During this war, Ukraine destroys stereotypes and sweeps patterns away. No one has ever fought like this. No one has ever negotiated in such a way. No one has ever imagined such President, Chief of the General Staff, Minister of Defense or that somebody could act like them. And there is Oleksiy Arestovych. There is Mykhailo Podolyak. The status of an adviser usually paints the image of a person who advises somewhere behind the scenes. Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to the head of the President's Office, who is always in the frame. In a short time, he became one of the most prominent speakers of the government, ready to comment on any high-profile event in a blitz mode. But in an interview with Ukrinform, we agreed to discuss not only what happened today, but also what will be relevant tomorrow. As it is said, we discussed a wide range of topics...
THERE ARE NO NEGOTIATION PROCESSES AT ANY LEVELS
- You are a member of the team on negotiating with Russia. Are there any communications between Kyiv and Moscow today? If so, who conducts them and what issues are discussed?
- It is important to say about two periods of this process in terms of time. The first part is everything that happened before the Bucha tragedy. Then a certain negotiation process really took place. It was not as effective and promising as it would have been, but still it could indeed be called a negotiation, or at least a preparation for it. Various people played different roles in it, trying to find some solution to this fundamental, I would say, worldview conflict, which was launched on the current scale by the Russian army invasion of Ukraine’s territory.
However, all this ended at the time of Russia's withdrawal from Kyiv region. Then we, Ukraine, realized that this war cannot end by finding a compromise: it is a war of genocidal type, when one subject destroys another civilization. This fundamentally changed everything, closed any window of opportunity for a dialogue with Russia.
Thus, now we are talking about the current time. First, there are no negotiation processes at any level. It is very important. President Zelensky will definitely not allow any backstage attempts to reach an agreement, he wants to conduct a transparent policy, especially in such a complex issue, where a great price has been paid in blood. Second: the Russian Federation does not want any negotiation process, it initially tried to issue an ultimatum, and today it insists on the ultimate fulfillment of its demands. This is simply the use of the word "negotiations" for the sake of an information campaign to show the Western world: "look, we are ready for a dialogue." Nevertheless, they continue to strike our cities with cruise missiles, continue to rape and kill Ukrainians in the occupied territories.
- Then what do they mean by the word "negotiations"?
- Two things: fulfill the ultimatum, let us record what we have already stolen from you, and let us avoid responsibility. And it's like this: if Minsk 3 is agreed, the Russian Federation will avoid responsibility. There will be no special tribunal, no reparations. What will happen instead? Russia’s large-scale propaganda campaign, which for decades will prove that it had the right to enter a foreign country, kill absolutely everyone on its territory and destroy everything, and that it was forced to do so. Moreover, at some point, the number of these messages will become so huge that the world will say: well, surely, this can be somehow explained and accepted to a certain extent. In other words, by agreeing to this Minsk 3 in any of its forms, we will receive a false truth about this war. We will neve take revenge for our children. After all, these are not Russian children who are dying today, these are not Russian citizens, these are not Russian women who are being raped, these are not Russian elderly people who are being killed - all this is happening to Ukrainians. And if we agree to Russia's ultimate demands, all this will remain unavenged.
- But for them, as we understand, the same "operational pause," which is being discussed a lot now, is no less important...
- Definitely. If they do not achieve the ultimate fulfillment of their demands, they want to be able to get an opportunity of an operational pause. Why do they need an operational pause? The quality of performance in the war is poor, they will lose it. In a panic, they mobilize more and more people, carry out conscription, they will continue mobilization, but coordination is needed, otherwise, their poor performance in the war will continue.
An operational pause would also allow them to decrease the demoralization of their own army, because it is an army that is always on the run. At the expense of this pause, they would be able to set a new demarcation line, rebuild fortifications and, most importantly, reduce disillusionment both in their own society and in their own army. Further, they would be able to purchase additional weapons stocks somewhere, sell additional volumes of raw materials and thus get money to continue the war. Are we really interested in getting a more combat-ready part of the Russian army?
Moreover, due to the pause, they will be able to get enough time for the influence on the societies of other countries, to tell them that they are not such murderers and they can agree on something, that it had been some kind of mutual misunderstanding. Do you remember, the person named Lavrov even read a poem about not interfering in quarrels in the family. Do you really think we are in the same family?! And this is what they will spread in the Western communities and state: let's still have some negotiation process, let's have Minsk 3, let's have new demarcation line. And here the main aspect is very important: no one, except Ukraine, can determine how we want to move forward, how we want to end the war.
I often say: look at the map, look at the size of the Russian Federation, the number of people there, the amount of accumulated weapons. And compare it with Ukraine, with Ukraine that is open to Europe. However, over the past nine months, we have been resisting, in fact, barbarians, who can nothing but to come, kill, take away, loot, steal and run away. This is the concept of the "Russian world" - three "v": kill, steal, run away.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, a fundamental mistake was made in 2014, when Minsk 2 was signed. Swapping land for peace is always a wrong practice, because you showed the aggressor that you are weak, and the aggressor concluded that it can attack, it can kill. However, the aggressor did not succeed, because if Ukraine was captured in 3-7 days, the aggressor would have hidden the traces of committed crimes. The aggressor could then state as he stated then: we took Crimea, it is now ours, and the rest are details that do not matter.
A reasonable question arises: does not a diplomatic settlement today look like an offer to Ukraine to surrender to the country that will win the war? Are you offering us to become unique, to write down a clear formula in historical records: you win the war, but you have to surrender because we think so? The authors of this proposal do not fully understand the strength of Ukraine and the weakness of Russia. Hence comes the impossibility of reaching an agreement in the middle, the impossibility of criminal responsibility, the impossibility of talking to Russia as a proper partner.
OUR PARTNERS NEED TO GET RID OF THE HISTORICAL FEAR OF RUSSIA
- Don't you think that the West, despite all its strength and potential, has some existential fear of Russia?
- I think so. And that's not the main thing. Any rhetoric about negotiations for the slightest hint of "saving Russia's face" is an attempt to mask these residual fears of the Russian Federation. As you can remember that before the war, Russia had been considered a monster country. Russia invested a lot of money in the reputation of a country that should be feared. Russia spoke contemptuously to many countries. Russia financed participation in political elections of other countries at the expense of indirect financing of far-right and far-left groups. Russia provoked political crimes. Russia provoked political pressure due to its propaganda on certain countries. And, naturally, the image of a country that should be feared and agreed with was created. It was also because Russia spent part of the money, corrupting the political, media and cultural elites of other countries.
But that's all - the time of fear is over. And if Ukraine got rid of its fear many years ago, back in 2014, then our partners should also give up their fear, the historical fear of Russia. This is not a monster country. This is a rather primitive microstate, even though it is territorially large. From the point of view of the impact on global politics, from the point of view of the economy, the impact on the global economy is precisely a microstate state, technologically backward, which only has large arsenals of Soviet weapons. And today it looks like Ukraine, a small country, not a nuclear country, refuses to be afraid. Ukraine is ready to fight to the end, understanding all the risks of a "compromise" ending to this war. Ukraine pays an huge price, moreover, because Ukraine does not say to anyone: enter this war with us. Ukraine says we will end this war ourselves, we will win it.
- Opponents often emphasize: you will not win without the assistance from the West...
- I agree. Yes, we cannot do without this help. Because this country is so much bigger, this country has been building up arsenals of weapons and resources for decades. This country attacked us and continues to attack industrial centers and agricultural regions. This country is destroying our infrastructure, including transport. Therefore – help us. We will repay all debts. But help us win the war that cannot be lost. Because you talk about values, freedom, democracy at various forums, emphasizing that you have freedom and democracy. Whereas the camp and authoritarianism is somewhere else. So help us prove that a democratic system is far more effective than any authoritarian system. Don't do something you'll regret, because the unjust ending of the war will mean huge chaos in the world. Unstable states with unstable political regimes will understand that they have the right to demand by force whatever they see fit. They will attack other states, look for nuclear weapons around the world, finance terrorist organizations, etc. Do you want to destroy the security of the whole world? At a time when Ukraine today seeks to restore and strengthen security as a fundamental value of this world.
- How, in your opinion, the G20, or now actually G19, summit perceived a ten-point peace formula outlined by President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky?
- As very constructive, or, if you like, working. Everything that Ukraine and President Zelensky, who represents it in the international arena, are doing today is a fundamental transformation of global politics. It has much more responsibility, much more justice and much more direct assessments of what is happening.
And the last is very important, because it is a conversation about real problems. If before everything was streamlined, you had to look in all directions, look around to see what this or that other country would say, now everything is different.
- How differently?
- Listen to the speeches of Mr. Borrell, Mr. Stoltenberg, Mr. Scholz, Macron, Ms. Melanie, etc. Look at global leaders, including G-19: they are putting the right emphasis, they are asking direct questions in dialogue, something that has not been seen in global politics for a long time. In fact, this caused a huge number of conflicts on different continents. The leaders of the most influential countries were afraid to call things by their real names, were afraid to put accents. Whereas Ukraine, with its proactive policy, especially in the first weeks of the war, changed the perception of global politics, gave politicians the opportunity to take responsibility. The peace formula clearly adheres to this, it has a logic to every point, each of these ten points is well considered. Each point gives the world some hope for stability. And today we certainly have clear feedback from partner countries.
- And from non-partners? That is, those whose position for us so far was, let's say diplomatically, ambiguous...
- We see understanding from those countries that tried to be neutral. The fact that Ukraine is transparent in its intentions to end the war in the right way, and the fact that resolutions appear on various international platforms that precisely place the emphasis in this war - who is the aggressor and who is the victim – also contribute to this. All this influences the position of other countries, which in the first months of the war were quite indulgent or, let's say, detached from this war. I am talking about Latin America, about the countries of Africa, about the East in general, not only the Middle, but in general.
That is, the position changes. The world understands that the destruction of a security framework in one country must not be allowed, as this entails geopolitical consequences. Russia demonstratively destroyed international law. It destroyed international humanitarian law, showed that it is possible to kill with impunity, destroy critical infrastructure, that is, destroy the lives of millions of people. Russia shows that it is possible to absolutely ignore the rules and customs of war, all conventions regulating the methods of waging war. That is, Russia essentially returns us to barbarism as a concept, to the Middle Ages. Probably, the world does not want to live like this. Probably, the world starts finally to understand that if this war is "frozen" in this form, then it will no longer be the 21st century, but something else.
- Recognizing Russia as a terrorist state is a logical and important step in this direction. Following the approved of relevant decisions by a number of countries, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the European Parliament, can we be sure that this process will be successfully completed at the level of all international structures?
- Definitely. This is not just correct logic, it is vitally necessary for the world. Russia will not be able to abandon this page in its history, will not be able to propagandistically "get off the topic", because it will be documented in line with the law. Therefore, after the decisions of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and the European Parliament, I hope that the decision will be adopted at other international platforms. Thus, Russia will become an outcast. Reputational, the recognition of a certain country as a terrorist state significantly changes the entire disposition around it. Many countries that are neutral today will carefully consider whether to trade and have close relations with such a country. Can you imagine a terrorist state sponsoring an international cultural symposium or an international sports federation?
- I can’t. But in modern politics we see...
- Definitely. But such a situation will look, let's say, wild and strange, so few will dare. Accordingly, Russia will lose a lot of elements important for its propaganda contour, it will no longer be able to be everywhere and will gradually be expelled from everywhere - behind the same iron curtain, behind which it can only exist. After that, the processes of transformation will begin. Because, apparently, not the entire population of the Russian Federation is ready to live as an outcast.
- Does the UN General Assembly’s decision on the payment of Russian reparations to Ukraine become a practical tool in helping those "transformations" in Russia that you are talking about?
- Of course. This resolution has not only a moral and psychological contour, but also a serious practical sense. This is now not only a theory, but also a practice for countries that have seized Russian property. This is an especially important component for the countries of Latin America and Africa. If earlier, for example, all decisions to recognize Russia as an extremely negative character in world history were made by our Western partners, the USA, Great Britain, continental Europe, then the recognition of this at the UN level is very reputable for other continents as well. These countries will follow the war much more closely, and they will be much less focused on the Russian Federation. And they are already starting to quickly distance themselves from Russia. This process will gain momentum.
- Does it mean that the results of the G19 summit are part of this logic?
- Everything that happened at the G-19 eloquently shows that Russia is no longer in demand, even among non-European countries. The resolution based on the results of the G-19 is very significant, which clearly stated what type of war Russia is waging in Ukraine, who is the culprit of this war, and who will be solely responsible for it.
Well, and finally, that telling factor, that the person named Lavrov, an hour and a half before the start of the large-scale cascade shelling of Ukraine with 100 missiles, ran away from the G-19 summit in order not to answer a simple question: "What is happening? You are sitting here now, talking about possible negotiations, and at the same time you are trying to kill as many civilians of another country as possible with your missiles". And all of Russia, not only Lavrov, looks like a cowardly, beaten dog at all these international summits and forums. As we know, that is why Putin did not participate in the G-19.
- However, despite your resolute "no one supports Russia anywhere", the recent non-public visit of the CIA director for some reason took place after his visit to Moscow. There he met with Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service Naryshkin, following which, according to some sources, he brings some kind of a message from Moscow or persistent advice on establishing a dialogue. Conspiracy? Can you reveal any details of the visit?
- You yourself say that this is a non-public visit, unofficial, so we cannot talk about details. This is an exchange of opinions, a comparison of positions. I can only assure you that the meeting was especially positive for the Ukrainian side. President Zelensky knows how to present Ukraine's position convincingly. I am sure that the American side, during these meetings with us and with Naryshkin, saw how Ukraine differs hugely from Russia. Today, Russia has no arguments that can somehow justify its position, it only continues to insist that it has the right to kill any citizen of another country. Compare this with the position of Ukraine, which argues for its right to defend its territory.
- Are there already any results of the investigation into a missile explosion and death of people in Poland? Is this event itself a new point in the countdown of the war?
- This incident with missile that landed on the territory of Poland is very significant. First: we insist that the war should be transparent, there should be no attempt to hide anything, any investigative work should be carried out and no statements should be made until the investigative actions are carried out. Second: when we make our statements, we are in a state of war, at that moment a massive strike was launched against Ukraine and, of course, the initial reaction was that these missiles are Russian. Third: we do not seek to escalate the war, we do not seek to involve other countries in this war. Therefore, one should not be afraid to give a correct assessment of what Russia is doing. And, finally, we will wait for the results of the investigation at the scene of the catastrophe, in line with the documentary materials presented, as well as by the Ukrainian side. After that, we will objectively assess what happened. Nevertheless, the main thing must be understood: if there had been no Russian aggression, accordingly, such a number of missiles would not have flown over the territory of Ukraine, in particular, over Lviv region, towards the border with Poland, of course, there would have been no incidents. That is, the Russian Federation is the only country that is guilty of any excesses, of violating the security perimeter. There is no need to look for some double interpretation of something, it is necessary to say directly: Russia is the culprit of any escalation, period. This does not mean that you will be involved in a direct combat clash with it, Ukraine will deal with the Russian army on its own.
- "The transparency of war" is about the fact that if it turns out that it was our missile, will we admit it?
- The transparency of war means we never hid anything. As soon as Russia starts to claim, for example, about a dirty bomb, or about biolaboratories, we always say: please come and see. There was a situation with the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, please, IAEA, come, only, please, we ask one thing: be objective, speak clearly. Not in an abstract manner that there is some kind of security breach, for example, but name who is responsible for the alleged danger. Do not say abstractly that someone is violating something and there are risks, for example, with nuclear safety, but say specifically who is violating and why. And, most importantly, convey what Ukraine offers.
Ukraine offers, for example, a very simple thing regarding the same ZNPP, just as with the missile that landed on the territory of Poland: a transparent investigation, the withdrawal of Russian troops, a 10-15 km demilitarization zone, the return of Ukrainian personnel to work at the plant, to ensure a professional approach to ZNPP maintenance. And, finally, sanctions against Rosatom: the terrorist group called Rosatom and Rosenergoatom cannot have international contracts for the construction of certain nuclear facilities or the exchange of nuclear technologies, that's all. So call the things by their true names and don't be afraid to do so openly.
- The self-proclaimed president of Belarus, Lukashenko, threatens Ukraine with complete destruction, while Russia, according to the Ukrainian intelligence, is plotting false flag provocations at critical infrastructure facilities. How high is the possibility of an attack from Belarus?
- Belarus is not independent in making military decisions, the military group of the allied state is fully controlled by Russian officers. There is a certain number of mobilized to the Russian army in Belarus, exercises are constantly carried out in Belarus, constant redeployment of one or another military equipment, some of this equipment has been moved to Donbas and used in fighting. Belarus provides its infrastructure, in particular, airfields, to be used for launching strikes on Ukraine’s territory. However, it must be admitted that Belarus is currently not ready to participate in ground attacks against Ukraine. And in order to achieve this, naturally, the Russian Federation is thinking of various ways to push it to this. One of them is, of course, terrorist attacks on the territory of Belarus, especially on critical infrastructure facilities: oil refineries, gas infrastructure, and others. In this way, to encourage Belarus to make a hugely unpopular decision for it.
- What is happening with Georgia? We almost never talk about it as a reliable ally like we talk about Britain or Poland? Meanwhile, representatives of the Georgian government fear our attempts to influence the interior policies of Georgia, using the same factor of Saakashvili, albeit not publicly.
- This is not the case. We have no desire or motivation to interfere in the interior politics of other countries. As for Georgia, it is fundamentally different for us: a correct understanding of war, especially for a country that has experienced war itself. It looks wild to us. When, one way or another, there is support for the Russian Federation at some level, there is no public statement about the fact that the war against Ukraine is aggression, unacceptable aggression on the part of Russia. And let's face it this is not a question of Georgia's domestic policy - it is a question of Georgia's public positioning. Moreover, when Georgia was experiencing the same expansion of Russia and mass murders of Georgian citizens, Ukraine clearly outlined its position. The then President of Ukraine, Mr. Yushchenko, was on the territory of Georgia from the first days of the war. It seems to me that this war made the accents very clear: you are either on one side or on the other. The question of values is important for us. It is a matter of understanding that in this form, Russia will always threaten not only Ukraine, but also Georgia.
LONG-LASTING WAR INVOLVES CONSTANT SEARCH FOR NEW FORMATS OF COMMUNICATION OF AUTHORITIES WITH UKRAINIANS
- How is Russia trying today to influence the opinions of Ukrainians, who are on the eve of the coldest winter in conditions of blackout? The actions of some "disappointed citizens" who are blocking the road in Odesa, allegedly due to a power outage - is this from here, from them? And should we expect a new psychological operations?
- Russia tried to get into this topic, provoking protest moods and even developing a whole network of informational leaflets, by the way, in the Ukrainian language, in which they write: return the light to us and sit down at the negotiating table, agree to any conditions, and most importantly, return us light and heat. But it is strange. For any person, treason is treason, and an attempt to force Ukraine, the Ukrainian government to accept ultimatums because Russia attacks energy facilities, is, in my opinion, the very manifestation of treason. And it seems to me that this is another proof that Russia assesses Ukraine completely inadequately.
It continues to use in Ukraine, or rather, tries to use those technologies that no longer work here, have no meaning. They will not change public opinion in any way, will not affect the assessment of the war in any way: we have, I emphasize once again, a public consensus, which is estimated at 88-95%, support the idea that the war should end as proposed by President Zelensky, i.e. within Ukraine’s borders as of 1991. No doubt, Russia will try to discredit it. And, to be honest, I'm somewhat confused by the fact that there are still consumers of such a Russian product in our country. It seems to me that it is so primitive, senseless in current time that is has no chances.
- Will there be any new formats in the government's communications with Ukrainians, apart from the already traditional addresses of the President and several other equally popular genres? Something like Yermak's charade?
- Do not doubt, they will appear. One thing will not change - it will be direct communication with society, it will be trusting and frank War is difficult, it is nine months of the most difficult challenges; accordingly, we will continue to find acceptable formats for communication, including with foreign audiences, because it is very important to maintain right understanding of the war and how it should end. The long war involves the constant search for new formats and tools so that people receive update on certain current issues, and do not get tired of the same type of information. We are working on these formats, and we are constantly trying to find one or another new tone in the conversation both with our society and with foreign partners.
THE RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH LIKELY HAS A RELATION TO A BARBARIAN TYPE OF CHURCH SERVICE
- The recent visits of security services to the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra and other temples of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and more than 30 cases initiated by the SBU against priests – is this a new turn in the state's attitude towards the Moscow Church?
- First, it has absolutely nothing to do with the church as such. I mean as a ceremonial place where you establish your personal relationship with God. This refers to the nine months of the war. It is enough time to decide whose side you are on. And if, after nine months of the war that Russia is waging against Ukraine, a war to destroy the Ukrainian state as a whole, to eliminate people who are citizens of this state, you preach support for the enemy who is killing us, surely, you must be ready to bear it's a responsibility.
I believe that the work carried out by law enforcement officers is timely. And what kind of legal interpretation they will give to this, we will soon learn from the official statements. There are barbaric civilizations and, unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox Church likely has a relation to a barbaric type of church services.
- And how can we in meantime reach out the heart of the Vatican in the person of the Pope?
- To talk, conduct a dialogue. To convey that the cause of this war is only one - Russia's expansionist policy, its hatred of Ukraine is precisely from a human point of view, and here it is not possible to support both sides at the same time. You are either on the side of good or you are on the side of evil here. Evil today belongs absolutely one hundred percent to Russia, it is only Russia's choice to massively kill citizens of another country. I’m not evening speaking about broader values - competition, freedom, democracy as such, the right to personal life. Russia demonstrates a complete unwillingness to exist in the modern world. Unfortunately, not everyone understands the true nature of this war. Thereby, we will have to tell one or another important public figures, including church figures of various denominations, about this war many more times.
- What is your prediction - will the Pope pay a visit to Ukraine?
- I don’t presume to predict, but I know for sure that a lot of leaders of other lands, who came to Ukraine and saw with their own eyes that fear and hatred caused by the Russian Federation, they started to perceive the war against us in a completely different way. Maybe, it would be right, that such a visit take place. Remember a visit of Mr. Steinmeier, German President. After sitting in a bomb shelter and looking at people, who stoically endure all this and, at the same time, absolutely sincerely believe that it is impossible to make concessions to the aggressor, he changed his opinion a lot – about what kind of war is it and what happened in 2014, why Western Europe behaved improperly towards Russia and why today we are reaping the fruits of this wrong global policy towards Russia.
- What is your impression of new British Prime Minister?
- Rishi Sunak is a very, very strong person who emotionally perceives what is happening in Ukraine. It is very interesting to see how the attitude of those people, who have a lot of life experience, a lot of experience of participating in global politics, changes after they come to Ukraine and see the suffering on such a scale of thousands of people, but at the same time they see the willingness of these people to fight to the end, the willingness not to retreat, not to agree on less for a more comfortable existence. You see the emotions in the eyes of these people, you see a change in the perception of both the war and Ukraine.
Ukraine that is not ready to give up the right to be free.
Photo: Hennadiy Minchenko