ON A TRAIN FROM SUMY TO KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — AP Executive Editor Julie Pace interviewed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as Zelenskyy visited the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, which still faces regular shelling from Russian forces, and northern towns in the Sumy region that were liberated shortly after the war began a year ago.
Zelenskyy spoke to the AP aboard a train shuttling him across Ukraine to cities near some of the fiercest fighting and others where his country’s forces have successfully repelled Russia’s invasion. Zelenskyy rarely travels with journalists, and the president’s office said AP’s two-night train trip with him was the most extensive since the war began.
Here is the transcript:
JULIE PACE: Well, let’s actually start where we just began. We very much appreciate you inviting us to spend two days here. And you did tell us that you thought it was important to see the war outside of the capital. Do you worry that people are forgetting — not just people around the world, but people in Ukraine — what’s happening close to the border in frontline cities?
VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: Of course, I’m worried. I’m worried. And of course, all those messages that they always come from our attitude to, from our opinion of our people abroad. So I mean that if we are losing this moment, a very sensitive and very principal moment of the war — even some of the already occupied places, cities, towns, villages.
If we don’t feel the war, I mean, that from one side is great — that children and families, people, they love the life. And it’s great because we are on the war because of the peace. From one side it’s great that our soldiers each day bringing back to normal life our people. So step by step, place by by place, village by village. … But from another side it’s very dangerous. You know how is it? It’s not because of the war — all the challenges what people have. If we are not preparing that tomorrow, it’s a pity. But tomorrow we can be attacked by something — by Iranian drones at night and artillery the day. And to hear alarms … And to hear it and not to go to bomb shelter. I mean, that began to be our habit …
JP: To not go to the bomb shelters?
VZ: Yes. And that is the problem. It was with the COVID — you remember from the very beginning? People don’t believe them. People, when we began to lose the parents, the old people, elderly, mostly. And then they began to go with masks and receive the vaccine. And then again the new way of it: OK, I can live. I have COVID. Nothing is terrible. So today we have this moment — like the second wave of COVID. So it’s, ‘OK. It’s not dangerous. We will go. … Our drones, our air defense guys are working well. So we can go. We can.’ And I think that is this message … People don’t feel that this message go straight to other people and then abroad. And that’s why it’s big problem, huge problem, if journalists — I mean that if they are not here, that’s why I think you were reminded you came … If journalists are not here, if they speak in news what they see — they see video content and they see images, and you see the center of Kyiv … Life, life came back. So it means not the first news. And even on the first news, it means not the first aid that we really need but the situation another.
JP: It must make it difficult for you because on the one hand, as you say, life in the capital does feel quite normal and that is good that Kyiv is normal. At the same time, it must make you concerned that people forget.
VZ: Yes, it’s not it’s not normal. That is exactly what means modern war today war. In the east, it can be hard, tough everthing. In Kiev, it can be very calm. Yes, not tough, but at night you can get ballistic rockets. So that means hybrid war. Sometimes it can be attacks, cyberattacks on economic situation. it will have big push and you will not ever come come back to normal life like it was — with the water, with energy during all this winter. So that means we are in the war.
JP: I understand.
VZ: And what is also very dangerous people in normal lives have to motivate soldiers. And it’s very difficult because when you are on the frontline, you have you have to understand that you have support, that you are fighting for that, for the peace. But future peace, not for today’s peace. And soldiers, they have to feel that there — somewhere — their people also think about it, about soldiers. They go to the work. They work their job and of course, it’s important because they pay taxes. And from these taxes, we can buy something for security, something for these soldiers.
JP: I want to ask you, where is the war going from here, but let me ask you a few things first. You met yesterday with (Rafael) Grossi from the IAEA. Do you feel like there are options for securing the nuclear plant that would be satisfactory to you and to Ukraine?
VZ: I don’t feel it today. We began in complicated circumstances. Our dialogue with IAEA … That the dialogue was difficult because I said to him, they occupied it — the station. It began from not occupation, you remember. It was shut from artillery and different rounds to nuclear station. And I had that night I had phone calls with Biden and with a lot of different leaders, and with this institution and a lot of things. Because I … (in Ukrainian) was ringing the alert to say that tomorrow they will occupy the station (Back to English).Tomorrow they will occupy it and that’s why we should very quickly with all strong world political power push the Russians because they will occupy the stage. They occupied it and then 500 terrorists been there, still there and then they have a lot of tortures on professional, technical and top people on staff. I mean that and they killed someone and someone been a wounded, and someone been stolen because they didn’t want to work on Russians.
And you know that a lot of children of these people have been deported to Russia — yeah, of these technical people. So what should they do? How they can live? Of course, they agreed to work because their children are there. Then they begin to change their citizenship, their ID. So they did a lot of steps, but during all these steps, it still each day was very dangerous for all the world — not only for these people and for Ukraine, of course, but for these six blocs nuclear station. And it is six times bigger than Chernobyl and six times more dangerous than Chernobyl.
And what I see after all this, really Grossi wanted to help. And it’s true. Not only him, President Biden and also Emmanuel Macron. We spoke a lot of time. But what we have some some people then, you know — two, four people from Grossi — they work on this station. But people have to understand: What does it mean nuclear station? Like the Zaporizhzhia station. It is the biggest in Europe, so that is the city. What does it mean for people? For people, it’s even not real analytics. Of course, they do what they can. There are no questions to Grossi — I mean directly to him. But I have a lot of questions for the United Nations and for his organization because they have special mandate … This they can do, this cannot do. Here they can come but without, for example, journalists.
When I spoke with him because he wanted to go there and I wanted him to go there from Ukrainian territory. That is was … condition. I have conditions to Grossi’s team. One of the conditions I had that he’ll go from Ukrainian territory and with journalists, and I told him that you can take not Ukrainian journalist because Russian be like, ‘Yes, OK.’ I said take up world journalists, European journalists, American journalists — it doesn’t matter for us — independent journalists, not even from Ukraine. But take somebody with you to show what’s going on. And they didn’t allow him. And I said him before it that you will not get there with normal company, with journalists, with understanding. Yes. So what’s going on? And that’s why I don’t see and I don’t see how it will work, because the station now doesn’t work. It’s in dangerous conditions. The level of water … cooled down. It’s lower than than we need. So technically, it’s not good. You know? And we lost a dangerous, but you have to understand, we’re in war and we need money and we lost a lot of energy and we lost a lot of money because it’s switched off.
JP: So it sounds like you did not come out of this meeting yesterday feeling optimistic?
VZ: I’m optimistic. If he’s going there, it’s good, you know? With all the international organization, what I can say really openly, Grossi’s one of that chiefs of such organizations. He really came and he’s coming sometimes, and it’s good. I mean that because if temporary you’re coming, you can see what’s going on, minimum what you can do to control something, and that is good because there are so many organization they say, just by phone, we are not allowed by Russians. That’s why we can’t come. But that is not the way. That’s why we see the station is not good. I think dangerous and good that we have person there — our staff — but they are less than it been before.
JP: Okay, thank you for that. Let me ask you about China. You’ve said that if China or any party wants to pursue peace, genuinely, you’re open to that. President Xi obviously just went to Russia and met with President Putin. Based on what you saw from that visit, do you think China is genuinely interested in negotiating peace or are you skeptical?
VZ: I’m not thinking of what they’re interested in or not. I’m sure that we need to involve as much as possible countries for our peace plan, and that is very important. And I don’t know what’s going on in China. And I don’t know really the details of their relations with Russia. I understand something. We all understand something, really.
And our intelligence gave me, time to time, some information. That’s why I can understand a little bit more than just ordinary people. But mostly I’m not sure that their relations … How to say it in an English? (Translator: Yeah, I can help.) … I think that Russia lost the relations with all the world — what I wanted to say. And of course they want to hold something with somebody on the playing of such as, you know, primitive game as you know that of the war — not of Ukraine — that the war of America, of West. That’s why who are against to West let be on our board. That you know … it’s not even children not play such games so primitive. Yes, some sometimes provocative, but what is simple and not interesting.
And after they finish their meeting, what we see that they and that Russia gave messages that maybe they will think about nuclear weapon on the territory of Belarus. What does it mean? It mean that the visit was not good for Russia, that real situation. And I think that the problem that he is not adequate — Russian president — and that’s why he can’t understand what is going on. Why even such, you know, allies, allies — economical allies like China — why they are not so close to his messages, narratives, etc. We, we are not using this situation when they are not so close to use China. No, no, no.
At the very beginning, from the very beginning, we raised up the topic of Budapest Memorandum. We have there, you know, you know supporting or promises. Yes, I support him. Promises from China towards before the war. Yes. Full scale war. I mean that we had such messages that of course they support territorial integrity and nuclear security and etc. That’s why we just want to involve as much as possible adequate countries.
And my message being to everybody — of course, I know that United States, Europe, that’s our strong ally and some of them of these countries more than allies, some of them friends, strategic partners, different, but really we understand that we’re one team. But when we are speaking about the war, we need to, you know, even even such countries which can’t connect in real life economically or are their own views on something. Even with different view of civilized development. Yes, even the future even. But we need to involve as much as possible countries. That is my message to China.
JP: If you’re looking to involve other countries including China, do you have any plans to speak with President Xi or have him come visit you here in Ukraine?
VZ: I said that I want to speak with Africa Conference. We didn’t have good contacts with Latin America, countries we don’t have so close. We began to do it with Africa. I had some conversations with some countries, with some leaders. With Latin America, I began I had with Chile and with President Lula, Brazil. Of course, I gave all the diplomatic and public and not public to president of China, to leader of China. And I want to speak with him because I have gone — I had contact with him before full scale war. But during all this year, more than one year, I didn’t have any. I really wait when our teams will find a solution. (crosstalk)
JP: So you’d like to, but no plan at the moment?
VZ: Yes, yes.
JP: And would you invite him here to Ukraine?
VZ: Oh, yes. We are ready. We are ready to see him. Yeah.
JP: Let me ask you, we’ve just passed the one year mark of the war and the world very much knows you now as a wartime leader. What has surprised you about yourself over this last year?
VZ: (laughing) I don’t know. This question it would be surprising.
JP: How about this? What has surprised you most about Ukrainians this past year?
VZ: People. You know, it’s like with my children. Relations with children. I think everybody who has children, I think they think that my children are so nice, so smart, so sweet. (laughing) No, other children aren’t so great, but mine … I mean, that is real my attitude to Ukrainians.
I mean that. I really believe I know that there are different people like in all the countries in the world. There are strong people and weak, there are good and not. But mostly I know there are some features of Ukrainians, so they are very, very free and we have problems with discipline. Really, we have big problems with discipline because of, for example, me. I come always in time when I have decision with somebody, I come in, I have to wait. And I know that there are some sound questions with some details. But in this free, there is one very important sense.
We love freedom and you see minuses on one side, but there are big plus when you love somebody like people, like children, like freedom. You are really really you ready to stay strong. Strengths people who are, you know, up and under. … I mean who are near. Yes. And you are ready to fight for freedom. And that’s why it wasn’t a surprise for me that people are ready to fight for freedom, but surprise for that we are so ready to do it so long.
And I think that is very important moment because, you know, there are many people in history, they began a war — not began wars, they began to defend their selves. They began to fight with enemies. And they lost because somebody was bigger and bigger and more rich and etc., but this situation — that was the biggest surprise. That we are — it’s not emotional to defend the freedom. It’s really in Ukrainians’ heart, so it meant that everybody that we are ready to stay as long as we need. We need is longer than possible and that’s really what I see and that is great. I don’t know if it’s surprise, but great surprise.
JP: Do you do you think at all about the impact of this war on the people of your country, though? All of the men who have had to go and fight, the children who are growing up in the middle of the war? Does the impact on the people of your country worry you?
VZ: Yes. You mean that that people changed?
VZ: Yes, everybody changed. Everybody. And that to do war, to find to a lot of privileges of the war. We can’t. We can’t do it because first of all, war brings tragedy and took and take and the war takes people. So there are nothing good in the war. And of course, children without childhood that without school years, without moments of friendship, moments of love. Young people, because they are on the war. And of course, sometime they found on the frontline, they found each other. That was great moments — weddings in the frontline.
But it’s a little number of side. Mostly that dredged in moments what war brings and brought to Ukraine and brings to the world. (pauses)
But there is only one thing what I want to underline. What is good but not because the war came, because this war changed us. And that is a big, big challenge. And it could go one way to divide the country, or another way and to unite us. And in these two ways, I’m so thankful. I’m thankful for everybody, for everything, for partners, our people. Thanks, God, everybody. I mean, thanks that we found this way and this critical moment for the nation. I think this fighting this way, that’s thing which saved our nation and we saved our land. We are together. And that is great. This unity need.
Yes. From one side, somebody can say that. But that is against that is not with love or, you know, some something like this — emotional — but it’s only emotional really for the life, for all the nations. I’m sure that the main thing is unity, to be strong. Because we are stronger than Russia, because they are not unity, because they have this … (Ukrainian) hierarchy (English) like in Rome’s civilization.
That’s why, that’s really what means what is democracy. You know? (Ukrainian) The country has matured. (English) Because nobody understand. What does mean — independence? (interrupted)
What does it mean, independence? What does it mean? The price, the cost of sovereignty, the real cost? And what does it mean — democracy? It mean to be a little bit older than young country, you know. And this moment, I think in this moment it became to us and we became, and that is very important.
JP: How has the war changed you?
VZ: I think, like everybody, like everybody, (Ukrainian) all unnecessary details are gone. (English) So I really didn’t know … I was surprised that I need nothing. (laughs) You know, mostly, mostly that. But I focused and also very important to what do you see, how you see your future? What is important? The question is like, do you believe in God or not? That is the same question from position of rhetoric, ‘What is important for you?’ It bring me to the position. It changed the position. Now I know what is important. And it means sometimes only old people understand what is important because they see what was during their life. ‘Oh, I can’t. I can’t. I can remember nothing. So nothing important.’
So for what I lived and people can’t find the solution within himself or itself. But for me, I know that important. Yes. That my home is important. And everything which is in my home, my home, my God, everything in my life, my country, my wife, my children and parents. And what is very important, when I say ‘my’ I mean that Ukraine. And I mean, it’s very important. (Ukrainian) Fence (English) — very important. Who is your neighbor. Yes. Very important. House near. It’s important because you trust on trust. If something bad with somebody, will be back with you. If you will help, somebody will help you. And all these very simple things, which important with not so many. Not so many. No cars. No, no. You know —
JP: We talked about this a bit earlier. Your schedule is quite busy. You’re traveling a lot. You’re on the phone doing calls. Do you get any time to relax? How do you take breaks? How do you unwind?
VZ: We have to understand. What does it mean to have break? It’s about, I think, moments of little victories. I think that this break. Yes. On the frontline message, that’s good. That is a break. Some emotional moment or phone call of my son. Is it victory for me? Yes. I have this break. He said something. He had competition at school and he got the second place in wrestling and it’s very important, but my question ‘How are you?’ It was painful or something. I mean that just you relax during, and some sometimes this two, three minutes can bring you to very adequate state at every stage and you can relax. Sometimes to see people like we’ve been here (gestures out the window). And if somebody wants just the question of the woman — she said, ‘Can I hug you?’
So I shake hands to men and to women, and I gave them different medals. And one of them, she said, ‘But can I thank you, thank you that you hold us together? And can I hug you?’ And I said, yes. And that is also moment that you can, you know? What give us relax, something positive.
JP: The energy from people.
VZ: Yes. Yes, some energy. And we can live.
JP: Can I ask about your children? How are they doing?
VZ: I think like all the children, it’s real that they became adults. It’s real that my son, he’s 10 — he’s almost 10 years. So he’s the age of this war, you know. All this war, my son — a real child of the war. I mean, and we have so many, so many children like my son. And he, all this time he lived in Ukraine. (inaudible) He has so strong position. His position never changed. And that is our new generation and I really believe in this. What we’ve did in this war, this that’s real thing. When you ask him, he — and I never told him that that is our enemy. He knows and he is not finding balance in some things. He’s real Ukrainian. He understands who is enemy, who is hero, who are our friends on frontline heroes. He is very understand. I think that is great because he’s so strong, very emotional because the war was what bad things brought that emotionally. Everybody’s very emotional because of stresses and that’s real life. But what I see, the very strong man, not a child but a man. (crosstalk)
My daughter, she’s lady. She’s 18 and a half. And so, I’m knocking to the door. (laughing)
JP: You’re just hoping she’ll pick up your phone calls probably, at this point.
VZ: I know that she wants to have her … space. And I’m very careful with that. I know, because I remember me and I wanted to have a lot of space because I’m very free and I wanted to be free. For me, freedom was number one — from everybody, from parents to people who walked with me. And that’s why I understand what she feels. That’s why I’m very careful.
JP: You may be president of the country, but you’re still her dad, too.
VZ: Yes. (laughing)
JP: Let me ask you, I think it’s fair to say that a lot of the world was surprised at how strong the Ukrainian military was at the start of the war. And I think people expected that Russia would be far stronger. Do you feel like the Ukrainian military can keep up this momentum as we head into the second year? And what do you need in order to be able to do that?
VZ: For everything, for every victory we need only victory because otherwise we’ll lose. If we lose, we’ll lose the country. It’s real, real situation. That’s why we need the victory. But when I say victory, it’s not so simple. Because to get victory, who always get a victory? Only very, very motivated people. And it’s very difficult to motivate on the frontline because you’re tired. Soldiers, tired brigades tired, everybody tired. You have to change. You have to change, you know, some some weeks and you have to change people. They have to have some rest and there are wounded people and etc. But it’s so difficult.
And one thing, even if you love your country, you have to be motivated — all of us. And that’s why we spoke about it at the very beginning of our dialogue about this society, how they feel the wartime. They sometimes they feel that they’re the peace and no, no, it doesn’t demotivate people on the frontlines. So the first category, I think motivation it’s important. The same feeling, you know, ‘strong back.’ When our people are on the frontline and when the soldier is shooting and if he knows that the bridge. Yes, the enemy, and the lot of more than us. And I have only one bridge back, but I can’t go back because if I will go back, everybody will go back.
But the problem is the bridge, because they fight and the rockets are flying to the bridge and if the bridge will be broken, I will be killed and nobody will give me some shells, additional ammunition. So I will be alone without rounds and they will kill me. And this bridge that is our help of our partners. We need to have always this bridge because we need to feel the support of of Europe, the support of United States. Of course, that is political support. We understand how it’s important and it’s motivate people who are deeply in the process. But emotionally, that guys who we’ve got on the frontline when they hear that there is no ammunition support, they feel that the bridge will be broken. Even if it’s not true, but it’s demotivated. And that is the problem.
We are stronger on the frontline because we are on our land and that is one of the fact of motivation. They are not so strong, they are people — ordinary people, Russians — but they are not motivated because they don’t know why they are here.
So each day we have to find help, support and motivation for our soldiers. And when I said not very political … United States really understand that they if they will stop help us, we will not win. And there are very simple things which we understand, which everybody understand. And sometimes, you can’t understand why if the world understands what is going on. From, you know, from A to Z. If the world understands what the problem.
JP: Does it worry you then that there is some debate starting to happen in the U.S. as we go into a presidential election?
VZ: Yes. And I’m speaking about it because it’s so. I mean that it’s so simple to understand what will be tomorrow. And it’s so simple to understand how it can be if everything will be the right side, the right way. So it’s very simple that Putin is a loser for today. He lost everything. He doesn’t have allies. And it’s very primitive to see, especially for people with political experience and with intelligence, with details from their intelligence. Of course, it’s simple to understand the China is not ready to help him. And it’s very understandable that Europe can push with United States, Iran and Israel. It’s really very primitive to understand that without China, without Iranian help, he will lose.
And the question is not in years. No, not in the years. And it’s also very understandable how it will be that when he will lose the support — not of society — the support of business, he will lose everything. They will change him. Without the United States, without special agents. Everything is will be very quick — like this (snaps fingers) in one moment, but it’s very simple understanding. Nobody believed in us. It’s true. And I’m happy and I don’t know whom to say thanks that this right way, the right way joined and chosen us — not we, not only we — right way. And that’s why for today, all our steps forward — of course, our steps forward — it means Putin steps back from Kremlin, from his political decision-making and from leader of Russia. He will be pushed.
JP: But if something were to change in the U.S. position and U.S. support for Ukraine, you see all of that could fall apart?
VZ: I think for today, for today really, I understand that even if it will go such way like this, like today, really … We will win, but we will lose a lot of people because it will be more longer. And that’s simple. The number of brigades, and we don’t have secrets from the United States. They know all of our ideas. The number of brigades and the number of brigades has to be completed by the ammunition. The number, where it compared to number — no fantastic number — of ammunition in very confronting dates. And each operation also consists of worry, contradict number of the dates, days, weeks or months — that’s all, not years. And we have these, understandable for us, directions, ideas for operations. And our partners … We shared with them our ideas.
We can be on our own one side with some of the ideas, but we can have different thoughts that this is more dangerous. But that is normal because is dialogue. And that’s why I can’t understand … If we can finish the war during the year and we really can win, how dozens of years people will think, ‘What will be with Russia?’
What does this — I’m sorry, what is this stupid question? We can’t rule the Russian society because Russian society is example like the leader of Russia wanted to rule Ukrainian society and the societies of Europe — a lot of countries and etc. And we know what’s been in Afghanistan, in a lot of different countries on this, you know, during this history. And that’s why we have not to think now what to do with Russians. That from two-zero fourteen that is their problem and their question. He’s the problem of their society and they have to make decisions. They have to change. For example, when somebody say we can’t take all the money from oligarchs of Russian, which are frozen, we can freeze but we can’t take all money and give for renovation to Ukraine because we have to find some solution. Maybe to give half and half to freeze. And they found the answer, the answer to that question — why they do and things such way — because we can’t lose the connection with Russian business. It’s yeah —
JP: You can say it. It’s okay. (laughter)
VZ: … (laughter) (profanity) Why that is (profanity) — … because they have and they will fight and they will change him, him or his opinion. That is their question. To take all their money, to cancel all the visas, to send their children to their country, they will change. (chatter with press secretary)
JP: But the U.S. and Europe have not gone that far yet. They’ve done sanctions. They’ve done some asset freezes, but they’ve not done everything that you’re talking about here.
VZ: I think that their policy of us, European Union, and United States — they have common policy. What I see and that’s, you know, to push, but not to the end. I just want to send the message, if we will give chance to circle of politicians near President Putin and himself, he will give them a chance to renovate their policy. They will come back, they will occupied us and they will not give chance to Europe and to United State, to everybody where they will feel power. I mean, that they will not give chance, will not give.
That’s why it’s normal. That is that is about rule of law. It’s not about attacking the civilian people even then when they attack us, because I’m addressing to United States, European Union, to all the world. They have to push them to push their business. They have to know that they will lose all their money — all their money, all these issues, all their real estate in Europe or in the world. Their yachts, everywhere. Turkey. Turkey gave a lot of things, I think, to Russia. A lot of possibilities how to live out of their Russia. And I think that is a mistake.
JP: There’s been a lot of discussion about a Ukrainian spring offensive.
JP: How critical do you think that is going to be to your success in this war?
VZ: I think they began everything, really. Of course, they collect. We understand even what they do and what the number is will be big number. But they really used it already. They begin using all this. They took from, you know, Abkhazia, Syria, from all the borders of Russia. So totally they lost that their image of strong army. They lost everything really because they took the troops from all these regions where they saw where they saw their presence. They brought it to Ukraine. And, of course, is difficult for us. That’s why of my messages are … If they say that they are fighting against West on the territory of Ukraine, what can I say? The real situation that we are fighting against Iran, against weapon from Syria, against everything, against their Wagners, which are in many countries in the world and —
JP: But the idea of a Ukrainian spring offensive — how critical do you think that will be?
VZ: It’s critical because the time, because we need defend things things. It’s so difficult. we don’t have still we don’t have. for example, we have great decisions about Patriots. Yes. We don’t have it real. We have good decision that we will train our pilots on modern aircrafts. I mean that some Western kind aircrafts and different different — I’m speaking about, you know, younger fighters or Typhoons. It’s not about not only about F-16. I mean, they’re different, but we still don’t have anything. And if we are speaking about what about their air defense systems, it’s not only about Patriots. For example, we had decisions about some some of them, and they are on the way.
With all due respect to some European countries, but, you know — I don’t want to say the name of the country because when it came it doesn’t work. For example, we changed it again and again and again. You know —
JP: You got something that didn’t work?
VZ: Yes, yes. But that is the life, I mean that is the life. you know but we lose this life. And that’s why I mean that somebody told me that, ‘Bad decision. Some systems of Patriots, you will have but you are not NATO country. But you will be the first country not NATO who will have Patriots.’ And some old journalist said to me, “You have to be thankful. OK, yes. At least you will defend your people.” No, because we need 20 systems of Patriots to defeat, to defend our sky from ballistic rockets. And even we will have such number, we will be sure with you and with our partners, because no country in the world wasn’t attack by so many ballistic rockets. And thousands of S-300s. You know, so nobody had before us such no challenge, such experience.
That’s why there no answer. Of course I’m thankful for each air defense system and I spoke with leaders about each air defense and I have decisions with them about each air defense system. And every time people have to know I’m very thankful, but I’m realistic. We can’t, for example, take all their air defense system to Kyiv because Kyiv is not the Ukraine. Kyiv in the capital of Ukraine. Very important, but we have very big territory, real life.
JP: One of the things you hear from officials in Washington or Brussels or in other places is if the West gets more involved, if they give you more, then this will provoke Putin. And then we’re in World War Three. Do you buy that argument at all?
VZ: No. It’s not the argument because Putin is thinking — I think so — he is thinking, if he can. In some moments, if he’s adequate in some moments I’m not sure because I don’t know. Because he’s informationally isolated person. And I think he’s thinking how to get out from this. So because from one side, I think his defense people will eat him or FSB — at what moment they will feel the blood that he’s not so strong, they will do it. That’s why he’s thinking how to be strong, how to defend himself. That is my opinion and how to save, so find some solution. He was very strong and very principled. No solutions, no compromises. Only Crimea, Donbas is mine. That is a real document of what I’m ready to sign up. That was, you know, all this time, all these years.
But out there, they killed so many people. There are not any solutions with him. And now he understands that he has such moment and then let’s think about nuclear weapon. If person wants to save himself, he really will use these. I’m not sure that he he is ready to do it, but there is only one moment. But if he will feel again some blood from, you know … smell that we are weak or Western part, of course he will push, push, push, push. And when he is ready and when he will be strong, I think he can use everything.
Because I’m not sure, again, that he’s adequate. Because what was the Crimea? It was such a such example. He took the Crimea — not the first days. If you remember, the first days, they came to Crimea without their uniform official uniforms the soldiers. He’s like a deminer. He was feeling what will be, trying, yes, trying. One day, second day. Somebody something say? Words nothing. Second Sunday, then he said, ‘It’s not our people. That’s the decision of Crimea. I didn’t have any soldiers there.’ He didn’t see a strong reaction. And they don’t respect Russia, doesn’t respect a weak countries, weak voices and weak leaders — they don’t respect.
That’s why they always want such leaders. But in all the countries, including Ukraine including, and that’s why West is more stronger than even sometimes some of the leaders imagine. More stronger. And now we see the NATO stronger in unity.
JP: Is this part of why you are fighting so hard in Bakhmut? Because a lot of military analysts will say that strategically it’s not that significant.
VZ: Because that will be victory for him. He will —
JP: And any victory —
VZ: Yes. He will sell this victory. He will sell this victory to West, to his society, to China, to Iran, to all the countries, to Brazil, to Latin America countries. Not to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia. Of course, they really understand, you know, from details. And they feel these dangers because they’re neighbors. But he will sell it to his society. That one little step. Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute. I will have a decision with Ukraine. Then another step. Another step, nother step. And then he will, believe me, he will have solution. Maybe not official. After such point, he will have a solution with many countries in the world. On every continent, he will have allies in the question to push us and push me, and how to push me, to push our society and our society to find a way. How our society will feel tired, will feel dangerous, will feel dangerous after nuclear weapon. And our society will push me to have a compromise with them. That’s it.
JP: So there’s a lot on the line in every single battle here.
VZ: We can’t lose. We can’t lose the steps because the war, it’s a pie. A pie of such pieces of victories. Small victories, small steps because very big country, big enemy, big army — Russia — and small hearts.
JP: Let me ask you the one last question. Just maybe a fun one. You’ve gotten to meet all of these … well, I don’t know if you’ll find it fun. (laughter)
You’ve gotten to meet all of these world leaders over the last year, spent all of this time with them. They’ve come here, they’ve ridden the trains. Who do you like? Who have you bonded with? Who do you consider your friends among the world leaders?
VZ: Oh, it’s very dangerous now. (laughter)
But can I answer you after the war, after the victory? I will answer you.
JP: Sure, you call me. I’ll give you my number.
VZ: OK, OK.
JP: Well, we really appreciate you taking this time. It’s very generous of you.
VZ: Thank you so much.
JP: And I think it’s really helped me understand the war and you better. (crosstalk)
VZ: Thank you. Thank you. You’re welcome.
JP: We may just get a couple casual shots and we’ll turn the light on in a moment for a friend to —
VZ: Some photos …
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