Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine:
Chancellor Scholz is afraid of Putin's nuclear threats
11.04.2024 15:13

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has given an interview to well-known German journalist Paul Ronzheimer, which was published in the tabloid newspaper Bild and other media outlets of the Axel Springer media group. The conversation took place near Kharkiv, where the Supreme Commander-in-Chief visited new Ukrainian defensive structures.

Mr. President, we are sitting here in Kharkiv. You've been outside all day. And the city is being shelled the whole time: day and night, drones, bombs, glide bombs… It reminds me personally a little bit of the beginning of the war. Does Putin want to conquer Kharkiv at all costs?

This has always been one of Putin's goals - Eastern Ukraine, including all of Donbas: Luhansk region, Donetsk region. And, indeed, he wanted Kharkiv because it is a big symbol for him. Because they say that Kharkiv is the first Ukrainian capital. And that's why it has great symbolic meaning for him. This is a big goal, because if you pay attention, he has not captured a single regional city since the very beginning of the invasion in 2022. He was not able to capture any regional center, any of our regions. And Kharkiv is a goal for him. Of course, he captured Mariupol, destroying Melitopol and Berdiansk. But if we look at the capitals of the regions, he was never able to capture a single [city]. And he won't be able to, I'm sure of that. And Kharkiv is a very important goal for him. But I don't want us to play the Russians' mind game because there's a lot of information that he wants to conquer territories and he will succeed but there is a big difference between what you want and what you can achieve. We are doing everything to prevent that from happening.

But why are you so sure that Putin wouldn't be able to do it? I mean, he's mobilizing a lot of troops, he has a lot of weapons, he has weapons now which are very precise in destroying your infrastructure, your power stations, your gas stations. Can this, in the end, decide the war?

It is already a serious influence on this war. His desire to destroy and at least this is his desire to take over all of Ukraine, that's true. Attacks on the electricity infrastructure are definitely painful for our citizens and a major problem for our state. And he is actually leading these attacks. Ukraine's air defense systems are not enough. And that's how it works: you are being shot at, and you have to defend yourself.

Putin only understands power, and if he feels like an animal that cannot defend himself, he destroys more and more. Why does he do that? So that people flee from a certain city. And why does he need that? He doesn't want to completely intimidate the world. Because he understands that if there are people inside, then you have to be very careful. He understands that if he destroys the city completely, then tens or hundreds of thousands will die in one place. And he is afraid of that. And that's why he launches strikes and intimidates everyone with information about electricity and water supply cuts, so that people leave big cities. This was the case in many cities from the very beginning, including in Kyiv. He needed to spread that panic. And when everyone has already left, then he begins to destroy them, like he did it with Mariupol and with Avdiivka - the destruction of all buildings, all living things in order to enter a city or village.

You just said, or this week you said, or you warned, that Ukraine could be defeated if the arms deliveries from the U.S. were to stop. What exactly would a defeat in Ukraine look like?

First of all, we need air defense systems. Number one is to protect yourself first. The second thing is weapons that can counteract Russian weapons systems. If he has artillery today... Both the S-300s and artillery reach Kharkiv, where we are now. If something strikes from 40 or 100 kilometers away, we don't have the weapons around to respond... But we have to respond at least to the systems from which he fires. He fires from the S-300. He thinks we don't know where it is located. But we know where it is located. And he is just a lucky person that so far we have not had the appropriate systems for defeating his fire. Here is the defense of Kharkiv. We know how many systems he has near the Kharkiv region. We can destroy them completely. We need the right systems for that.

But what would happen if you don't get these systems and if Ukraine would lose this war? If Ukraine would lose, what would Ukraine look like?

He will destroy everything completely. He will not rest until he destroys our cities. If we do not have air defenses and the appropriate systems, long-range systems, to respond to Putin, then he, Putin, will destroy our land. This is what this war will look like. Destruction, complete destruction of border areas, cities, villages, etc. Because we make a lot of drones, but they are not an alternative to any weapon. Do you understand, don't you? That is, we show ourselves with drones. And I think that the fact that we have increased production helps us a lot. But this is not instead of air defenses, this is not instead of long-range weapons, long-range missiles, long-range artillery.

Yes, he will destroy everything. He will kill a lot of people. Dozens of thousands. People will not run away. Mostly. I mean mostly. So, he will kill a lot of people. How will it look like? A lot of blood, a lot of casualties, a lot of losses. We are speaking about thousands, hundreds of thousands.

Mr. President, you have two kids, your son is eleven years old. Does he ask you sometimes, when does the war stop?

This war ends like any other but he doesn't ask this question in this way. He asks me when we will win and that is the essence of what he feels. He is 11 years old. He wants to win like a child, he wants to see me and he understands that…

And what's your answer?

My answer to his question is that we will definitely win because we don't have any alternative. But I can't promise or tell you an exact date and it doesn't matter if it's my child, my son or another citizen of Ukraine. We must be very open and fair in this matter with our society.

At the beginning of the Russian invasion two years ago, I was there as well, at this time, in Kyiv. You refused to flee abroad with the words, and I quote, was reported: "I don't need a lift I need ammunition." Would you turn down another offer of a lift from the U.S. to save yourself and your family if the situation is getting worse here?

If the situation will be more difficult than it was? I am not sure that this message is first of all for everybody, not for me. I think the most difficult situation is in the past. I think so. It is the first. The worst period is in the past.

But it can always get worse.

Yes, you are right. Nobody knows what will be tomorrow. Yes? And we live today. And we fight today. We live one day. But I can't and I never do. I can't leave my country.

Under no circumstances.

Any circumstances. Any circumstances, of course.

But it’s clear that you’re still on the death list of Putin, that your family is threatened here.

Yes, there are many people in Ukraine who are threatened. We are no exception although it is clear that I personally am a target of Putin. That's clear.

You have long been calling for more air defense systems like Patriots and long-range weapons like Taurus. Do you feel let down by your Western allies? Are you disappointed in your Western allies?

I wouldn't call it a disappointment. The battle is not over and the war is not over either. I always use logic in my steps, in my words and in my conclusions. I just don't understand the logic behind it if, for example, one of our partners has weapons that Ukraine needs to survive. And I don't understand why they don't make it available to us. And I don't think that, for example, politics…

Are you talking about Taurus?

I'm also talking about Taurus. It's one of them. We need ATACMS, Taurus. We need F-16.

What did you tell the Chancellor when he told you we would not give you Taurus? What did you tell Mr. Scholz?

We talk about this topic. I think it's a sensitive one. As far as I know, the Federal Chancellor, as a representative of a non-nuclear state, is of the opinion that this is the only weapon in Germany that is the most powerful. He tells me that he can't leave his country without such a powerful weapon. I have a good relationship with him the Chancellor.

And you think this is related to the nuclear threat from Russia?

$he says yes but I also don't think it will save the world from the nuclear threat from Russia. Any missiles - Taurus, ATACMS, - F-16 will not hide a single person from a nuclear strike if, God forbid, a nuclear war breaks out. I believe that it's more about the society of this or that state. It is very important to know that you have something special, some special weapon. If there is a war, it will be needed.

So, at the same time, French President Macron is not ruling out the deployment of ground troops from NATO countries in Ukraine. How realistic is this scenario for you now? Would it help Ukraine significantly?

Any strengthening of Ukraine will definitely help. This is the first point. We understand this. Be it weapons, be it the training missions that Emmanuel told me about, be it equipment repair hubs in Ukraine so as not to be sent anywhere, be it people at the border, etc. That is, any strengthening will help Ukraine, and I have recently said this in an interview. I cannot openly say that yes, the troops will strengthen Ukraine. And I can't invite anyone, otherwise partners may move away from me. And then Ukraine will lose aid.

Would Putin be impressed if Macron or other countries would send troops? Would that change anything?

To be honest, I'm not sure that countries will send any troops here.

Talking about what’s going on in the U.S. right now. Donald Trump is said to be behind the reaction on the Ukraine package in Congress…

I mean that for Putin it doesn’t matter what is the reason for beginning new wars. I mean that. If you push some army to Ukraine, to support Ukraine, he will say: “Yes, this is the attack of NATO against Russia.” If you do not do it, he will come in some time to some of the NATO countries, Baltic countries. Maybe, he will be afraid, and before the Baltic, he will go to Moldova or Kazakhstan. For him that is the idea. And I think that the world has to understand that the idea of Putin is very primitive. So, this is the help, and with all this help of the Western countries Ukraine can not only defend itself but go forward. So, he tried to divide political support, divide the world. He lost. He lost support in the world and he couldn’t do it. Then he tried another tactic: not to divide the world, to divide the aid, the weapon. And how can you divide the weapon, not to give Ukraine all this volume of ammunition? It means to open new wars, to help somewhere to do it. That’s why I said Moldova, Baltic. God bless it will not happen. But Moldova, Baltic, he thinks about some situation on the borders of Belarus, and he can do it in Kazakhstan, etc. So, for him, it’s very important to involve the world in the war and to divide the volume of ammunition.

Talking about what’s happening in the U.S., which is very important for you, we just talked, that you warned: if no more weapons are coming, how bad it could look like in Ukraine. And it was the first time you were talking about possible defeat if no more weapons are coming. Donald Trump is said to be behind this blockade from the Republican side. Have you personally tried to call Donald Trump, who you know personally?

I didn't call him myself. We invited him publicly to Ukraine. To be honest, not only publicly. We have the embassies and the context was conveyed by appropriate people. We said that we want Donald Trump to go to Ukraine so that he could come and see everything with his own eyes and draw his own conclusions. I'm definitely ready to meet with him and discuss topics. This is a very important issue for us.

What have you heard from him and his people when you invited them?

That he wants, but he doesn’t know when he can do it.

So Trump said, he would come to Ukraine?

He said that he wants to.

But there is no date yet?


But you think he should come soon, I guess.

I hope so.

At the same time, there was a Washington Post report, saying that if Trump becomes President again, he would urge Ukraine to permanently cede part of the Donbas and Crimea to Russia, and to end the war in return for peace. Would you be willing to talk to him about a deal like that?

If the deal is that we just give up our territories, and that's the idea, then that idea is very primitive. I think that if he really has a formula and an approach to how to end the war quickly, as they write about it - I'm not sure if he said it that way, but it is written about, as you said - then I - in any case, I will gladly listen to this idea. But very strong arguments are needed, because what is needed is not a fantastic idea, but a real idea, because the question is about people's lives. We can't just joke about it, we can't take any risks. We are dealing with Putin. So far, everything he said, he did differently. That is, we cannot trust him, so this suggests that the idea itself should be one that does not give Putin space to implement his plans, do you understand? Because he has to be, in some sense, cornered so that he can't improvise, because anything can be negotiated. The question is if he will fulfill certain agreements.

Do you still have hope that there is a "Yes" from the U.S. for new weapons and money?

Yes, of course. We work on it very much.

Are you optimistic?

Of course. I have to be.

So, you still think that the aid is coming?


Those who argue against further aid would argue like this: Russia has switched to a war economy, they have more soldiers, it’s a nuclear power that cannot be defeated. That’s what you hear in the US, that’s what you hear also in Europe. What is your answer to these people?

First of all, the use of nuclear weapons is a big issue. If those who have a different opinion than the majority of Congress, let's say, or their representatives... If they think that we should give them some of our land because they have nuclear weapons, then they should understand that after us they will other NATO countries that do not have any nuclear weapons. And this suggests that there will be a nuclear world war - with the use of nuclear weapons. Therefore, I would not resort to the last step regarding the use of nuclear weapons, but would consider this war as a reality, where Russia attacked Ukraine. Yes, they have more people, but we are not a country with a population of two or three million. After all, we are a country of 40 million people. It is also a big country. The second story: as this war shows, we were able to stop them at the beginning of the war and then recapture some of our territories. This suggests that, yes, there are more people in Russia, yes, they have more weapons, but the collective West still has advanced weapons. And therefore, if we receive certain appropriate technologies and we can increase the production of some of them, if there is appropriate licensing, such capacity, if we receive licenses from our partners - the United States and EU countries - then the question is not about the number of people, the question is about the quality of weapons.

Two Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have recently suggested that Russian propaganda has infiltrated the U.S. Congress. Do you believe that this is the case?

Well, Russia has a lot of influence. And it's just not because they have an arrangement with part of Congress. That's not how it works. They have their lobby everywhere: in the United States, in the EU countries, in Britain - everywhere. In Latin America, in Africa - everywhere. If we talk about aid from Congress, notice how they work with the society of the United States. They pump their narratives through the media and they are not Russian citizens or natives of the Russian Federation. No. The very representatives of certain media groups, citizens of the United States. They are the ones in the media with appropriate messages, sometimes pro-Russian ones. Very pro-Russian ones. This is Russia's great information influence on the information field of the world.

All these discussions about negotiations, the end of the war, and freezing are taking place also in Germany and I quote the leader of the SPD, Olaf Scholz's party, so to say. He talked about freezing the war as a preliminary stage for a ceasefire. And it looks like Olaf Scholz, in a way, is also enjoying a role as a possible Peace Chancellor. How much does that worry you?

It won't work. He won't be a Peace Chancellor if we go through the freezing of the conflict, through the freezing of the war. This was the case with the Minsk agreements: there is no faith in "Minsk," there is no faith in freezing the conflict. Every time there was a freezing of the conflict, it just ended up with a slow continuation of the occupation. It can be an armed occupation, or it can be a political occupation. And this is the most important thing - that your country does not develop, that you have a permanent war, even if it is not a hot war. No one will invest in you. For a certain period, everyone will be... some people will be even happy, the world will say: after all, it was possible to freeze the conflict, missiles do not fly. This is only until Russia increases the production and stocks of equipment, missiles, drones, etc. and works out all the mistakes with which they came to us at the beginning of the occupation. And when they are ready again, they will offer you your life. Not the one you want, but the one they will offer. They will tell you: "The European Union? Forget the European Union. NATO will never exist. How do you want to develop? We will show you." Well, as is the case with Belarus – a union state. Therefore, the question of frozen conflict is like a pause when you watch a movie. But this is not a movie, this is a reality. This is just a pause, but the pause is for Putin.

But what's the way out, Mr. President? Do you really believe that Ukraine is capable of taking back Donbas, Luhansk, Crimea? I mean one counteroffensive of Ukraine failed last year, and now you don't get enough weapons, you have a lack of soldiers so how will you be able to get back these huge territories?

First of all, we did not lose, and counteroffensive actions on the ground last year were not so successful. Yes, we didn't get the result we wanted. And you are right here. There are many reasons. The understaffing of our brigades is also a reason. Another reason is that the Russians knew where we were going. Absolutely. I can't tell you why they knew this and where all this information came from. History will tell in any case. But there is also a positive thing - what we did in the Black Sea. It was a positive thing, and this work in the Black Sea was successful. We built a grain corridor, an alternative one, and destroyed a lot of Russian vessels. Is it all a big success? No, on the one hand, but on the other hand, the fact that Ukraine has stood in principle is a great success. And so, how to answer your question of whether will we be able to win back the entire territory? Hybrid war and hybrid victory. This does not mean that territories should be returned only with weapons in hand.

So, you have a plan for that?

Yes, we have a plan for some counteroffensive.

And these counteroffensive operations must give us a result, and after this result, in any case, if the Russian troops cannot hold the territory and withdraw, diplomacy must go in parallel and put pressure on Putin. The peace summit that we have to organize... We have to find solutions there from each of the crises - from each of the crises that Putin created. And it seems to me that it is necessary to show that he, Putin, won't be able to do anything else in Ukraine with his war. And it's necessary to put pressure on him with politics so that he still reaches the end of the war and a just peace for Ukraine.

What should these results look like? Will you, for example, destroy the Kerch bridge this year?

We really want to. And this question is not about the bridge, the Kerch bridge, which everyone is talking about. We're talking about several infrastructure sites that are military targets. This is a bridge, these are airfields from which aircraft take off. This is the [Crimean] bridge, and these are other bridges that they use to deliver weapons. Airports from which planes take off and bombard us. Sorry, those are legitimate targets. And I am already silent that they are located in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine.

If I can give you my personal impression. I have been to Ukraine in the past three years more than to Germany or anywhere else. I spent many months here with the team, met many people, and reported a lot. But my feeling is that there are more and more pessimistic people about the goal of taking back the whole territory.

I understand.

My feeling is many Ukrainians don’t believe anymore what you are saying – that you will take back the whole Ukraine.

This is the goal. This is justice. To take back all our territory. I’m not saying that all the territory [should be taken back] with weapons, like I said to you. I think it’s a long way. I don’t want to be very optimistic, but I have to be very realistic. If we have to save independent Ukraine, democratic Ukraine, like a part of Europe, of the future EU, it doesn’t matter, like a nation, if we want to save it, we need to get back our independence. It’s not only territory. It’s also the circumstances when people can come back. It means that all investors and the world business have to believe in Ukraine and its future. That means, without any frozen conflicts.

If this doesn’t work, and if another counteroffensive fails and you can’t take back the land when there’s a time for you to sit down with Vladimir Putin to negotiate?

But we prepared a very concrete plan for diplomatic negotiating with ten points on the platform of the Peace Summit. The first, inaugural one will be in Switzerland.

Without Russia?

Of course, without Russia, because we don’t need them to block anything.

But how can you negotiate?

I will tell you. We will prepare a plan. And I think that some of the points will be ready with details of what to do even in the first summit with most countries of the world. And after that, we will prepare the whole plan. And, of course, some negotiators, some representatives of continents will propose this plan to Russian representatives. But only after we will have our joint, common opinion, the common opinion of the countries who really want peace. Not just to speak, real peace.

In the past months, you always said you would never sit down with Vladimir Putin. Since the war started you said: “There is no way I’m sitting at one table.”

Because he is a killer. And he killed a lot of our people. If it’s about negotiation on the platform of the Peace Summit, I think we will find infrastructure or we will find some possibilities to negotiate with some representatives or another.

There is not only a problem with weapons at the front, there is also a problem with mobilization. When I talked to soldiers at the front and visited the positions near Avdiivka and other areas in Bakhmut they told us: “We’ve been in for two years or even longer, how is that possible that people in Kyiv or Lviv enjoy their life and are not here at the front.” Is it possible to force people to go to the frontline?

No, it’s not about the force. It’s not the right word. I mean, that we have mobilization from the first days of the war, and, of course, the Parliament is prolonging this mobilization every three months. There are some changes to the law we have now in Parliament. And I think that the Parliament will vote on these changes. Of course, there are soldiers, who are there from the first days. I’m very thankful to them. All of us. They are heroes. From the first day they are on the frontline and, of course, some of them are tired. But we have also to look at this situation with Russia, which decided to mobilize 300,000 more people.  

How many would you mobilize? How many do you need to defend and, at the same time, you said you would organize another counteroffensive?

I will not share openly what the number will be. But the number will be enough to defend our country.

Mr. President, Politico reported last fall that in the private strategy documents, the Biden Administration expressed serious concern about corruption in Ukraine. Is the Biden Administration wrong? And have you taken any actions to reassure them?

Yeah, they're… You know, it's a narrative. And all those who are deep in budget processes all understand that there were no corruption risks with American money. Firstly, most of the money, 70% of the money allocated by the United States of America, did not reach us. They came to us as weapons - they all remained in American production, and sometimes - in some branches of production in Europe. That is, we would gladly receive this money for our productions, but we do not have such a chance. This is the first thing. The second story. If we are talking about our money, the Ukrainian budget, then I want to tell you that the entire Ukrainian budget, for two years of the war, is transferred to the Ministry of Defense. We don't have any budget, we have donations – assistance using which we implement certain infrastructure projects. We have local money that is in the communities that they spend on some infrastructure things. We have a fund to protect energy, electricity, and there are also many donations. And everything else is the Ministry of Defense. And the budget of the Ministry of Defense is even bigger than our budget. Why do we have a deficit budget during the war? Because the money in the Ministry of Defense is bigger than our state budget, and the money of the Ministry of Defense consists mostly of the salaries of our military. That is, here is the answer to their question.

Very last question Mr. President. You’ve been in power now for almost five years, I remember when you were elected in 2019 in May. Normally there would have been elections, now, during wartime, this year there will be probably no election. How would you call yourself after May? Still President? Or what would you call yourself? When will there be elections?

The most important is that I'm still Ukrainian. And I think this is the most important thing. And about the presidency… We can organize the elections, when we can change the law, because today, I think you understand, due to the law we can't do it during the war or war period. So, I have to stop the war period, it means stopping this law…

That is, in order to organize elections today, it is necessary to change the law. And the law on wartime [martial law]. It is very difficult to change it today. According to Ukrainian legislation, elections are not possible during wartime. Therefore, changes to the legislation are needed. Or martial law should be abolished. If we abolish martial law, then you must understand that it will no longer be possible to defend our state. This is a very big risk.

That's all.

Thank you very much, Mr. President, for your time.

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