KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko gave a joint interview to The Washington Post, Britain's Independent newspaper and Germany's Die Welt newspaper about the challenges facing his nation. Here are some highlights.
On the meaning of the cease-fire that has finally taken hold in eastern Ukraine in recent days. The agreement, reached in February in Minsk, Belarus, set out a plan to return control of rebellious eastern Ukraine to Kiev, starting with a cease-fire, but the shooting never stopped.
“This is not an end of the war. End of the war would be when the Russian occupation troops leave Ukrainian territory and we close the uncontrolled part of the Russian-Ukrainian border. And it is very simple, because this not any civil conflict in Ukraine. We don’t have it at all. This is a direct foreign aggression. And I assure you that immediately when Russian troops leave my country, we will have free and fair elections on the territory which was occupied by Russia, and we will have a special type of program for renewing infrastructure, for renewing factories, for... renewing the structure for the social benefits, and renewing the Ukrainian media there.”
“That is what we are demanding, the Ukrainian side, what we are dreaming. To have a cease-fire. Cease fire is the main and the most important precondition for launching an implementation of the Minsk agreement.”
What would happen if rebels held their own elections on their territory, as they have said they plan to do?
“This is a red line… first, the Minsk process and the peace process will be in a big danger, because that will be in direct violation of Minsk. And it should be a reaction. What kind of reaction are we talking about? Sanctions. We do not expect that our international partners go into a war. We are doing an almost impossible thing, we built up one of the strongest armies on the continent.”
“Of course, we are asking for defensive weapons, if it happens. Because we need the possibility to defend my country.”
On Europe’s refugee crisis, and Ukraine’s, with war on Ukrainian territory having displaced 1.45 million people internally and up to a million fleeing the country, according to U.N. figures:
“We do not create now and do not create in future, if we deescalate the conflict, any problem to Europe with refugees. I hate the idea that we’re blackmailing Europe. But we’re in a very difficult situation. Because if now we have 800,000 refugees, mostly from Balkans and Syria who try to reach Germany and other countries, can you imagine that we have 1,450,000 refugees. And we’ve tried to treat it by ourselves. And, again, this is not an easy job.”
What happens if the conflict continues?
“If Russia tries to kill the Minsk [process], if Russia is crossing the red line, we need two things. Sanctions, and the United States it seems to me to be ready to go further for the sanctions. But for us, crucially important is to keep transatlantic unity. Unity of the European Union. And the dialogue we have now is very important. And the second one is the solidarity with Ukraine. Not only solidarity politically. Not only solidarity economically. But also solidarity in assisting us to create an effective defense force.”
Why has the United States refused to send you defensive weaponry?
“They have a different approach to us in some spheres. And I think it was a very unclear discussion about the lethal weapons [that] should be supplied by the U.S. We don’t talk about the lethal weapons. Ukraine is an industrialized nation that can produce their own weapons. We’re talking about the defensive weapons, which help us just defensively. And sorry for my pathos, but we here defend not just Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We here defend freedom and democracy. And we are now fighting with the weapons of the 20th century against the weapons of the 21st century. Because the military budget of Ukraine and the military budget of Russia … we are defending by ourselves. And that’s why the supply for us of defensive weapons — this is not just for war with Russia, this is just to build up [a] stronger, global system of security.”
“And now we are trying to build up an effective method of defense. That is what we are discussing with the Americans.”
Why has the conflict quieted in the east but isolated attacks have escalated elsewhere in the country?
“This is one of the main scenarios of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Understanding that his direct attack on the front is not successful, and the punishment can be effective in combination with the foreign oil prices, and withdrawal of direct foreign investment from Russia, limited access to technology and others, this can create a problem. He tried to switch the tactic and tried to destabilize the situation from inside.”
On the oligarchs who retain power in Ukraine:
“This is a challenge for Ukraine. All the time, Ukraine was an oligarch country. And all the time, oligarchs were together with the authorities. And this is the first time where we, and me as a president, undertake the serious task to limit the power of the oligarchs.... Now we have two dangers, that’s true. Danger number one is Russia, danger number two is oligarchs, and we are paying special attention to both of these threats to Ukrainian freedom, to Ukrainian future, to Ukrainian values.”
Are you ready to do a swap of captured soldiers to regain the imprisoned Ukrainians Oleg Sentsov, Nadia Savchenko and others?
“What is the main difference between Sentsov, between Savchenko, between our other heroes, and the aggressor troops, which were captured on my territory, with a weapon in their hands, as an aggressor. Sentsov is a very famous Ukrainian film producer. His only responsibility is that he is Ukrainian and proud to be Ukrainian. He never had any weapons in his hands. The Russian so-called court doesn’t have any evidence. And they put him in prison for 23 years… Nadiya Savchenko, she is a captain of my air force, and as a captain of the Ukrainian army, she was defending the army on Ukrainian territory. She was doing nothing wrong but doing exactly why she is in the army.… This is not a topic of exchange. No, no, no, no, no. I do my best to have Ukrainian heroes at home. This is my attempt to be successful, because I have the support of the Ukrainian people and I have the support of all the international community, but the difference is huge, and all of you should understand that.”