President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave an interview to Crimean journalists on Zmiiny Island.
The head of state spoke about the peninsula and its inhabitants on the eve of the international summit “Crimean Platform”, about the prospects for the release of the Crimean political prisoners, as well as the program for the development of the navy.
For 7 years of the occupation of Crimea, this is the first interview in which the Ukrainian leader talks about his intentions and plans to return the peninsula with Crimean journalists.
– We are meeting today on the Ukrainian island of Zmiiny. Apparently not by chance. Why exactly here?
– Definitely not by chance. Because this small island, like any other territory of ours, is Ukrainian land and we will defend it.
Today you had the opportunity to observe military exercises here, we pay a lot of attention to them. You know that we have a program for the development of the army, which consists of 3 stages. We are actively going through them, and it is already clear that we are capable of defending every Ukrainian region, airport, city and Zmiiny Island as well.
Knowing about the interests of Russia, we see what plans the joint Russian-Belarusian military exercises “West-2021” have. We are ready for various steps on the part of these states.
–Representatives of 30 countries agreed to come to the opening of the “Crimean Platform”. Despite the fact that in 2014 about a hundred countries supported the resolution against the occupation of Crimea, is this a satisfactory result?
– This is not a very correct comparison. All these countries, a hundred or more countries that supported Crimea, they also support. They support us with sanctions, they are ready to say that what happened to Crimea is an occupation. And we are grateful to them for such a position.
– This is a satisfactory result for Ukraine, but what would be a good result for you personally?
– This is more than the result for today. Today it is difficult to say how big or small it will be a victory. Let’s wait until all representatives and leaders of the countries come to the Crimean Platform.
Second, let’s wait to see what the outcome of this summit will be. The third – a great victory – is to violate the Crimean issue, which simply does not exist now even in the Ukrainian information space.
The Crimean Platform is the first unified institutional platform that will operate not once a year, but daily in the office of the Crimean Platform. And there the most important issues, primarily humanitarian ones will be considered.
So far, Crimea’s like the aircraft carrier. This is no longer the “pearl” of Ukrainian land by the sea. Today it is a militarized peninsula of the Russian Federation with a daily increase in armaments, a reduction in the indigenous population, a decrease in the attractiveness of any natural, ecological, or tourist attraction. That’s what it looks like.
What can be done? I believe that by this moment, to the “Crimean Platform”, there was no that signal. But people were and are. But except for messages on Facebook: “Our Crimea, it’s a pity, but we’ll be back” what did we do?
Therefore, now there will be a “Crimean platform”, which will make every Crimean topic relevant.
– But it is also important for us to do our “home duty” at the political level – to adopt about 20 laws concerning Crimea, starting with the law on the abolition of the free economic zone “Crimea”.
– We canceled this law.
– But Mr. President, you did not sign it.
– I sign everything that is brought to me. To tell the truth, I plan to sign many of these laws during the Crimean Platform. My idea was to involve other leaders in the affairs of Crimea. We signed the law on indigenous peoples without waiting for this future event.
I understand that a million questions will be always. Everything will be signed and everything is signed.
– The question concerning political prisoners. Recently, the wife of a journalist imprisoned in Crimea, Vladyslav Yesypenko, turned to you for help in freeing her husband. More than a hundred Ukrainian political prisoners were imprisoned in Crimea. Most of them are Crimean Tatars, who were also imprisoned for political reasons. Tell me, at what stage is the question of returning the Crimean political prisoners today?
– All the lists have been formed thanks to the work of our ombudsman. The issue of political prisoners is the most important for us. Unfortunately, it is completely slowed down.
Today, apart from direct negotiations with the President of Russia regarding the Crimean prisoners, I see no other way out. Perhaps we will be able to develop new solutions during the Crimean Platform.
I have a list of constant questions that I discuss with all leaders at any meeting format. I always put the question of Crimean prisoners. Unfortunately, the decision-making lever is on the side of Russia, which unites the issue of political prisoners with the occupation of Crimea. For the Kremlin, these people are not Ukrainian political prisoners, because they do not recognize that they have occupied Crimea.
The Russians separate the lists of those who are in ORDLO, and the lists of our people who are in the Crimea or already on the territory of Russian Federation.
On the contrary, we combine these lists and say that the issue of exchanging everyone for everyone is an exchange, including Crimeans. But sometimes not only Russia, but also other states do not want to raise the issue of Crimea and unite it with the issue of de-occupation of Ukrainian territories.
Of course, we have to work more at the level of European courts, we still do not work enough.
A I also urge that the leaders of certain countries that support us also actively work and put pressure on the President of Russia. Today the President of the RF can return our prisoners to us, even if he does not think that they are political prisoners. We are ready for exchanges and for any steps to return our Crimeans.
– Perhaps it makes sense to introduce separate sanctions for political repression in Crimea? Repressions are becoming more widespread, people who are taken away in Crimea for political reasons are tortured in prisons. How can we influence this, if not by sanctions?
– The issue of sanctions is difficult. I believe that Ukraine should impose sanctions where they have a real impact, and appeal to countries that really, with their sanctions, influence this or that business on the real estate of Russian officials, as regards repression, on their accounts abroad. It makes sense.
There are states of the USA, Germany, France, Great Britain, which can really act with their sanctions against certain Russian officials and temporary officials of the Crimea, who has something somewhere abroad. We are working on such sanctions, they are effective. But if by the decision of the National Security and Defense Council, we impose sanctions against the interim leaders, who are not in pain at all, I believe that we are simply discrediting the National Security and Defense Council.
We have imposed many personal sanctions against the Russian military. What the result is? We have a common position with other countries, which is not possible. But constantly imposing sanctions against those who are not affected by these sanctions – I think that this is not an effective way.
– In addition to political prisoners, their relatives are in need of help. There is such an initiative group in Crimea as “Our children”, it deals with the children of political prisoners. Now there are 190 such kids, and 30 of them need special help because they are sick. The whole world is collecting money for this initiative. Can the state create some kind of mechanism to support relatives, support children of these political prisoners?
– I am sure that we can create the necessary mechanisms. I would be ready with all the answers, if I knew all the questions, all the problems that the Crimeans have. When the question was about higher education, we provided the opportunity to enter without the external independent testing, without any exams, for children from the temporarily occupied territories, including Crimea.
Please come to our universities! We will do everything to give them a place to live and support them. We are ready to support 190 children. Please provide us with all the details.
– The law on indigenous peoples was recently adopted. How, in your opinion, will this law help to solve the Crimean question?
– The law on indigenous peoples is one of those laws that tells exactly the Crimean Tatars that this is their land in real actions. I believe that this unites people who live there, who understand that this is their land, and the president is not just talking about this, but the law has already been passed. Therefore, such steps are important so that the core of people who consider Crimea their land and part of Ukraine does not disintegrate.
The local occupation authorities and the Russian Federation, in particular, are doing everything to draw the border in the Crimean society to divide these people. On the contrary, we should do everything so that people there understand that Crimea will be happy only in Ukraine.
This law does not give Crimean Tatars food products, apartments, any benefits and the like. According to this law this is their land, they do not come in any way. When a Crimean Tatar walks on a Crimean street, he walks on his own street, if a citizen of the Russian Federation is walking opposite, then he is a tourist and a guest in a foreign territory.
– The next logical step is to recognize the Crimean Tatar national-territorial autonomy. We know that the steps towards this in 2018 were already developed by the Constitutional Commission. Are you ready for this step, is it time?
– This is a very important step that the Crimean Platform should take: to study the legislation, changes to the legislation and to propose to the President of Ukraine a bill already agreed with the indigenous population of Crimea.
I know that previously there were some developments. Are they coordinated with my office? No. Are they coordinated with the Crimean Tatar society? It’s unknown. We need to work on all this.
The law you are talking about is one of the great many bills. There are fewer of them now, and the number will decrease with each passing day with the help of the work of the “Crimean Platform”, I’m sure.
– It is important for the state to implement a transitional justice policy. Moreover, the Presidential Law Reform Commission has already developed such a project and submitted it to the President’s Office half a year ago. What is the fate of this document?
– This direction is being formed. My representative in Crimea Anton Korinevych suggested a concept, and now it is being finalized. We had a meeting in the office, not only with lawyers, but also with other representatives, and I can say that we have a powerful team, which includes: Andriy Yermak, Dmytro Kuleba, Oleksiy Reznikov and Anton Korinevych. It is Oleksiy Reznikov who is primarily responsible for the policy towards Crimea and Donbas.
– What should we do with people’s thoughts?
– Concerning Crimea, I believe that this is the same issue of territory. So, the Russian Federation has been working with the Crimeans for a long time: both the passportization, and the TV, and people who arrived. We were the only Ukrainian stars among other during the concerts. However, local residents still did not consider themselves Russian, they said that they were Crimeans. Whereas Russian stars have always said: “It is very pleasant to be here in Crimea.”
Therefore, the situation with mental return is as follows: it seems to me that they understood what happened, what would happen in Crimea without Ukraine. In general, people want to see something good in the future.
I am sure there will be no need to make any mental changes. The Ukrainian authorities are welcome in Crimea. Trust me. Because life will return to Crimea with Ukraine.
– The occupation of Crimea de facto turns for us also the occupation of the Black and Azov Seas, we need to make a lot of efforts to protect Ukraine from the sea. What is the state of the Ukrainian Navy today?
– The issue of Crimea is also a matter of unblocking the Black Sea and Azov coasts. We are working on it. There is a task to build a large fleet by 2035. This is long enough, but we will be able to see the results of the first stage on August 24 of this year.
Our task is to build a professional powerful fleet capable of repelling anyone. We are a peaceful state, but we should be ready for any steps. We are preparing to unblock the Black Sea region. It was this task that was given by me personally and was supported by our army.
I understand that we cannot wait 20 years until we have the infrastructure for full-fledged shipbuilding, so we will start building a fleet, including in other states. At the same time, we are building infrastructure in Ukraine in order to pick up this process. There will be corvettes, there will be military boats, there will be small submarines – all this will certainly be there. The same applies to military bases, the construction of the first will soon begin in Berdyansk.
In this large-scale project, we look forward to the support from the European Union, Great Britain and the United States. We have already received full support from the UK. The issue of strengthening the Ukrainian Navy is a part of our forthcoming meeting with the US President and also a part of the agenda of the “Crimean Platform” and our conversations with other states. We feel how Russia is trying to put pressure on other countries to help Ukraine, even so that they do not participate in the “Crimean Platform”.
– Due to the threats to the freedom of navigation, it has been a question of the permanent stay of NATO ships in the Black Sea for a year and a half, of the possible support of merchant ships in the Sea of Azov. Are these negotiations continuing? Do you feel like the president of a maritime state in general?
– We have just talked about the stages of formation of the Ukrainian Navy. I am sure that Ukrainian society will see the Ukrainian navy, and then I will feel exactly the president you mentioned.
Concerning the escort of our ships by the countries of the Alliance, you can see that every year we increase both our training and the presence of NATO ships in our waters. This is not only a matter of Sea Breeze, from now on it is a constant work and cooperation of our Ministry of Defense with the United States and European countries. We also have real agreements in this direction with Turkey and the United Kingdom.
– Let’s imagine that Crimea is being de-occupied tomorrow. Where will you go first?
– Oh, I have a lot of favorite places there. I want to go to the sea, to our Black Sea, I really want to.
– Will You visit Gurzuf?
– Gurzuf is beautiful, but it was always very flashy. We did not go there, very expensive. Our family lived modestly, and as a child I did not visit the Crimea, but I fell in love with it during my student years, this is our Ukrainian Crimea, and not the Soviet one at all, as the Russian media write. Most Ukrainians remember it as Ukrainian, thirty years of our independence is enough for that.
Authors: Milena Amedi (UA), Anna Andrievska (Crimea.Realities), Sevgil Musaeva (Ukrainian Pravda), Anastasia Ringis, Valentyna Samar (Center for Journalistic Investigations).