Zelensky gives half-hour interview to oligarch Akhmetov’s TV channel
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky holds a press conference marking his first year in office at Kyiv’s Maryinsky Palace on May 20, 2020.Photo by Kostyantyn Chernichkin
A 26-minute-long interview with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was aired on Aug. 22 on Ukraina 24 TV channel which belongs to Ukraine’s richest oligarch Rinat Akhmetov.
The Kyiv Post picked the most important moments of the interview.
Normandy Four summit
“We negotiated (with the Russian side) the demining of 20 sites – a big step forward – and also the disengagement locations of troops as well as a prisoners exchange,” Zelensky said.
“We also agreed to have a Normandy format meeting of our advisers at the end of August. This meeting will take place on Aug. 28. I believe that then there should be a meeting of foreign ministers of the Normandy Four (participants), followed by a meeting of (the countries’) leaders,” Zelensky said, referring to the peace talks between Ukraine and Russia mediated by Germany and France that are meant to de-escalate Russia’s war against Ukraine in the Donbas.
The most recent meeting of the four leaders took place in Paris in December 2019 after a three-year standstill. It was Zelensky’s first time participating in the Normandy Four summit and the first time he met Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to official information.
Minsk peace talks
There is another negotiation table, in Minsk, where Ukraine and Russia have peace talks regarding Russia’s war against Ukraine.
After protests sparked across Belarus against the allegedly fraudulent presidential elections that brought victory to long-time dictator Alexander Lukashenko, the question of moving peace talks out of Minsk was raised during the interview.
“We are grateful to every country that offers us a platform for these important negotiations, but as of now all the talks in the Minsk format are taking place in video format because of COVID-19. Therefore, I believe that (the possibility of holding meetings and the success of negotiations) does not depend on some place or a city. It depends only on the people involved in the Trilateral Contact Group,” Zelensky said in the interview referring to the members of the Minsk process – Ukraine, Russia, and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
“It is too early to talk about changing the place for the peace talks, and I think it is especially wrong to do so now. Minsk was suggested from the beginning and these negotiations are underway there. I don’t see the point for changing it. I am grateful to Kazakhstan and many other countries; both Azerbaijan offered us (to hold the meetings) as well as European countries. But I don’t think that’s a priority right now,” Zelensky said.
New Ukrainian representatives
On July 30, Ukraine’s delegation to Minsk nominated a new leader, 86-year-old Leonid Kravchuk. He used to serve as Ukraine’s first president after the country gained independence in 1991.
Recently, Ukraine’s Presidential Office announced a new appointment as well — Ukraine’s first prime-minister, 87-year-old Vitold Fokin, who joined the group as Kravchuk’s deputy.
The two have previously made a few controversial statements. Kravchuk said that he “feels” that Russia wants peace for the Donbas, while Fokin said that Ukraine “has to understand Russia” for seizing Crimea from Ukraine because, he said, if not for Russia’s navy being stationed on the peninsula, the United States would have occupied Crimea.
“Kravchuk and Fokin are a couple of powerful and professional Ukrainian diplomats with a clearly pro-Ukrainian position, patriotic and balanced, which is very important. Leonid Makarovych (Kravchuk) is one of the best diplomats of Ukrainian modernity. I know this. And I am not just convinced of this – I have seen it. He is a very energetic man. I see him giving impetus to Minsk with his leadership. And, indeed, we have already negotiated some things,” Zelensky said.
“Kravchuk is the face of our delegation today, the face of Ukrainian diplomacy. We have no one better,” he continued.
“The ceasefire has been in effect for at least a month. Sometimes to greater extent, sometimes lesser but it has been followed. There are no combat losses, injuries, fatalities during the month. I am very proud of it and keep fingers crossed,” Zelensky said referring to a ceasefire that came into force at midnight on July 27.
The ceasefire was negotiated July 22 during Minsk peace talks regarding the Donbas sited by the envoys of Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
There have been over 20 failed attempts to halt hostilities in the Donbas since Russia invaded the region in 2014. The latest one is yet seen as successful.
On Aug. 13, however, one soldier died and one got wounded after coming into contact with an unknown explosive device on the frontline, Ukraine’s Joint Forces operation reported.
At least 13,000 people have died in the Donbas war, according to United Nations.
Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets all across Belarus in response to Lukashenko’s re-election, which many perceive as usurpation of power. They met an aggressive crackdown by riot police. At least five people died, according to human rights organizations.
The European Union did not recognize the elections and condemned violence against peaceful protesters. Ukraine issued a statement calling on Belarus authorities to find a compromise with protesters, which was seen to be a weak response in Ukraine’s civic society.
“I do not want anything at all to affect the friendly relations between really similar fraternal nations (Ukraine and Belarus),” Zelensky said during the interview.
“As for the bloodshed (in Belarus) – no way. We reacted immediately. No matter what happens there, the government and society must find a format using dialogue – no matter what kind – not force. (They need) a format for a calm dialogue, and (it is necessary) to find a way out of this difficult situation, which persists in Belarus,” he said.
As of late August, Ukraine recorded over 2,000 new coronavirus cases a day. The overall number of cases in Ukraine has reached 100,000 people, and this number is rapidly rising.
“We are currently very strong in (coronavirus counteraction) in terms of hospital beds, equipment, number of tests administered, technical training and medical workers. As for the number of beds: I’m afraid to talk about it, but nevertheless, yes, our hospitals’ occupancy in some areas are now over 50%. This is very dangerous. In terms of the percentage of our equipment that is in use – it stands somewhere in between 6%, 10%, 15%. We have everything we need. We are really very well prepared in this direction,” Zelensky said.
“But the medical system will not withstand, no matter how many beds there are or medical workers, if the second or third wave is very powerful,” he added.
“If our doctors can’t withstand it, we will have the same what happened in Italy,” Zelensky said referring to the Italian epidemic crisis as the country was badly hit by the virus and was among a few places on the map with the fastest spread of the virus.
“Trust me, most European countries – Italy, England, the Baltic countries – greeted us when we ‘knocked down’ the first wave. In reality we didn’t have the first wave in Ukraine. We are having it now with the rise of cases,” he said.
“(My tasks are to) maintain independence, end the war, and start economic growth and geopolitically build up (Ukraine’s) influence to become a world player, and to organize (in 2021) a big and powerful Independence Day in all cities of the country,” Zelensky said.
The interview was aired two days before the 29th anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence Day.
(C)KYIV POST 2020