Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was on CBS’s Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan. The past weeks have been dramatic ones for Ukraine as it showed it could not only fight the Russian Army to a standstill but could carry out offensive operations itself (Ukraine’s Offensive Continues, Russia Shows No Sign of Being Able to Stop It, Intriguing Rumors Abound). Russia’s Vladimir Putin is attempting to put a bandaid on the military disaster he’s facing via partial mobilization while moving the war into the political sphere via a series of sham referendums in Occupied Ukraine. The autumn rains, the rasputitsa or “General Mud,” will make operations much more difficult for both sides. In the meantime, most of Europe looks at a cold or inordinately expensive-to-stay-warm winter.
The interview was wide-ranging, and, unlike many interviews, he provided some solid answers to difficult questions.
The complete video and transcript are below. The choice of items to cover is mine.
Zelensky points out that declaring the Russian-occupied territory annexed to Russia takes negotiations off the table and signals that Putin is digging in for a long war. He also says that the annexation allows Putin to frame his invasion of Ukraine as a struggle to defend Russian land rather than the bald-faced aggression that it is. This furthers the narrative the Kremlin has pushed that the defeats Russia has suffered in Ukraine have been due to the Russian Army fighting NATO, not Ukraine (Putin Confidant Says Russia Is ‘at War With the West’ and Russia Will ‘Correct the Mistakes’ of NATO Expansion).
The West is faced with two rather stark choices. It can reward Putin’s use of nuclear blackmail and choose to live with Putin’s aggressive version of Russian imperialism that guarantees we will fight wars like this again in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland. Or it can acknowledge that Russia has nuclear weapons and, as we did successfully for the half-century of the Cold War, use diplomacy to deter Putin from pulling the trigger.
I don’t think anyone should want to live in a world where a rogue actor gets what he wants just because he threatens to nuke someone. That’s just me. I know a lot of people who comment here are perfectly happy letting Putin use the threat of nuclear war to take whatever he wants.
Zelensky is in favor of kicking all Russian banks out of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) system. He also favors solidarity between countries observing sanctions to stop leaks. The Russian defense industry is about 100% dependent upon components purchased from the West. So the fact that it hasn’t been totally shut down is an indication of the existence of sanctions violations.
Well over two million Ukrainians from the illegally occupied areas of Ukraine have been forcibly deported to remote regions of Russia. In June, the Russian wire service Interfax quoted Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, head of the National Defence Management Centre of the Russian Federation, saying 1,936,911 Ukrainians have been deported to Russia since the beginning of the war; 307,423 of whom are children. The UN has warned Russia about placing Ukrainian children for adoption in Russian homes and, as early as March, raised concerns about some 91,000 Ukrainian children who had been deported and separated from their parents and placed in boarding schools and Russian homes.
Zelensky characterizes the deportations as a form of genocide (the forcible adoption of Ukrainian children inside Russia is a clear violation of Article II of the 1949 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide) but says it is currently impossible to know the scope of the deportations.
Zelensky made news with the announcement that Ukraine has received the first National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS). This medium-range air defense system will enable Ukraine to protect cities and critical infrastructure from what looks more and more like a terror campaign by Russia. The announcement that NASAMS would be supplied to Ukraine was made in July (read Putin’s War, Week 19. Political Uncertainty, Lots of New Weapons, and a Replay of the Western Front and for specifics on the weapon system). However, this is the first mention of it being in operation.
I agree. I’m also coming to agree with the opinion of the former Commander, US Army Europe, and one-time guest in my house, retired Lieutenant General Ben Hodges.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. Mr. President, thank you for talking to us. I want to ask you right away about these referenda that are happening in Eastern Ukraine. The U.S. says they’re a “sham” and intended to take about 15 percent of your territory away. What happens to Ukrainians living in these areas if they respond ‘no’ when they are asked if they want to be part of Russia?
PRESIDENT VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY: Thank you very much for your question. Thank you for an opportunity to talk to you today and with American people. Thank you very much for a very strong position from the White House and Joe- President Biden. The referendum can lead to very tragic moments. You started your question with an answer that is correct. Those people who don’t come to referendum, you know, Russians can turn off their electricity and won’t give them an opportunity to live a normal human life. They force people, they throw them in prisons. They force them to come to these pseudo-referenda. And also, they also announced mobilization. They’re forcing people to fight, people from the temporarily occupied territories. A lot of people will be forced to do this. However, it’s a very low percentage of people: even among those who are forced to show up to vote to this sham referendum, we see that there is no support in the society for this referendum. However, I see other threats when they complete, if they succeed with these referenda. The ballots have been- had been already prepared. The Russia of- the Russian government can officially announce that the referendum had been completed, and the results will be announced. This would make it impossible, in any case, to continue any diplomatic negotiations with the President of Russian Federation, and he knows it very well. I have spoken about it publicly. I think it’s a very dangerous signal from President Putin that tells us that Putin is not going to finish this war. That is what’s going on.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The Biden administration has built its entire policy around avoiding direct conflict with Russia. Once this annexation happens, does it change that dynamic?
PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: Where the- the dynamic will change, what specifically do you mean, what kind of dynamic? The dynamic of the support from the United States?
MARGARET BRENNAN: Is Russia using this as an excuse to say that it is being attacked, because the West is providing Ukraine with weapons if it is seizing Eastern Ukraine to annex it?
PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: Yes, that’s exactly so. That is correct. Look, he knows. He feels it, and his military leadership reports to him. He knows that he’s losing the war. In the battlefield, Ukraine has seized the initiative. He cannot explain to his society why, and he is looking for answers to these questions. His society does not understand what kind of second army in the world it is that is not capable to win and to defeat Ukraine. Yesterday, President Putin said they will win Ukraine in three days, but now it’s seven months. Today, it’s seven months since Russia occupied- tried to occupy Ukraine, but they couldn’t. And now he has to justify. He has to take steps to justify. He says, ‘See, let’s look at it. I am not afraid of Ukraine. It was a special operation, but now it’s Russia. It’s our territory. Look, we conducted referenda. Now, it’s the West who attacks Russia. Now, the West attacks our territories. We have let the society join Russia, the society that wanted to be with Russia. And you see that he has completed he has announced the mobilization. It used to be hidden. Now, you see that it has been announced publicly. For several months, they’ve been secretly mobilizing. But now, they admitted that their army is not able to fight with Ukraine anymore. Their top level officers have been killed in Ukraine on our battlefield. They did not expect the resistance that they received from us.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Vladimir Putin continues to dangle the threat of nuclear weapons use. You’ve called this nuclear blackmail. Do you think he’s bluffing right now?
PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: Look, maybe yesterday it was bluff. Now, it could be a reality. Let’s look, what is a contemporary use of nuclear weapons or nuclear blackmail? He targeted and occupied our nuclear power plant and the city of Enerhodar. This nuclear station has six blocks. And on top of that, a few days ago, apart from this station, he- blackmails, he continues his blackmail related to us exporting electricity to Europe. I have mentioned before in Enerhodar, we have six- the size of six of Chernobyl nuclear plants. Several days ago, they started shooting at another nuclear power plant. It’s called Pivdenna, or Southern Nuclear Power Plant. The missile hit the area that was 300 meters from the nuclear plant. The nuclear plant lost all the windows and doors, etc. So, he wants to scare the whole world. These are the first steps of his nuclear blackmail. I don’t think he’s bluffing. I think the world is deterring it and containing this threat. We need to keep putting pressure on him and not allow him to continue.
MARGARET BRENNAN: For seven months, the strategy of the West has been to put sanctions on Vladimir Putin. President Biden says more are coming. What kind of financial punishment would make a difference now?
PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: Would you explain what financial punishment means? What kind of sanctions?
MARGARET BRENNAN: President Biden has said more sanctions are coming.
PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: I see. Let me explain this. I think that there’s sanctions that must be implemented towards the very end, completely. I respect the leadership of the United States and the position of President Biden. If we cut Russian banks from SWIFT, we need to cut all Russian banks from SWIFT, but we need to make sure and I will repeat this, some countries do not follow and they are not completely involved in these sanctions. So Russian banks, the whole system, the whole Russian banking system must be cut from SWIFT. Also, if we talk about an embargo for energy, we need not to look for compromises, or we need to make sure that this embargo will be working and all the prices would be implemented according to the embargo because the profits from these imports support the Russian army and fund the war. We see that it’s a very expensive toy for Putin. It’s a very bloody toy. So he needs more money, all the money and super profits from oil and gas Russia’s using, and we need to limit that. We need to stay united, the United States and Europe together implement these sanctions and they have to be implemented not only by the United States, but by the whole democratic world. We cannot say that one country has implemented it, the other country has partially implemented it, and in the third country- the society doesn’t support sanctions. And what can the United States do? We would love that- after the de-occupation, we see a very cruel, horrible picture; we see torture, we see killings of our civilians; and I’ll give you more detail, but after Bucha, it’s not the first case we see- the United States could show its leadership position and recognize Russia as a sponsor of terrorism. I understand there will be implications. These implications will make diplomatic negotiations impossible, however, they are terrorists, and we cannot let them do it out of fear. They will not surrender. We need to keep applying pressure. Again, they do not want any dialogue. We see referenda, we see mobilization, that’s emphasizing their will. The United States can help the whole world. The sanctions are fair, 100 percent fair. We de-occupied Kharkiv region. We see many journalists, journalists came back and they will show their videos. We started exhumations, we lifted 500 bodies. The whole families were tortured and killed. Their families were buried together. Adults, men and women, and little children with bullets in their heads. Some of their body parts were missing. They are terrorists, we need to recognize them. Who they are, they will only understand dialogue, when they will feel that somebody supports them if they feel someone’s weakness. However, if the world is ignoring them, not supporting them, not dealing with them because they are terrorists, they don’t have honor. They cannot keep their word. They do not kill military personnel. They rape, torture and kill civilians. Imagine, I was there a few days ago. We found a big mass grave of half of a thousand people. Today I received more information. The journalists are on their way. They found two more mass graves, big graves with hundreds of people. Also and we’re talking about a little town of Izium. Do you know? There are two more mass graves in a small town. This is what’s going on. The sanctions need to continue. These sanctions will have political impact, as well as financial impact.
MARGARET BRENNAN: The US has released intelligence about Russia’s filtration centers that it is putting Ukrainians into, and estimate that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian children are being taken to Russia. Does forcibly separating kids from their families constitute genocide?
PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: These are horrible elements of genocide of the Ukrainian population. The tortures that I’ve mentioned. Unfortunately, we have not de-occupied the full territory of Ukraine that has– has been occupied by Russia since February 24. So a lot of these tortures and other events are still ahead of us. And we’re talking about big cities. Right now, in small towns, we find graves of hundreds and thousands of people. Could you imagine when we will come to de-occupy a city that had a population of 300,000 or half a million before the Russian occupation? I can’t even imagine what happens there. We have all the information about filtration camps, isolation camps, people are being tortured with various means. They apply pressure, they torture with electric current and so on. And apart from that there’s deportation, I can’t say exact numbers. I don’t want to lie, I want you to know all the truth. I can’t say, or confirm that hundreds of thousands of children have been deported because families have been separated. Partially, some people have been forced to stay in the occupied territory. Some families have been separated and children have been forced to leave into Russia. We do not – cannot confirm the number of children and have been able to stay in the occupied territories or were forced to go to Russia. But it’s absolutely true that there are thousands of these children, we have confirmed that.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Offensive operations are more expensive than defensive operations. The White House is asking Congress for $12 billion more to provide to Ukraine. What do you need this money for? What is essential right now?
PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: I don’t know if we talk- If you talk about the whole amount that will be given specifically to Ukraine. I’m not sure. God bless you, if you’re right. I have not received the details from this new development. I can tell you for sure what’s the most vital for us right now. This should be an offensive that will result in the de-occupation of Ukrainian territories. De-occupation is very important for us to, as fast as possible, save our civilians. Do you see what happens within the seven months of occupation? Thousands of people have been killed, raped, tortured. That’s why we need this help to de-occupy our territories to make sure that more people survive. I don’t think that this is the highest price in the world to save thousands of lives. I’m so thankful for the people of (unintelligible) for the U.S. Congress, to President Biden, that you work on this issue. And I also would like to see this issue supported. So as of today, number one, we’re very thankful for HIMARS and other MLRSs that give us an ability to conduct our offensive. Our army seizes the initiative, cuts the technical capabilities of Russia. Second, artillery. Artillery helps us to save the lives of our warriors, our fighters, they need an opportunity to get supplies of tanks from the United States as well as Europe. If the US will be able to show its leadership and will be able to get the tanks, then the Germany- then Germany and other European countries will follow. I think if we get tanks from the US, European allies will also help us to de-occupy Ukrainian cities with tanks. And don’t follow Russian false narratives that say that tanks will be given to Ukraine in order to shoot or target Russia, it’s not true. Even if we wanted this. Our task is to protect our own territory. We do not need a foreign country, we do not need a foreign nation. We want to protect our land and save our people. That’s why tanks are very important as an example for the whole world. Number three air defense systems. We absolutely need the United States to show leadership and give Ukraine, the air defense systems. I want to thank President Biden for a positive decision that has been already made. And to the US Congress, we received NASAMS. It’s the air defense systems. But believe me, it’s not even nearly enough to cover the civilian infrastructure, schools, hospitals, universities, homes of Ukrainians. Why do we need this? We need the security in order to attract our Ukrainians to come back home. If it’s safe, they will come, settle, work here and will pay taxes and then we won’t have a deficit of $5 billion in our budget. So it will be a positive for everybody. Because as of today the United States gives us $1.5 billion every month to support our budget to fight- fight this war. However, if our people will come back- and they do want to come back very much, they have a lot of motivation- they will work here. And then the United States will not have to continue, give us this support. I’m sorry, I’m using this language about the war, but it will be a win-win for everybody. For the United States, it will be significant savings, but for us, it will be an opportunity to secure our territory and make it safe for our population.
MARGARET BRENNAN: We’re heading into those cold winter months, and a possible global economic crisis. Do you trust that the West will provide that financial support you need?
PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: We all need to live through this winter. It’s the most complicated winter. And I’m convinced that if we talk about Ukraine, you see what’s happening. They blocked the ports to prevent our grain to leave for Africa, Asia, some countries of Europe to create chaos there, political chaos and famine. They want to cause famine. And that’s why- and therefore instability in some countries. The second crisis that Russia created is energy. they have created it before the full scale invasion. The world has no right to listen to Russia’s false narratives. They say that because of the war and sanctions, the energy prices are going up. It’s untrue. Remember, before the full scale invasion, Russia had already done that. Russia had- has done that, and the energy prices have been inflated. The second risk- risk and now they understood that Ukraine is capable- because Ukraine has been connected to the European grid- to help Europe, Poland, Romania, our neighbors, Moldova, we have started negotiations with Germany, everybody sees that we have a surplus of electricity. Because we have a well developed nuclear power system. We have 15 power- stations, 15 blocks, and they understood that we will export our electricity to Europe. It means that Europe will have a big volume, enough volume, but also the price will be different. So it won’t hurt Europeans, and Europeans will be satisfied and leaders in Europe know about that. And then they decided to attack our nuclear power plant. Now, it’s been disconnected, six units out of 15 do not work but our country has enough electricity. So we see that 1/3 of our capacity could be working for Europe right now. That’s what Russia is doing. Yes, of course, winter will be very difficult. September 11th. They did it on purpose, you know what a symbolic, tragic symbol it is. 11th of September, and specifically on this day, they attacked our electric infrastructure. They left 1.5 million people without power, you understand? All infrastructure is interconnected: the pumps, the water control systems. So they created this crisis. We have corrected it. We worked so hard, over the three weeks and we fixed everything. Nevertheless, you see what they do. So in cold winter, of course, they will shoot missiles, and they will target our electric grid. This is a challenge, but we are not afraid of that. We will fight, and we will not surrender. It’s very important that they won’t force other countries, United States of America and Europe to suffer. Now we suffer. We fight and we give our lives for the future of democracy and of the open world.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Can there be stability in Europe if Vladimir Putin remains in power?
PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: No.
MARGARET BRENNAN: No?
PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: I don’t have anything to add. My opinion is no. We have observed this over the years, we don’t see stability. Specifically, we see challenges and risks, political, economic, food crisis. Obviously, it is not- COVID-19 was not enough for them. COVID took so many lives, caused economic consequences. This is life. Unfortunately, it did take place. However, simultaneously, we see Russia creating, artificially, other kinds of crisis and they are very openly discussing the threats to the rest of the world. They started threatening us with nuclear weapons. Will the world depend on one country or one person? The world has to make a decision. We have made our decision. We will not depend on one person, who is not a citizen of our country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. President, thank you for your time today. I do want to ask before I let you go, you have kept Ukraine united during this war. Have you seen evidence that Vladimir Putin will now come and target you in this moment of desperation?
PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: I think that the military strategy of military and political leadership of Russia has not changed: its occupation of our country. And of course, they want to destabilize our country from inside. You are very right in saying that we are united. We have become even more united now than ever, over the 31 years of our independence from the Soviet Union. So he does everything possible to destabilize our country to make sure we’re weaker. And for that he wants to divide us of course, I’m one of the targets, of course, it goes without saying. It’s not because of my personality, just because- because the President is a leader of their country.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. President, thank you for your time. And good luck to you, sir.
PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: Thank you very much. We will need it. We wish you peace and everything. Thank you very much for your support, the United States.
MARGARET BRENNAN: And Face the Nation will be back in one minute. Stay with us.