to everything I could. If any MP lived nearby I tell you frankly. In principle, I was such a person until the presidency. In our country, people would beat such a boss in a district or something else if they brought something in a sack or did not want to take it. Or they hid it.

I tell you this as the president of a country that is at war with the Russian soldiers who came here and we hate them – what they are doing. But I Hear Yes, this is a war. But this is not cattle!

Why is everything so scary? I will tell you. It’s scary, because when this is your attitude towards your own, then what is your attitude towards everyone else? And we are certainly not our own for the Russian government. That’s scary.

I think this is savage. And it will end badly. For Ukraine, we understand in the name of what, and with you.

I don’t want to offend you. Forgive me if I say “at home”. I just don’t know how else to say it. What is happening in your country, in Russia, is an incomprehensible story for me. Tragedy. Yes, a tragedy. And that affects us. That’s why I’m so worried.

And there are many children, I don’t know if they swore or promised them something. Many children didn’t know where they were going. Some, of course, talk nonsense and lie at first out of fear, not knowing what will happen to them. And then, seeing that they are treated as normally as possible since it is still a war, most of them are shocked.

And all these phone calls to parents: pick us up. And how they throw away the tanks We intercept a lot of phone conversations in which they say: “So and so. Today I shot my leg and Pasha broke something.”

Here, look. A column of 200 tanks is marching. Ours blew up 30. End. Think that the column is gone. 70 tanks are fleeing. These are not warriors. They left them. They sent them to slaughter. That’s right.

But let us return, unfortunately, to the consequences and results for us.

And as a result: Mariupol is gone. It’s just not there. The town of Volnovakha is simply gone. Cities near Kyiv in the Kyiv region – our small towns, which, as in you and all cities near the capitals, this is usually small towns. Everyone lives there, villas outside the city and locals too. This no longer exists. Burnt earth. The earth just burned. Absolutely.

I think you’ve seen pictures, but you haven’t seen everything. We can’t even show it. It is impossible to show because it is impossible to even for our population to show what it all looks like. There are simply no houses. There is simply nothing in Volnovakha – no streets, no houses. There is nothing.

Mariupol – is still a large city with Half a million people. Can you imagine a city of half a million, 90% of the buildings are damaged? They are gone. They are burned, they are gone. But at least there are high-rise buildings. And you can imagine what it was. And in cities like Volnovakha, there is simply nothing. Absolutely. This is the attitude. That is, they come and burn, just burn. I don’t even know if the Russian army has ever treated anyone like that. Never. I have not seen him. Maybe I was very young – during the war in Chechnya, and I do not remember so deeply all the shots. It was scary there, but you just can’t compare the scale.

Something more. I will tell you that it is not possible to compare in volume what it was in eight years during the conflict in Donbas with these four weeks now. It is impossible to compare. And what we are told that in the Donbas on our part This is nothing to understand, compared to what is happening now in our country.

Here, for some reason, six rockets landed in Lviv yesterday. Six cruise missiles! For some reason. They were looking for something paramilitary there. What did they do? They hit oil depots and bases. They know very well that now is the sowing. What does this have to do with militarized stories and actions, what do they have to do with sowing? Ukraine feeds part of Europe, half the Arab world. You have good relations with the Arabs – the Russian Federation itself. Neither the Turks nor the others have sunflower oil, they have no grain. I can’t say why it happened. They didn’t even let us export the grain. We were not allowed to export to these countries.

Ivan Kolpakov: Mr. President, how has your attitude towards the Russians changed since February 24, 2022? Do you have people left in Russia whose opinion is still important to you? And the most complicated question. Do you think that Ukrainians and Russians will ever be able to normalize their relations?

– First, although I am president and have to be pragmatic enough, my attitude has deteriorated since February 24. It got much worse. The emotional component of the Russian Federation, to the people, has been lost. Even to the people. Although I understand in my mind that many people in Russia support Ukraine. I am grateful to them, because without the work of honest journalism, without the inner potential of the Russian man, who is for justice and Ukraine. And yes, let him be first for himself, and that means that it will be for Ukraine in the given situation because the war on our territory will not bring anything good to this Russian man if he realizes the attitude has deteriorated among the entire population.

There is irreversibility. In 2014, when it all started, let’s say, Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine or Russian-speaking families hoped that everything would end, that something could somehow be fixed. No specifics, but there was an understanding that something was needed somehow.

When I ran for president, I understood that everything had to be done to stop the war and that we had to fight propaganda. By my example to show what I want to change – the country, relations with neighbors, finding understanding. To sit at the negotiating table.

Today, in that one month, there has been a global historical and cultural rift. Global. This is not just a war. I think everything is much worse.

There are people in Russia with whom I have relations. First, we talk to you. And secondly, some people left Russia. Not that I support the departure, it is their internal decision. There are people of culture, of art, with whom one or another argument can be found. They are the reading percentage of the nation, they will orient. But the deep disappointment is that much of the population supports Russia for a variety of reasons. I don’t even want to say that this is an information war, brainwashing. On the one hand, it is, but on the other hand, propaganda is also an excuse.

Let’s be honest: it’s an excuse. You can’t help but notice the open war for so many years! It’s not even September 11 in the United States, the tragedy that everyone has seen. And it is not the explosions of homes in Moscow that you remember. This is not a step. That’s eight years, damn it! It’s been a long time. In eight years, people graduate from school, can become adults, get an education, study a subject, and become professionals.

I could become what I want to be, dig if I want to know what to do with it. But if I don’t want to, I don’t want to. It is easier for me to support the current regime. And I think that’s the biggest disappointment. Disappointment turned into hatred of the people.

I have no answer as to how this can come back. I have no answer as to whether he will ever return. I am not a prophet.

I will tell you this: for a few more months and in every family there will be a loss, one or the other. Expelled, wounded, something happened to the child, a person moved, went to Poland, went to Bulgaria, went elsewhere, found a job, did not find, it does not matter. He was scared. His child began to stutter after the explosions, God knows. Everyone will have some grief in their family. Of course, this is not World War II. Of course, these are not years of occupation. But the technologies are different.

But the occupation is tougher because it’s more intense, you know? Because there is an occupation. I don’t even want to compare it with fascism, I don’t want to. We understand that there are different occupations. You know how it was indifferent years and periods. It was not profitable to wipe cities off the face of the earth. Because when you occupy, someone has to live and work there. They’ll wash your pants there, you’re a soldier, aren’t you? Cinemas worked in France and so on, you know? This is not the case here. Not at all. Here they come: if the local government or someone doesn’t want you, they remove the local government. People start shouting something – they set everything on fire.

Zigar: Vladimir Alexandrovich, do you support the boycott of Russia, of Russian artists, musicians, athletes? We have all heard recently about what happened to Sergei Loznitsa, who opposed the boycott and was expelled from the Ukrainian Film Academy. Do you think that everyone should be boycotted?

– I think it is wrong to boycott Loznitsa, for example. I don’t even know the reason why this organization fired him. There must have been a mistake. I do not know. I am not fully informed on this issue. But he is a pro-Ukrainian artist.

Pro-Ukrainian does not mean that you express your position in Ukrainian. You see, there is no such thing. This is an information bubble in which Russian citizens live. There they are told about a language. I speak calmly (in Russian) with you. When someone in Ukraine speaks Russian to me, I also switch to Russian.

But hatred of everything Russian will grow.

The worst for the Russian language was done by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Irreparable damage. Of course, people will be ashamed to speak Russian outside of Russia. So it will be. For many years.

These cities, as I told you, are Russian-speaking – even if you have seen some [connecting] thread, you understand that these very cities have been wiped off the face of the earth. It is these families. They ran twice. You see, in 2014, when all this started, the country moved to Mariupol – Donetsk State University, etc. Higher education institutions and vocational colleges were relocated, schools, and sports clubs were relocated, and people were relocated. Where? People believed as I told you, that soon everything would be over and they would return. They moved to different cities near the temporarily occupied ones. Imagine that the City missiles are standing in front of their doors. They are blocked there (in Mariupol), and they cannot get out of there.

So tell me, how can one relate to history related to Russian culture or the Russians? This question is very difficult. I’m afraid this will continue for a long time.

But for athletes. You asked whether to boycott them or not, right? Look, I don’t think you can feel this pain that (we) felt – but at least you should know. At least you should know and feel some discomfort. Then you will be able to understand that you are not like everyone else. Your government has taken you without a fight. That is why the international boycott of some Russian athletes who have nothing to do with politics is the right decision. Because, unfortunately, they have a relationship. Or maybe they don’t even realize it, do they? But they need to understand that they are a tool for the country’s international image.

And if there is isolation – cultural, sports, one or another isolation, then Those who remain there Of course, not the citizens who left – cultural figures, directors, journalists, athletes. They left, went to live in another country, etc. Of course, this is their right, let them live and work, let them develop. But to say that they are all completely innocent is also unfair, because if a person has not raised his voice anywhere, even once, even with one post on social networks, or at least once he went out in the square You don’t have to set fire to someone’s car, you don’t have to shoot at anyone, you don’t have to force them Almost if you haven’t killed your king, then you’re not our friend. No no! It’s just about support. Just to say I can’t do it anymore, I don’t want to. Even if one person hears me, it will still be a plus, not a minus, and the remark “they won’t hear us anyway, it won’t help” doesn’t work, it’s unfair.

That is why the purpose of the boycott is precisely this – to understand that when people die there, you must be at least uncomfortable.

Vladimir Solovyov: Mr. President, the negotiations are underway, they started too fast, but we already understand that there is significant progress, for example from the statements of Turkish President Erdogan, who said, first, six points are being discussed, and, secondly, that there is progress on four of them. They are concerned about Ukraine’s renunciation of NATO membership, demilitarization, security guarantees, and the protection of the Russian language. But there is still no progress on the status of Donbas and the status of Crimea. Could you explain if something is moving? Also, explain your idea for a referendum. As it is not very clear how a warring country, or one that has just come out of war, will be able to hold a referendum.

– Why is the rhetoric built on six points? Because it is primarily an ultimatum, the first document was an ultimatum from the Russian Federation. It was a public ultimatum. In general, there were those points that you mentioned. Almost the same points. True, the phrases “demilitarization, denazification” were also present, many things with “de”. And we see nothing in this process other than an injection to revive the information field that Russia is doing something and setting the agenda – we see nothing but that.

More about the information field We got used to this during the negotiations in Minsk. They were sending one format or another all the time and seemed to be delaying the process. This shows that they procrastinated because they wanted to occupy us quickly.

Did you know that we found the military uniform? I don’t know if you know this or not, but it’s very funny how they prepared. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Parade on Independence Square (in Kyiv). In general – to pass with tanks on the third or fourth day (of the war).

So these are injections. Turkey’s reaction is somewhat incorrect, and we talked about it with President Erdogan. There are subtleties in the translation of his speech and subtleties in rhetoric.

“Denazification and demilitarization” – we are not discussing this at all. We would not sit at the table at all if we were talking about some kind of “demilitarization” and some kind of “denazification”. For me, these are incomprehensible things.

As for the (third) point on the defense of the Russian language, I don’t know if they reported all my arguments. Every next day of the war calls into question the understanding of what the Russian language is. That is, people will not want that. People will not want to read, watch movies, or speak (in that language). I tell you quite simply how things are. Do you understand what causes this?

As for the Russian language, my opinion is the following: I want to end this constant dispute over how, what, what language in our country everyone speaks, as they wish, in all languages. More than 100 nationalities live in our country. That is why we said that mutual respect is needed. Agreement with all neighbors for mutual (mirror) respect for history, languages, and cultural values. I accept that. I am convinced that our people will accept this because it will be voted on by the MPs anyway.

What does this mean? Stop flirting – as the Hungarians do, to some extent, but less than Russia. Stop flirting with some school closures in Ukraine. If you want a Russian school, if someone wants to study in Russian, please open a private school, but on one condition: you open with us, we open with you. We publish something at your place, so we will publish it here as well. What attitude do we want toward the Russian language? This is your language, the state language of the Russian Federation, everything must be fair. Respect us, respect our state language, Ukrainian, that’s all.

You should not say that this is the language of illiterate people. I am ready to argue with those who claim this, to talk to any Russian politician. Let’s talk about the amount of literature read, etc. Personal. Tete a tete. Let’s communicate in Russian. Let’s also talk in Ukrainian.

Solovyov: As far as I understand, you have just removed from the table at least three points from those that were allegedly being negotiated. Demilitarization is not discussed; denazification, whatever that means, is not discussed. The Russian language is not discussed Then what is discussed there?

– The Russian language is being discussed, as I told you. Respect for the languages ​​of the neighboring peoples – I am interested in such an agreement and I want to sign one with all neighboring countries. I am interested in Russia, Hungary, and Poland – we have many different historical issues. Romania and so on We have many different issues, we have many minorities, nationalities and this agreement will be enough to respect the different languages ​​inside our country. The issue of language, I am sure, will be off the agenda, because it will be resolved with such a contract.

The fourth point – is the guarantees of security and neutrality, the nuclear-free status of our country. We are ready to do it. This point is the most important. This was the first point of principle for the Russian Federation, as far as I remember. And as far as I can remember, they started a war because of that. Now they are adding points to the ultimatums – and (in the beginning) they said that NATO is expanding. They wanted no participation in the bloc, that is, in the constitution of Ukraine to be written that it will not enter the bloc. why this is the main issue and that is why we are defending our security, “the Russian Federation said. Therefore, this point is about the security guarantees of Ukraine. And since they say the same goes for them (security guarantees), this point is understandable and we are discussing it. It has been deeply reworked, but I am interested in this not being another piece of paper a la the Budapest Memorandum, etc.

That is why we are interested in turning this paper into a serious treaty to be signed. It must be ratified by the parliaments of the guarantor countries, there are two. And there must be a referendum in Ukraine. Why? Because we have a law on referendums. We accepted it. Changing one or another status A security guarantees require constitutional changes. Do you understand? Constitutional changes. That means two sessions.

What do two sessions mean? Otherwise, the constitution cannot be changed. Two sessions mean one year. Can you imagine how long this can last? I am not talking about the referendum, I am talking about the constitutional changes. The referendum is a faster job than changing the constitution. The Russian side needs assurances that this will happen. That is why a referendum – because only the people can decide that they will have such status and such guarantors. The referendum will be held within a few months, and changes to the constitution will be made in at least a year following current legislation. At least one year.

Zigar: Excuse me, will the refugees who left Ukraine also take part in the referendum?

– Of course. We have polling stations abroad – all this works, all this worked in the elections, in the presidential and parliamentary elections – it works everywhere. I don’t see any problem with that. In our country, 90% of the population wants to return on the first day after the shooting stops, because most men did not go anywhere at all. The women and children left. That is why we must have an agreement with President Putin. The guarantors will not sign anything if we have troops. Why do I think the war can end quickly, but only Putin and his entourage are pulling Because Johnson, Biden, Duda, Erdogan – who will sit down to negotiate if there are troops here? Who will sign something? Nothing will happen, it is impossible. Therefore, you should not wait for changes in the law. And when the Russian side says – let’s change the law first, and then withdraw the tanks, it does not deeply understand the political processes in terms of the law. Therefore, we must agree with the President of the Russian Federation, and to agree, he must come out with his own feet from where he is and meet with me anywhere in the world, except I think for the pointless meeting in Belarus, Russia or Ukraine and the meetings of our delegations emphasize this once again. They are largely politically irrelevant. In any case, these are three conflicting parties today.

Therefore: here, we meet, we negotiate with him, that’s enough – our contract with signatures, seals, and even blood. That is enough to start the process of withdrawing troops. The troops have to be withdrawn and the guarantors have to sign, that’s all. From there, the work will continue. Further ratification in parliament, a referendum for several months, and then changes to the constitution.

Solovyov: But the referendum implies not only a “yes” answer but also a “no”. If in the referendum the people of Ukraine say “we do not want to change the status, we do not want a neutral status”, then what?

– The referendum is impossible if there are troops. No one will, from the point of view of the convention, respect the results of the referendum if there were troops or armed illegal formations on the territory of the country, or legal formations of another state without any legal basis. It is impossible. This happened in Crimea. What is this referendum? It’s just you know for whom? Let us hold a referendum, and then let no one recognize it. Why? Because there were troops. This process is illegitimate.

Zigar: I would like to clarify the story with the Russian warship. We all remember that in the first days of the war this was a very strong story. You posthumously rewarded the Ukrainian military who were on Snake Island. And then there was information that they all survived. Tell me what happened there? Are they alive or not?

“Some of them are dead.” Another part was captured. All those who were taken prisoner were exchanged – there was an exchange of prisoners with the Russian Federation. Russia came up with this proposal. We exchanged them without hesitation. That is all. Those who died are, frankly, heroes. And those who survived – the boys, we exchanged them, that’s all.

Kolpakov: How would you formulate Ukraine’s military goal now? How do you imagine the military victory?

– To minimize the number of victims, to reduce the duration of this war. To withdraw the troops of the Russian Federation to the compromise territories – and that means to return things to where they were before February 24, before the attack. Let’s go back there. I understand that it is impossible to force Russia to liberate the territory completely, this will lead to a third world war. I understand everything wonderfully and I realize it. That is why I say that this is a compromise. Go back to where it all started, and we will try to solve the issue of Donbas, the complex issue of Donbas.

Look, I’m not 70, you know what I mean. I’m not 70 years old, I still have time. But I am not here for long and a worthy man will come after me. I want to end this war, I do not want hundreds of thousands killed. I do not want this. That is why I am not considering a forceful attack – neither against Donbas nor against Crimea. Because I deeply understand how many thousands of our people would die. And what would be the cost of these territories, even if they are restored.

Nobody knows that. Here, now the Russians have entered with all their might – about 20 thousand dead. With all my might. But they, sorry, did not enter Kyiv. So far they have not entered. You should know that they are unlikely to enter. But if they enter, they will surely have a hundred thousand [dead]. There is no other way to deal with such a city, with such a population. There are three million people in Kyiv who have not left the city. Do you understand what this means? These are a huge number of people.

Solovyov: Mr. President, while we are talking, the news came that the leader of the People’s Republic of China has announced that he intends to hold a referendum on joining Russia. I assume that the DNR authorities will soon follow this example. Then what solution or discussion of the Donbas issue can there be?

– Look, you and I are trying to live in a certain space of legitimacy, right? When someone says something, that person must represent something. Either yourself or this or that territory on a legal level. At the level of the law – according to the understanding of international institutions, not individual occupied parts.

We had signals about these comrades, “athletes” – that’s what we called them in the ’90s. When I was at university, we called these people athletes. These are not the ones who win medals, but they act as if they are great. Such athletes with tracksuits. Then they changed into costumes and became what they became. But even under these suits, they remained in tracksuits

So I don’t know what they are and what they say. Probably – I agree with your rhetoric – they will be followed by the other offices of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine. To me, he is also the executive director of President Putin. Maybe I’ll talk about it with the owner of these people, not these comrades if you don’t mind.

Kolpakov: Why do you think this is for Vladimir Putin? What is the first thought that comes to your mind that can explain what is happening? Why did this happen?

– His approach to this issue is multi-vector, to the issue of Russia and its place in the world, the leadership of the Russian Federation, and all those who left Russia. Who has the right not to be in Russia The whole story is here, you know? Historical approach. And these are different things: the Caucasus is the Caucasus, the Georgians are Georgians, the Moldovans are Moldovans, and Ukraine is Ukraine.

Ukraine is dangerous for many reasons. First, it is the loss of influence of the Russian language – it loses several million of the Russian-speaking population. He wants to get it all back with force, which will lead to a new wave, but not to mention, I do not want to repeat it. Second, of course, the success of Ukraine. And because of geopolitics, location, people – he understands exactly what kind of people there are. Not quite yet, but there are still many reasons why he does this. This ambition “I want the Soviet Union” is OK, but how much time does he have left to live? Yes, like any person who is 70-80 years old. Well, he won’t live another 50 years.

That is why there are plans for today’s pacification. Unfortunately, I do not think that his plans are strategic. The strategy is what will happen in a hundred years to the country he has headed for a quarter of a century. I am not an adviser to the Russian people, but I think this is a strategy. Strategy is not what will be after me, but what will be after the fifth person like me. What will happen in five generations, where will we be then? I am interested in what will happen to Ukraine – I am interested in this as a citizen, because of my children. And if I wasn’t interested, here are France, Italy, and Switzerland. The children are there, and the grandchildren are there. Great Britain, etc.

Putin has a different approach. He is interested in what he is today, what he will be remembered for. To erect a monument to him – a mausoleum, a monument, a diploma. Today I see that he has only reached a diploma, not even a monument. And I think that’s a mistake. But I think that the mistake is not only his, but it is also the whole environment. He’s in it, you know.

That’s why it’s all multi-vector and so on. And Abkhazia, and all this, of course, Russia will lose everything. But the problem is how will people live in the future? It is the same with us in Donbas, where children were brainwashed at school for ten years: who are we and what kind of Nazis are we, and what will we do after all this? That is the problem.

This is my answer to the question “What’s next?”. What will happen in three generations, in five? This is the problem. What’s the point of ruining everything. After that, someone has to fix it.

The party was cool, guys, but who’s going to clean up?

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