Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine
Russia threatens Ukraine to blackmail the West (an interview with La Repubblica)
15.12.2021 13:00

- President Zelensky, Vladimir Putin is again gathering his troops on the border with Ukraine. Do you think that this time military maneuvers pose a greater threat than usual?

- What are the troops, amassed near our border, being used for? This is blackmail potential, first of all, against the western powers. But if the number of Russian troops increases, blackmail will become even more severe, which could then be seen as preparations for expanding aggression against our country and, possibly, the region as a whole. Ukraine sees no surprise in what is happening on our eastern borders. Russia started this war in 2014, and since then we have been ready for any scenario. Unfortunately, this cannot be applied to all European countries. For example, Germany has recently prevented us from receiving from NATO anti-drone rifles and anti-sniper systems, which are exclusively defensive tools. Are we not entitled to have them in the eighth year of war? Obviously, we are. Any democracy that protects itself from aggression should have the right to acquire such defense instruments. But in some capitals, fear still prevails.

- Europe and the United States without delay condemned the Kremlin, again standing side by side with Kyiv. But if Russians decide to invade your country tomorrow, will the Ukrainian army be ready to resist them?

- We will defend our land and our people under all circumstances and from any encroachments. Ukrainians will never give up their freedom. Meanwhile, Moscow may as well open a museum with a collection of various condemnations. Undoubtedly, we are grateful for the support, but collective efforts are not enough yet to get the Russian side not only to the predictable policy, which would be based on respect for international law and neighboring countries, but also to meaningful negotiations toward peace in the east of Ukraine. An example is one of the agreements of the Normandy summit in Paris in 2019, which is still not being implemented -- the agreement on held persons. Hundreds of our people are being held captive in the occupied territories, and Russia has made a clear promise to ensure full and unconditional access to them for international organizations. But this is not happening because Ukrainian prisoners are in such a terrible state that Russia cannot show them to the Red Cross.

- Have you thought about the possible number of casualties on both sides in the event of war?

- Precisely because we think about the possible number of casualties, we constantly insist on intensifying diplomacy. We do not resort to saber-rattling, we do not amass troops on the border, we do not take forceful steps towards the occupied territory of our state. During the war, we have already had about 15,000 dead. One and a half million Ukrainians were forced to flee their homes and became IDPs. If we talk about the price, not of local but of a wider conflict, it is clear that the death toll can be much higher. In particular, for Russians. Is Russian society ready to pay with the lives of its sons for the attempt to occupy another part of Ukraine?

- Meanwhile, people are dying in Donbas. Why, after almost eight years, are there no changes in this conflict that would lead to peace?

- Ukraine is ready to make all necessary efforts to make peace fair and lasting. This interview will turn into a thick book if I start listing all the proposals and efforts to intensify our talks that the Russian side has received from us throughout the war period. But it will only take a small paragraph to convey Russia's responses as they all boil down to their unwillingness to recognize themselves as a party to this war. Their role at the negotiating table is to insist that we talk to separatists in Donbas. But who are these separatists? In the occupied territories, everything is run by Russian officers and Russian government officials.

- Now Vladimir Putin demands written guarantees, such as, for example, Kyiv's preventive refusal to join NATO. Would you be willing to abandon the idea in exchange for a guaranteed withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine's borders?

- Our state has given up its share of the Soviet nuclear arsenal - the third largest in the world - and in return has received assurances, including from Russia, that our borders and our security will be respected. All this did not happen. So it is strange to hear the Russian side asking for any guarantees when so many promises have already been broken by the Russian side itself.

- Do you think that the threats of "very tough economic sanctions" voiced by Joseph Biden are enough to stop Moscow?

- After the American and Russian leaders held talks, there has been no reduction of the military grouping near our borders. Moreover, another space for escalation emerged, which is the Sea of ​​Azov, where Russia has blocked 70% of the water area. When this starts to change, we will be able to say that the arguments sound convincing.

- Don't you think that hindering the newly built Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which Moscow plans to use to ship 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year to Germany and other European countries, will be enough to put pressure on Vladimir Putin?

- The very fact that Nord Stream 2 can hypothetically be put into operation is extremely destabilizing for our region. Russia is investing in various levers of pressure on European countries to make this pipeline work, which will mean the end of gas shipments through Ukraine. If this happens, the security of eastern and central Europe will collapse instantly.

- You are currently conducting an active dialogue with EU leaders. What exactly do you expect from Europe and, in particular, from Italy?

- Maybe someone is afraid of Ukraine's economic potential, but Italy and other countries will only benefit if Ukraine becomes a full-fledged member of the European community. The Italians have no less political weight in talking to Russia about peace in Europe than other countries already involved in the negotiation effort. Christmas is ahead -- and now is the time to try as much as possible to agree on a ceasefire, the release of prisoners, and the creation of conditions for the safe movement of people. I am confident that Italy can say its word, which will be heard in Moscow, and Vladimir Putin will not be able to ignore it.

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