Exclusive CNN interview: Ukrainian President Zelensky talks war, Russia, and US support

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviewed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on a range of topics, including the ongoing battle for Bakhmut, the threat posed by China, and President Biden’s visit to the warzone. Zelensky stated that Ukraine understands the strategic significance of holding onto Bakhmut, and that Russia needs a victory there to mobilize its society. Zelensky also emphasized that Ukraine is prepared for a possible Russian spring offensive, and called for the United States to supply fighter jets to help defend its skies. Additionally, Zelensky expressed gratitude for bipartisan support for Ukraine and invited US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to visit the country. Read more on this CNN interview below.

Zelensky warns of ‘open road’ through Ukraine’s east if Russia captures Bakhmut, as he resists calls to retreat

This week on CNN Primetime, CNN Anchor Wolf Blitzer sat down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for an exclusive interview covering the battle for Bakhmut, President Biden’s recent visit to the war zone, the growing threat of China and more.

Key quotes from President Zelensky:

On why he refuses to withdraw from Bakhmut: 

“We understand what Russia wants to achieve there. Russia needs at least some victory, a small victory, even by ruining everything, in Bakhmut, just killing every civilian there. They need to put their little flag on top of that, to show their society. It’s not a victory for them. It’s more like support to mobilize their society, in order to create this idea of they’re such a powerful army. 

For us, it’s certainly different, this is tactical for us. We understand that after Bakhmut, they could go further. They could go to Kramatorsk, to Sloviansk. And it will be open roads for the Russians… That’s why our guys are standing there.” 

On a possible Russian spring offensive:

“We think that in [the] Donbas direction, Russia started its offensive. This is the offensive. This is what — it looks like the slow aggression, because they don’t have enough strength and forces. And, on the other hand, we see the concentration of force by Russians. We are ready for this. We are getting ready for this. And we’re getting the information from our partners. We understand that we have to be ready for everything, and we have to concentrate, strengthen forces, and new weaponry, from our partners, in order to conduct our counteroffensive operation.”

Read more: Xi to broker Ukraine peace? Reboots statesman image to counter US

On whether he would meet with Putin:

“We don’t have any circumstances to talk to the Russian Federation President because he doesn’t hold his word. We don’t have any confidence in him.”

“Russia should leave our territory. And after that, we’re happy to join the diplomatic tools. In order to do that, we can find any format with our partners just after that.”

On how he and his family are dealing with the war:

“My daughter joined the university and she studies there, and my son is attending school in Ukraine. They’re both in Ukraine. They’re very much like other Ukrainian kids. We live with sirens.”

“We want victory. We don’t want to get used to war, but we got used to the challenges. Everyone wants one thing — to end the war.”

On President Biden’s trip to Kyiv last month:

“It’s an important signal to the whole world that the US is supporting us. And I think that US believe that we will prevail.”

“This visit, as a whole, was a very symbolic and very motivating one.”

“And I’m happy that the sirens didn’t affect President Biden, or his team. So, we paid our respects to the fallen heroes, despite the sirens. And it really supported me, from the inside. It was such a cool signal.”

On the need for the US to supply fighter jets to Ukraine:

“We really need this and really appeal to the President that they could start training Ukrainian pilots, and President Biden told me that it will be worked upon … I believe that the United States will give us the opportunity to defend our skies.” 

When asked if the supply of Western jets will “make or break” a Ukrainian success in the war, Zelensky said: “Yes, we believe so.”

On whether Ukraine would use long-range missiles to launch attacks inside Russia:

“We’re not interested. I was saying on many occasions, we’re not interested in Russian land. That’s why it’s not us who started this war, but Russia did.

That systems — the long range very much like a munition and weaponry we need in order that our people stop dying.

We cannot just, you know, cross the Dnipro River at the moment. And they’re shooting and they keep shelling, and we don’t have the weaponry to reach them. That’s why I’m emphasizing the long-range weapons U.S. manufacturers, or any European partners manufactured. We need only to protect our peaceful civilian population.”

On whether he is concerned that Republican Party support for Ukraine is waning:

“I would like to thank the bipartisan support of Ukraine… And I would say one that, for instance, here, there are Republicans and Democrats visiting Ukraine, sometimes in a joint group, sometimes in separate groups, everyone supports us.”

“Recently, I had a meeting with representatives of the Republican Party and thankful to congressman who visited Ukraine. They told me that they want to support Ukraine very much like the Democrats with — don’t want to slow down. We have a different approach. We want to give more and now, but not dragging it forever. That was their signal.”

Read more: Gideon Rachman: World’s democracies need to stick together, but a united front on Ukraine and China is getting harder

On meeting US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and inviting him to visit Ukraine:

“And I think that Speaker McCarthy, he’s pretty right and pretty not in some point, but I’m very grateful for his position. And I met him in Congress, and he supports us. And it’s absolutely true.”

“The only thing that means he never visited Kyiv or Ukraine, and I think it would help him with his position. I’m not trying to influence his position. He’s a free person… I want to say that it’s very important when someone comes here and sees in his own eyes the consequences of war and sees how everything works. But when you come to us, when the Democrats and Republicans come to us, they see the supply routes, every shell, every bullet, every dollar. And everyone sees that. That’s very important. It changes the point of view. You’re still believing in all these rumors or whatever the Russian federation is spreading. That’s why I invite Mr. McCarthy to Ukraine.”

On the importance of geopolitical cooperation to end the war:

I would like to have all the countries support the end of the war….And we’re interested to have China on the side of the nuclear safety and security. 

The U.S. doesn’t have much in common with China. We understand that. And how the U.S. will be living with China, it’s a matter of between U.S. and China.

But when the war starts on the, you know, European continent, which is happening today in Ukraine, we have to be interested in limiting this war and ending this war. That’s why this factor should unite us. Russia is an aggressor.”

On his definition of victory in this war:

“We will have our victory. I think that victory will end up with the understandable security decision for many years to come and I’m sure after this war, there will be more understandable situation in the European continent, and more stable situation in — on the European continent, and Russia will not be able to threaten any other countries fighting for their freedom and independence.”

“Number one issue, they have to leave Ukraine either should be pushed out of Ukrainian territory or through the negotiations and agreement with other partners. They have to leave our territory and then only then can we talk about diplomacy.”

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On whether Ukraine could achieve victory in 2023:

“It all depends on the field of the supply of material and military support. Only on that. The longer it will take, the less motivation our fighters will be without any supplies of weaponry. That’s why the motivation will be vain because if we do not give people weapons, they cannot go into offense. And if you wait — if you wait and wait, the victory will come later.

But I’m not doubting this victory. It only depends on time.”


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