KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine and President Volodymyr Zelensky have been at the center of the world’s attention for more than 14 months — since Russia launched an invasion that has killed thousands of Ukrainian civilians and subjected many more to occupation. The pressure hasn’t let up on Zelensky or his country as Western partners now wait for Kyiv to use newly donated modern weaponry, including battle tanks, in a highly anticipated spring counteroffensive.
Washington Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee, Foreign Editor Douglas Jehl, Russia and Eastern Europe editor David M. Herszenhorn, Ukraine bureau chief Isabelle Khurshudyan and Ukraine chief correspondent Siobhán O’Grady interviewed Zelensky for an hour on May 1 at the presidential office building in Kyiv. They discussed the expected counteroffensive, leaked U.S. intelligence documents that revealed sensitive information about Ukraine, and whether he worries about how the U.S. presidential election will impact support for his country.
The following is a full transcript of the interview, translated and lightly edited for clarity. Zelensky spoke in Ukrainian except where noted.
Q: Ukraine has been planning a counteroffensive for many months. Can you tell us about any specifics? What do you need to succeed?
A: Thank you very much for your question. First of all, we don’t plan a counteroffensive for months. This is a priority issue for us, so we had to be prepared in advance with our plans. And this is the truth. Our partners understand this as well. There are issues in a number of areas. The first issue is, of course, ammunition. I say this as a priority — not because I want to complain, but because it is a resource without which a counteroffensive is impossible. But I want to clearly say that without this resource, the defense of the state is impossible. It’s not just an issue with regards to the counteroffensive. The issue is to have a counteroffensive and to not lose the territories that we have. Despite the fact that we are stronger — I think we are more motivated than Russia. But nevertheless, we have to prepare everything and be stocked with weapons and motivated people in order not to lose our own people. Therefore, the most important thing we need are resources for the plans that have already been made. To be honest, this is also influenced by the weather. This is an absolute fact because, let’s just say, the ground has to be suitable for our weapons. We don’t have such a wide range of armored vehicles. Yes, it’s difficult for our enemy as well, these weather conditions. But they will be on the defense in this scenario. I believe that they have failed in their offensive. They have failed, probably partially. They are trying to — we see that from time to time they are making attempts to attack, but, nevertheless, they are bogged down in the mud of their decisions. In the mud of the lack of motivation of their military personnel. And of course, now you see what tactics they have chosen. They destroy places completely. So, they don’t have a military tactic. They realized that they can’t enlist motivated people, and they started the … powerful tactic of using Wagner [fighters] because their own military personnel are incapable. And they shoot [their own] Wagner [troops] if they retreat. So that’s how they choose to operate. As for any reasonable operations, we do not see their side engaging in them on the battlefield, so they adopted other tactics. They could not go around us one by one, nor could they encircle us, nor could they assault. Everywhere they achieved only partial successes, or successes for a limited time, and then they were pushed back again by our troops. And so, they came to the tactics that they used at the beginning of the war in some small villages. Now they don’t care whether it’s a small village or a big one. [That tactic] is the complete destruction of everything, of all infrastructure, buildings, civilians, etc. What we see in Bakhmut, if you look at it from the sky, if you have some kind of satellite capabilities to look at these images, you will see that absolutely everything is destroyed. … As soon as the delivery of weapons that were agreed upon with our partners is completed, we will be ready for a counteroffensive, of course taking into account the changes in weather. And the goal remains the same — the de-occupation of our territory.
Q: Do you have enough troops to launch the counteroffensive? And then to replace any potential casualties?
A: Thank you very much. Our main tactic from the very beginning of the war and even before the war — it was not a tactic then, but my attitude toward people — is that we should be in control of all of our territory but we should also save as many people as possible. During the war, our tactics haven’t changed. We understand that war takes people from us. Unfortunately, it takes the brave and, unfortunately, it takes the best. But nevertheless, we understand that despite the counteroffensive — and we will do it — we must ensure that we minimize losses as much as possible. And so, when we say what we need, we need everything that enables us to protect people — artillery systems and long-range artillery. By the way, we don’t understand what the problem is here with long-range systems, long-distance missiles. The issue with our partners is that, I think they are afraid that we might use them on the territory of Russia. But I would always tell our partners, “Listen, our task is to de-occupy our territory. We don’t have any disposable shells, and we don’t have any targets like that. We have a priority target for which we are spending the ammunition package we have. And we spend it on the de-occupation of purely Ukrainian territories.” But we would need to do that with long-range missiles and systems. So now I don’t quite understand, I’ll tell you frankly, why we can’t get long-range artillery. Because the objective of long-range artillery is definitely not to use it on Russian territory. And I believe that we will cope with this deficit. We are working on this in many different areas. And I’ll tell you frankly, we are [working] on different continents to get it. And of course, in any case, in terms of a full-scale war — and this means [in terms of] a full-scale de-occupation of our territories, absolutely all of them — we need aviation. We are currently losing in the sky. We always say that the strength of our people outweighs the strength of the Russian Federation. I think we are also stronger than Russia in terms of motivation. On the battlefield, on the ground, we have shown what we can do. But we are absolutely reasonable people. If they have absolute superiority in the sky, then so be it. To solve such a problem, you have to be honest about it. And our partners as well, we would like to get their support to provide us with Western-standard fighter jets, certainly the F-16. There are other fighter jets, [Eurofighters] and so on. There are different names. We work with all of them to obtain something in this area.
Q: In terms of a counteroffensive, do you have any specific expectations of what you need to accomplish? And what does your military have to show to keep the support that you have now and future support?
A: Look, we are an independent state. And even though we have partners, we are the ones making the decisions, no matter what. [About] where we are going, in what direction we’re moving … and the course of our actions. But, of course, in this sequence, we depend on our partners again for support. We don’t want to lose their support. We cannot head toward a certain goal when we are not sure that we have enough weapons, enough training for officers … that we have enough to accomplish one or another objective. So, of course, we consider what we can get from our partners and what we can count on. And that’s why it’s like that. … Look, nobody expects as much [from this counteroffensive] as we do. I’ll tell you frankly, I’m not sure that absolutely all of our partners believe that we are able to break the Russian Federation. It is true that our partners’ confidence in us has grown. The fact that there is a big difference between how we started the war, and all of my dialogues with partners, and how I put maximum pressure on them to help; the fact that there is a huge difference between what happened before the full-scale war in terms of our support and the signals I gave to our partners and what is happening now — their confidence in us has grown. It has multiplied by many times over, so it has not grown by percentages but multiplied many times. I am grateful for this, of course, to many — to our military, to our people who stood up and did not run away, and to our partners. That, after all, this is probably where the strength of democracy lies, that even when people do not really believe in you, there is still a dialogue. And that’s important, that our partners are not closed off. This was also very important because you just can’t, you know, just believe. Still, we’re talking about more-pragmatic things here. This is not about having faith in God. And that’s why you have to trust. And we have been building all this trust through appropriate powerful steps in Ukraine and through diplomacy, of course. And that’s why — I know that there is skepticism among some partners that it would be scary if Ukraine liberates absolutely all of its territories. But I, for example, can live with this skepticism. And I believe that the more victories we have on the battlefield, frankly, the more people will believe in us, which means we will get more help. These are my conclusions.
Q: And you now maintain your position not to negotiate with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin?
A: Look, we have dealt with different Putins. It’s a completely different set of traits in different periods. Putin is not alone, Putin has an entourage. They made their respective decisions. In 2019, their collective organism — the Kremlin, headed by Putin — said that ‘yes, we will probably find a diplomatic solution.’ I very much wanted this. In 2020 or 2021, this whole collective mind made up something else in their heads, but did not enter into a dialogue with us and did not do everything we had agreed with them in 2019. We cannot say that Putin alone started a full-scale war in 2022. And it would be, to be honest, just insulting to all those people who have died. They have a large collective responsibility for this. And that’s why I’m just not ready to talk to him. I am not ready to talk to this collective. Not because someone is stubborn, but because they have chosen the path of destruction of Ukraine — a full-scale path. That’s why we can’t absolve anyone of responsibility. There is a collective here, and it is responsible for the war of aggression — a full-scale, well-thought-out war with a desire to destroy all life. And before that, they promised something — and not only to Ukraine but to all leaders — that they would not invade. That is, we are dealing with people with whom, on the one hand, it is impossible to make agreements because they will not execute them. There is no point. And on the other hand, these same people are murderers and terrorists, and so you cannot just give in to their demands. This is what happened at the beginning of the war when they gave us ultimatums. That is all. I think it makes no sense for Ukraine to negotiate with this collective with the name “Putin.”
Q: You said Ukraine cannot go further with a counterattack before it gets more weapons. What specifically do you need? Do you need more missiles or launchers?
A: We don’t have enough. We don’t have enough armored vehicles that will save our people who will be pushing the front line forward. And it’s very difficult for us to go against thousands of Russian armored vehicles. It’s very difficult to go up against that with a minimal number, so we need the appropriate number [of vehicles] to do that. And our partners have all of them and have had them for a long time. And these months, which you have mentioned, of operational preparation — all these months our partners have known all this. The second point, as I said, is that when you take counteroffensive actions, you have — I’ll give you the example of Kherson. Don’t forget, you have de-occupied territories that still need to be defended by someone. Life has returned [to these territories] and so have people, but it is also within reach of certain weapons that kill people. That’s why we need protection, additional air defense systems. And here we can say that we had a breakthrough with the Patriots decision. But we also need to remember that the name alone does not protect people. There is a corresponding number of such systems. We are grateful that a start has been made, but we have to protect the sky. And again, our partners have the number of air defense systems that we need to protect ourselves on a national level. And it’s the same with the second part of this issue on the protection of territories — [protection of] schools, universities, infrastructure. For this we need long-range systems, long-distance missiles. Again, this is the example of Kherson, when the enemy crossed to the other side of the Dnieper River and they are at a distance where we can’t encroach on the target. … They can take troops from there and move them to the east or to the south. And it reinforces them. Why? Because they know that we cannot reach them. We can’t reach them, and we suffer every day because they do have the ability to target our people. That’s another issue. And no matter how many people say that this is not a counteroffensive but a defensive mission, no, these missions always go hand-in-hand. That’s all. Because someone is defending, someone is attacking. If there is no one to defend, you will not have the resources to attack, you will throw resources at defense. That’s how it all works. That’s exactly how it works. Next, aviation, as I said. But these are big things, and in terms of aviation by NATO standards, like F-16s, no one is waiting for those — this is true, we will start our actions before this aircraft [is delivered]. But it would have made it much easier for us. You have to understand that we will definitely be fighting Russian aircraft in a counteroffensive. But in any case, even with a deficit like this, we will attack accordingly. Speaking of deficits … our partners’ 155-caliber artillery systems are excellent. I won’t say the exact number we’re talking about, but you have to understand that they break down and need to be repaired. We have learned all this. We have built a great infrastructure for these renovations, but when they break down … in this interval, we need to replace them with something. So, this is also a deficit.
Q: So, it sounds like a counteroffensive is many months away.
Q: You need more weapons, but can you get them within weeks, or a month?
A: We work not only with the United States of America. The United States of America is certainly a leader in the delivery of aid. We are very grateful for that. But we cannot rely on the United States alone and we cannot rely on the months that you mentioned. Because by defending this or that area, your resources lessen. Both human and ammunition resources. That’s why no one will wait very long. We will start the counteroffensive as soon as we have the minimum with which we can launch forward. That is why we are working with partners — with Britain, France, Germany, Italy. We are working with our Slovak partners, with Poland. We work with different countries. We work with Canada. We are working, we have started working with other continents. And here I would not like to say with which other governments outside the European continent, because not all of them are going to be happy if this information is made public. We are working. We are doing everything we can to strengthen our army. And here, you know, there is such a balance. On the one hand, the United States … is our biggest leader in supplying, in helping. I cannot complain about their help. And on the other hand, the deficit that we have today — I am sure that the United States could cover it. But I also cannot rely solely on the United States. That’s all. For this we have other powerful partners, like Sweden. Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands are really helping us a lot. And they help us a lot with the deficit I told you about. And let’s not forget that we have a threat from the sea. And so, there are various systems that protect us from that direction as well. And here I am grateful to them as well. And Finland. So basically, the world is fighting for Ukraine today as well.
Q: You’ve said that no one has greater expectations for this counteroffensive than you. What specifically needs to happen for you to consider it a success?
A: Any de-occupied territories, I believe, is a success. I remind you once again whom we are fighting. We understand that it is a large number of people and so on. I can’t tell you which towns or cities, which borders are a significant success for us and which are average — only because I don’t want to prepare Russia for how, in which directions and where and when we will be [attacking]. But we definitely want to do it. I can tell you for sure that after the counteroffensive operation, I will be able to say quite frankly whether we were counting on such a process or whether we were counting on something better — whether we failed at something. You can always say this because there is no criticism in it. It is self-criticism. We are ready [to say if] we fell short. And it is also important to recognize this. Not only within the state but also for our partners. And to show it, because all our conversations are recorded. I mean the meetings where we note that we asked for one, two, three, four, five things, and we got one, two, three. We are grateful. But you can see that if we had received four, five, we could probably have achieved more, or vice versa. We just thank them very much and say that this part of your help gave us a greater result than we had expected.
Q: On a different topic, can you tell us about your reaction to the leaked Pentagon documents on the Discord server? Did Washington give you a heads-up or did you find out yourself through news reports the extent of the leaks?
A: If we are talking about me personally, and I would like to talk about myself personally, I learned everything from the newspapers, from the internet. I read it. I read that some information was leaked, and then, I think … I don’t remember what the first newspaper was, was it The Washington Post? … I think so, and then I learned everything from The Washington Post and other platforms that exist within our country. … I did not receive information from the White House or the Pentagon beforehand. We did not have that information. I personally did not. It’s definitely a bad situation. Well, I’m explaining to you my attitude toward it. I think it doesn’t help. I recently spoke to our Nordic friends, by the way, and they asked me how I felt about it, and I said there is definitely no advantage for Ukraine. This will not motivate our soldiers. [Is there an advantage] for our population? Well, maybe some are interested by this, and some might be very interested. In some places it’s a hype, somewhere it’s a scandal. For us — look, anything that informs our enemy in advance in one way or another is definitely a minus for us. I don’t see any advantages here. And then there’s this [TV show] that we have now, and I consider it a [TV show]. … People ask me, who benefits from this? My answer is very simple: I don’t have time to figure out who benefits from this. I’m looking at who, aside from Ukraine, doesn’t benefit from it. And I believe that it is unprofitable for us first of all. It is unprofitable for us. I also believe that it is not beneficial to the reputation of the White House, and I believe it is not beneficial to the reputation of the United States. This is my opinion. I don’t know all the internal processes. I’m telling you frankly. And I don’t know because, frankly, we’re at war. And, unfortunately, despite the fact that this is our largest partner, I don’t know all the political developments that are going on within the United States. Of course, these are things that will bring about adjustments. You have to understand this. Not because the leak is true or false, but simply because it happened. Everyone is evolving in any case. Russia is adapting, Ukraine is adapting, partners are changing the way they’re passing on supplies, taking appropriate steps to defend or attack. … It’s summer outside. You want to go out, and you are not getting a warning. You go out, and it’s raining. In any case, it’s a surprise. Some people like rain, and some people don’t. I’m just talking about myself. I did not like this rain very much.
Q: Do the leaks and the fact that the United States was listening in on your communications tarnish your trust in Washington?
A: I’m not sure they’re listening. I mean, if we could come up with some more evidence. Well, that’s one conversation and another story. That’s what I told you. We are fighting, we are at war. Listen, I — I cannot risk our state. I can’t. Even if I wanted to say something to someone, something very heated and very personal, I would probably think, even though I am a sharp person, quite sharp. And where I can put pressure, where I can speak frankly, I do it. But there are high risks. If it were my war against Putin, and there were two of us on the battlefield, I would tell everyone what I think of them. But here the story is a little different. We are all responsible. And that’s it. That’s why I don’t know whose manipulation this is or whether it’s an accident, and stuff like that. And why should I? Despite such information leaks, I have to prepare the state for de-occupation, not for other steps. And this is my task. Do you remember how our conversation with [President Donald] Trump got out? They printed it. Well, to be honest, I didn’t give my permission for that either.
Q: The Washington Post has obtained documents that we have not published details about yet. We would like to ask you about some information there and also to give you the opportunity to respond to what is in there. One of them says that on January 31, you suggested occupying parts of Russia along the border for future leverage in the negotiations. Is that true?
A: Hardly (laughs).
Q: Do you think Ukraine has a right to occupy parts of Russia?
A: Let’s not get into fantasies. Ukraine has every right to protect itself. And we are doing it. Ukraine did not occupy anyone, but vice versa. The war is about the occupation of Ukraine. Ukraine must win. What steps to take in order to win? That’s another question. And don’t be offended here, I’m not ready to share. I’ll tell you honestly. Well, when so many people have died and there have been mass graves and our people have been tortured, I am sure that we have to use any tricks, any absolutely different methods of response. Because we are not rapists. So [there must be] different responses than the Russian Federation.
Q: The documents also say that you spoke with Valery Zaluzhny, head of the Ukrainian armed forces, on Feb. 28 about striking troops in Russia’s Rostov region. We know that there have been several strikes on Russian territory. Is that something you personally ordered?
A: First of all, I can repeat it again. We are fighting a war for our territory, fighting on our territory and de-occupying our territory. That’s it. All my conversations with Zaluzhny, [Oleksandr] Syrsky, [Oleksandr] Tarnavsky — I have a lot of generals with whom I work, with whom I talk, and I talk directly to them, I know all of their needs. And these are my personal conversations, and no one in our country has given orders for offensives or strikes on Russian territory.
Q: The documents say …
A: [In English] Will we speak about these documents?
Q: A couple more questions.
A: [In English] Just a couple more documents.
Q: The documents indicate that HUR, your intelligence directorate, has back-channel contact with Yevgeniy Prigozhin that you were aware of, including meeting with Yevgeniy Prigozhin and HUR officers. Is that true?
A: This is a matter of [military] intelligence. Do you want me to be convicted of state treason? And so, it’s very interesting, if someone is saying that you have documents, or if someone from our government is speaking about the activities of our intelligence, I would also like to ask you a question: With which sources from Ukraine do you have contact? Who is talking about the activities of our intelligence? Because this is the most severe felony in our country. Which Ukrainians are you talking to?
Q: I talked to officials in government, but these documents are not from Ukraine, they are from …
A: It doesn’t matter where the documents are from. The question is with which Ukrainian official did you talk? Because if they say something about our intelligence, that’s treason.If they say something about a specific offensive plan of one general or another, this is also treason. That’s why I asked you, which Ukrainians are you talking to?
Q: About these specific documents? You are the first person I am talking to about them.
Q: And I can read you what information exactly there is about Prigozhin and the GUR. On February 13, Kyrylo Budanov, chief of Ukraine’s Main Directorate of Intelligence, informed you about a Russian plan to destabilize Moldova with two former Wagner associates. Budanov informed you that he viewed the Russian scheme as a way to incriminate Prigozhin because “we have dealings” with him. You instructed Budanov to inform Moldovan President Maia Sandu, and Budanov told you that the GUR had informed Prigozhin that he would be labeled a traitor who has been working with Ukraine. The document also says that Budanov expected the Russians to use details of Prigozhin’s secret talks with the GUR and meetings with GUR officers in Africa …
A: Listen, to be honest, well, you just read something, you say something. I just don’t understand where you get it, whom you talk to and so on. You talk about how I met with Budanov. This suggests that you — how do you put it? It looks like you have people who have some records or you have some evidence or you have something, because that’s what it looks like. You are again doing, I apologize, what you were doing before. You are releasing some sort of information that does not help our state to attack and does not help us to defend our state. So, I don’t quite understand what you are talking about. I don’t quite understand your goal. Is your goal to help Russia? I mean, that means we have different goals. If I’m not sitting at the same table with them, I don’t quite understand what we’re talking about. Each of these inquiries simply demotivates Ukraine, demotivates certain partners to help Ukraine. Well, one way or another, I just don’t understand your goal.
Q: Our goal is not to help Russia.
A: Well, it looks different.
Q: No one gave us this information personally. These were in the leaked documents, which do indicate, as I said earlier, that the United States is listening in on you.
A: And if you have classified documents, it means someone gave them to you. If you have access to documents, someone gave them to you. Today, in the world of modern technology, when you have access, it’s not necessarily someone gave it to you. You have access. You are now quoting some documents as originals, without understanding the responsibility for this, you are just talking about some information. For me, this is incomprehensible information, but in this, in our dialogue, I want to understand why you are doing this. I told you at the beginning of our conversation that I believe that the TV show that was launched, launched in the information field, helps — I don’t know who, but it helps Russia, it definitely doesn’t help Ukraine. You are engaged in continuing this story. And so, I ask you if it’s your choice and if you think that the Russian Federation needs to be helped in a variety of spheres — that they were expecting a Ukrainian counteroffensive in whichever direction, so that they know when we are coming, so that they know our powerful forces and what we are planning, what our intelligence is doing? Well, if that’s the case, then.
Q: I would say that these documents were leaked, not by us, and they were on the internet in a chatroom for weeks.
A: They were not on the internet, they were a part of something. We, the normal society, couldn’t access all of this. We couldn’t. And then, I think, information began to come out that we would partially publish everything else. I think it’s yours — or your editorial board, or whoever. I don’t want to offend anyone, I don’t know. That’s why you are releasing this information one by one today. You publish information about a counteroffensive in Ukraine, about this or that. I told you that I believe that this is, how to put it? — someone heard something somewhere, someone published something somewhere, but the information is compiled, and it is different, and it definitely does not work in Ukraine’s favor. That’s all. And now you want to take the bull by the horns. You need to substantiate or not substantiate this information, and then there will be a certain weight to your information, because the president of Ukraine reacts to it. Do you understand? And this is what you do. You are right now playing with, I think, things that aren’t good for our people. This is not the first time I’ve told you this. I think it’s wrong, but nevertheless, you say, “Just a little bit more, it’s not over yet.” Well, yes, it is. There are still a few people left in Ukraine. I am not interested in seeing this number of people decrease. That’s why we are fighting. [In English] I am so sorry, I was not so quick, I was too long about these documents. I don’t know about this …
Q: We came to talk to you about this. It is clearly sensitive for you and your country.
A: [In English] It is not sensitive. If I answer you that it’s sensitive, it means that these are real documents. Please, stop playing games with me. I am the president of a war country, a country in war. I said about my reaction to these documents, I said that it’s not good for our people. You know, I am not playing “Counter-Strike.” We are preparing a counteroffensive. You know, these are different things — that’s why I said all of the details from me you will hear. And of course, we are thankful for your work, your help when you support Ukraine in this war. You did a big job. And now I am saying about these documents … I don’t recognize it as documents. I didn’t see that. That is the first thing. I don’t know how you’ve got it and my question was to you: “Why are you continue doing that?” Okay. You are free. I mean, you will do what you want, but I don’t want to speak about it with details. Because I don’t know about what I am speaking. It’s something with some information. And I said that I didn’t have any contact with the White House about these documents. Or not documents. About these papers. Or not papers. About this platform. Or a fake platform. … I didn’t have before, now, and, I don’t know, maybe in the future. I just say the same message very publicly and very open. I said it to you, with some journalist and to a lot of leaders. When they asked me about this, I said it’s not good for us. What can I say? It’s not good. I don’t know if it was fake or what a percent — I don’t know what it is. And I don’t know who needs it and what is the game. I don’t know what for. That’s it. For me, it’s not serious. It sounds like somebody said, somebody heard something …
Q: Is it fair for the United States to impose restrictions on strikes inside Russian territory when Russia strikes civilian infrastructure in Ukraine?
A: We do not have such capabilities. We don’t have the capabilities to strike in the Russian Federation. We do not have long-range weapons to this day.
Q: But there are regular drone strikes within Russia.
A: [In English] What Russia? On Crimea? Crimea is a territory of Ukraine. We use sea drones as you know. And we said about it openly. Or with a ship, Moskva.
Q: Are you worried that the politics in the Western countries that support you could change in a way that could hurt their support for Ukraine? There is growing Republican skepticism in the U.S. Congress about aid for Ukraine. There is a chance that Donald Trump could be reelected president next year. Can you talk to us about that? How do you see that? Are you worried about that? For support for your country?
A: It is difficult for me to say what the policy of another president will be if there will be another president. First of all, it’s not clear to me whether the war will continue in a year when there will be elections in the United States of America. And I would like to believe that the war will be over and we will have won by then. Secondly, and I say it again, I don’t know. We can only watch. And it is the choice of the American people who the next president will be. I would like to believe that in general, because the war will not just be over, but there will still be something to be done. Then we have to do everything to prevent Russia from returning in a few years with some more steps of aggression. That is why the United States is our partner not only in this war but for many years to come. And that’s why I’m interested in what the United States will do regarding Ukraine. This is really very important for us. And of course, we heard some messages from former president Trump that he would end the war very quickly. Then I have a question. Why didn’t he end it? I would have given him a standing ovation if he had ended it then. But it didn’t work out that way, and then a full-scale war started. But the war has been going on since 2014. All those who have been presidents since 2014, all this time they had a chance to end the war. But I’m not saying that they had the capacity, because it’s difficult, it’s just difficult to end it, because it’s Russia. And that’s all. Because with all due respect, there must be a foundation to meet any challenge. Then there is the story that today there are other challenges and many Republicans and Democrats come to us who support us very, very strongly. And there are skeptics — what can I say, we understand. Look, I think that everyone … not everyone fully understands the consequences of what is happening. Not everyone understands who President Putin is. And some people, I think, just don’t care what happens to Ukraine. Unfortunately, I have to say, they don’t care. They are only interested in what will happen to them and their business or something else because this is an individual choice for everyone.
Q: Mr. President, Ukraine has not published its military casualties count over the course of the war. What do you gain from hiding this number? Should the world not know the cost of this war to Ukraine by knowing the numbers?
A: This is just a general decision. A general decision from our military. All this will be [made public] after we end the war. We know the losses. We value every person, and this is one of the things that, of course, will be fully accessible to the whole world. I think, to be honest, it is first of all important for the relatives and friends of those people who lost their loved ones, and then, I think, for everyone else. But, nevertheless, this is the decision [that has been made]. The fact that the number is many times less than that of Russians is understood by everyone in the world. And if you have the relevant documents, maybe you can tell us how many people have died, how many were wounded and what their names are?
Q: Do you not think it would help the cause of scaling up the ammunition you’re saying you need if people understood the extent to which Ukrainians are dying on the battlefield?
A: Listen, our intelligence agencies are working — Ukrainian, with the United States, with Britain, with other partners. Everyone is working, everyone understands each other’s respective steps. And everyone understands approximately how many people we have lost. That’s why everyone knows everything that is available, what is needed to get the required weapons. Everyone knows it.
Q: The fight is obviously continuing in Bakhmut. Has it been worth the number of soldiers who died and got wounded there to continue fighting?
A: It is an unequivocal decision of the entire military and the political leadership. Everybody understands that Bakhmut is the only thing that the Russian president and Prigozhin can sell to their dismantled army and to their society. They need Bakhmut only to say: “Here, the operation is ours. You see, we are doing everything right. Let’s continue. You see that this is a great victory.” Because 99 percent of the Russian Federation does not even understand what Bakhmut is, has never been there and has never seen it. And because they believe their TV, not their eyes. And that’s it. Therefore, this will open up the possibility for Russia to go further, and it will go further and accumulate forces — go further to Donbas, then toward Dnipro and so on. That’s all. And that’s why today Bakhmut is a point that really holds. It really keeps a large number of Russian troops occupied and prevents them from breaking through our country in different directions. That is why all of our military believes that this is a very important point and that a large number of enemy troops are destroyed there — 10 times more [than our losses]. They don’t spare them, they abandon them, but our troops destroy them. That is why this is such an important moment in this war.
Q: You recently spoke by phone to Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Did he give you any guarantees that China wouldn’t supply lethal military aid to Russia?
A: You should [already] have the answer to this question. We did not talk about any guarantees — it was our first conversation since the war started. For me, it is very important that China respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine according to our 1991 administrative borders, including the island of Crimea. All of this is very important to me. In response to all this, I heard that China respects the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The second aspect that we raised on my side was the deportation of children. No one can help us. It is true that over 19,000 children have been taken away, and we have not found a format for returning them. We can only use some kind of corridors to pull Ukrainians out of there, but it is very, very, very difficult. So, when we talk about how to engage China, it’s very difficult, and we all understand why, but nevertheless, we talked about this aspect with the Chinese leader so that he could influence the development of the situation so that children could return. I cannot find an approach to this process through the United Nations or other institutions unfortunately. For now. But we are fighting. The third question is that I would like to have, you know, the opportunity to refer to documents from the past. And we had, for better or worse — everyone has a different attitude to this document, but for us, it is an official document, and for the world, I think, it is, too. It is the Budapest Memorandum, where China is one of the guarantors. And there, we were guaranteed safety and territorial integrity on the condition of the renunciation of nuclear weapons. … First, today we do not have territorial integrity. And the guarantors of the Budapest Memorandum, let’s just say, are all involved in this war to varying degrees. We really want them to help us. And the second issue today is the capture of the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia. This is also a nuclear weapon, because there are risks due to the capture of six nuclear units, and so I talked to him that we must respect our Budapest Memorandum, everyone who was involved in this in any case. We have to put pressure on the fact that there are nuclear risks. And China needs to put pressure on Russia to de-occupy our nuclear power plant. Basically, these points, as I told the Chinese leader, are the points of our formula for peace. And I would very much like to see China’s presence, among other states, throughout these points. For us, the more countries are present in our peace formula, the safer it is for us.
Q: Will there be parliamentary elections in the fall?
A: If we have martial law, we cannot have elections. The constitution prohibits any elections during martial law. If there is no martial law, then there will be. Well, the law says that according to the constitution of Ukraine, after martial law ends, I think, in 90 days, elections are held. It’s something like that. I don’t remember actually.
Anastacia Galouchka contributed to this report.