Zelensky’s adviser: we will return to Crimea, we are waging war for the sake of freedom. It is important that Italy has interrupted a wrong way of understanding relations with the Kremlin
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KIEV – «We have always seen that some politicians exploited their pro-Russian positions. And they made money, in the ultra-right as well as in the ultra-left ».
Political gain, you mean?
«I don’t mention names. But I say there is a nuance that these politicians miss: supporting Russia even in the short term will end up nullifying their perspectives when people begin to understand. And it will also lead to judicial consequences, as Russian lobbying is less strong and a lot of concrete data will come out about Moscow’s financing of parties and businessmen in Europe. I believe that serious inquiries into these reports should be launched in many countries. We will help those who investigate ».
Mario Draghi mentioned “those who secretly talk to the Russians” …
«I have sympathy for Draghi and for his clear position in favor of Ukraine. She was not at all obvious. It was very important that Italy interrupted a wrong understanding of the relationship with Russia. Her position has also influenced European politics ».
Two helmets on the table, a Zelensky green shirt, bags in the window. All around, on the hill of Kiev, the silence of a citadel emptied of cars and guarded by hundreds of soldiers. In front of the entrance to the compound, doing sit-in, the family of a prisoner of war asking to be received. In the gardens, a bulldozer to dig a small trench. Since February 24, the day of the invasion, in these rooms of the presidential palaces with friezes of the Soviet era, Mykajlo Podolyak lives-eats-sleeps six days a week. “Ze” works upstairs. Podolyak – 50 years old, a past as a journalist in Belarus, the experience of those who tasted the caresses of the dictator Lukashenko – is now the president’s most listened to adviser, the second most influential man in Ukraine and the special person in charge of the (non-existent) negotiations with the Russians: «At this stage, does the best possible negotiator know who he is? Our army ». We laugh … «No, no, I’m serious! The best mediator between Russia and Ukraine is our military strength. Only our soldiers will give the Russians the knowledge that they have lost. And to Ukraine, the possibility of setting the only conditions for the end of the war. There is no point in a negotiation process now. And not even a meeting between Zelensky and Putin. The Russians believe they can still do it. ‘
You have burned all the mediators, from Turkey to the Vatican …
“The negotiations stopped in Istanbul in early April. In those days, in Bucha and Irpin, we clearly saw what the Russians had done. There was no chance of compromising in 2014 in Minsk. No more compromises. When the war gets this intense, someone has to win it. Today is no longer 2014, Ukrainians are much better prepared for a modern type of war. And a defeat of Russia, even on a psychological level, is much more important for Europe. If we were to negotiate again, as in 2014, Moscow would think it had already won and would increase its pressure by financing European radical parties of the right and left, its lobbies in the European Parliament, companies, migration crises. That is why any mediator starts from a false premise: he does not understand the nature of this war. He thinks it may end in a compromise – grant that region, take that other – and instead, in this way, it only leads us to a wrong peace. No: the nature of this war is the demolition of the Ukrainian identity. And there is no choice: either we defend it, or we lose it. All the others are bogus positions. Europe should understand this. Any meeting today is the classic Moscow game: fix the status quo, come up with some fake ballet like the 2014 Minsk accords, then start a new military escalation. If the compromise passes, in a few years it may be Moldova’s or someone else’s turn and then all of Eastern Europe will explode. Russia works on this ».
The Pope says that we must dialogue with the enemy, even if it stinks …
“In another statement, Francis said that it is right to give arms to the country that defends itself. I think it’s important to understand where a war comes from. And the Holy See should understand that there are those who make war to invade and those for the right to exist, for independence and freedom. Ukraine does not want to wage a war of prevarication on the other. She is also fighting for love ».
“Of course. We are not only defending our land, but the desire to exist of our families, of the free world. We also fight for the sake of our neighbors, because then it would be their turn. It is Russia that is waging war in a foreign territory. It is Russia that occupies us. The Pope should publish a document explaining that defense is a kind of holy war ».
Did you invite Bergoglio to Kiev to tell him this?
“We are negotiating for Francis to come to Kiev and I believe it will happen sooner or later. He wants to come to the country that defines the key values of Western civilization, but it is clear that his visit depends on many factors: also on his health ».
Actually, he also wants to go to Moscow …
“I don’t think that, from an ethical point of view, visiting Moscow is the right thing. There are the aggressors, those who fight so cruelly against the very principles of life. It’s not okay for a holy man to go to the land of murderers. And you meet someone like Kirill ».
Why do you insist so much on Crimea? Many take it for lost …
“This is a typical effect that the Russian wars have caused in Europe in the past: certain issues, such as the 2014 invasion of Crimea, were not talked about out of fear. Now they are becoming relevant topics. We are beginning to understand that Crimea is a territory to be returned unconditionally to Ukraine, it cannot be under Putin’s indiscriminate control. Otherwise, it will be a story that repeats itself. Mass graves are also in the Crimea, we know. You have been to Izyum: the counter-offensive in recent days has been too fast for the Russians to hide their crimes. Crimea, on the other hand, remained in their hands. This is why we should return there and in all our territories as soon as possible. The massacres will not end, as long as the Russians have the feeling of being unpunished ».
Perhaps now the danger is clearer.
“A part of Europe continues to think that money can still be made with Russia; another part, that one should be afraid of it; yet another does not think the first two things, but is unable to have leadership. But the world has changed rapidly and certain stereotypes are no longer enough, the gas bills are showing it to you. There are two Russian wars in progress: one against Ukraine and one against Europe ».
But are you really planning to try Putin in The Hague? The only head of state who ended up in prison was Milosevic, and he didn’t even reach the sentence …
“It depends on how willing the international community is to do it. For a long time, Russia was allowed to dig mass graves, commit crimes in Georgia or Syria, without consequences. Investigations should now be ordered, trials instituted, criminals sought. Local and international teams have already started working and whoever committed the crimes, whoever was complicit in them will be found. The pits of Izyum tell us what kind of war Putin is waging here. In Bucha, in Irpin, many thought that they were barbarities ordered only by some intermediate command. Instead Izyum tells us that there is a genocide taking place in Kherson, in Zaporozhzhia, Kharkiv, in Lugansk, in Donetsk. It is necessary to investigate all those who have given the orders: it is not only Putin who has to meet the fate of a Milosevic, it is his entire inner circle ».
Putin is reacting to your counter-offensive by hitting infrastructure …
“Yours is an absolutely predictable answer. You think you understand us, of war. And he confuses his ideas of him with reality. He believes he has enough resources and men to kill as many civilians as he wants. And so he does the one thing he has always known how to do: avenge military defeats by making civilians suffer and destroying infrastructure, just like terrorists do. Now he will go to Russian prisons and ask for a general mobilization of killers, rapists and common criminals, to come here to commit more Bucha and other Izyum ».
Biden warned: no atomic escalations.
“I think the whole civilized world, including the US, must undo this knot. Russia must withdraw nuclear weapons aimed at Ukraine and other countries. Otherwise the response would be immediate, a counterattack. The civilized world must react: stop being afraid of Russia, understand that at any moment it can be affected by the uncivilized world ».
Yet Putin said in Uzbekistan that he wanted the war to end …
“It’s out of your logic. The existence of the Russian state is to enter other territories. It does not invest in the development of other countries, it does not increase the quality of their life. When Russia enclaves in another state, propaganda begins to work to create nationalistic hysteria: for example, the rhetoric of the “people of Donbass”, which never existed. They make misinformation with a lot of money to push through the notion that Ukraine and other countries are to be liquidated. For a very long time, Russia has been destroying our military infrastructure – but also in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic – to destroy our ability to defend ourselves. And it does the same in Europe, by funding pro-Russian political parties that undermine the ability to make solid decisions. Russia has caused many conflicts in the Middle East and Africa to create migration waves in Europe, or just to make Eastern Europe’s focus on Ukraine weaker. Energy deals and business also go in this direction: to create addiction. This is how Putin makes war. Here Russia did not expect to have such a long war, it was a special operation of a few days. And I remember certain reactions in Europe: everyone sitting around waiting for what happened. Waiting, as Putin says, for the end of his war ».
But if the negotiations were to start tomorrow, what would you put on the agenda?
“First: go back to the 1991 borders. Then: demilitarize the Russian strip that borders Ukraine. Third: to establish the war damages for each family in Ukraine, because everyone suffered heavily from this attack. Fourth: an international court, with post-Putin Russia playing a role in the extradition of criminals ”.
Could an exchange of prisoners be a first step?
“The prisoner exchange is the only part of the negotiation that is working now. Exchange of the dead and the living. The Russians are not very interested in their prisoners, but after the retreat from Kharkiv I think they return to the subject with more conviction ».
But why do you want the demolition of the Kerch bridge in the Crimea?
“Because it’s an illegal construction. The question is: how should it be demolished? But we shouldn’t just fix our attention on the bridge. There are many things to do, for example the return of military bases in Crimea. In the Peninsula, sabotage groups are growing, including partisan activities ».
A few nights ago, Zelensky was involved in a car accident and the attack was feared. How many times have they tried to kill him?
«I don’t want to speculate on it. But surely, at the beginning of the war, there was a group of professional saboteurs here in Kiev working on a bombing. In the first three days, Putin said so: I want Zelensky. But our security located the saboteurs and killed them. The Russian para wanted to take the parliament and kill the president. The idea was to close Kiev and make another Bucha. But things went differently ».
Do you foresee political changes in Moscow?
«The change is already there. We are witnessing a destruction of the state system, an ongoing internal conflict. And they have also begun to fight within Putin’s elite, to decide who will command after the war. In the most distant republics of the Federation, among the ethnic minorities, the protest is ready to mount. And something can be seen ».
Even in the Ukrainian leadership, not everything goes smoothly: is it true that Biden can’t stand Zelensky anymore?
“Chatter. Put around by the Russians ».