Apr 16, 2024

Zelenskyy says without U.S. aid ‘we’ll have no chance’

Zelenskyy gives interview
RevBlogTranscriptsRussia/Ukraine conflictZelenskyy says without U.S. aid ‘we’ll have no chance’

Ukraine is facing challenges on multiple fronts, from critical shortages of munitions and manpower to Russia ramping up its attacks. Read the transcript here.

Amna Nawaz (00:00):

We sat down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier today here in Kyiv to discuss the multiple challenges he’s facing on multiple fronts. Right now they have critical shortages of both munitions and manpower. Russia is ramping up its attacks, and of course there’s uncertainty around the future of US aid. On the heels of Iran’s attack on Israel, Zelensky says it shows it’s not just a critical time for his nation, but for the world. President Zelensky, welcome to the News Hour. Thank you for hosting us here.

Volodymyr Zelensky (00:30):

Thank you so much for coming.

Amna Nawaz (00:32):

I want to ask you about Iran’s attack on Israel because you condemned that attack immediately. You said it should serve as what you call the wake-up call to the free world. Who do you think needs that wake-up call and what kind of action do you hope that elicits?

Volodymyr Zelensky (00:49):

First, I believe this is a signal to all the leaders of the world. Surely, France, Jordan, the UK, the US have responded and supported the protection of Israel, and this is a serious defense shield for Israel, which is very important. Israel by itself wouldn’t be able to protect against such a numerous powerful strike and here definitely they used air defense and aviation. Many things that frankly speaking, Ukraine is lacking, but this is a demonstration of allies not on paper, but in the air, not on paper, but on the ground, in action, and this is an important signal to everyone.

I mean Ukraine defends its sky by itself. Definitely we have allies who supply us with this or that equipment, and we do have a deficit, but the most important thing is that Israel was not defending by itself. There was the protection of allies. If not for that protection, today, we would have bloodshed and much more death.

Amna Nawaz (01:46):

You’re saying it sent a signal to see the allies come together, the US and UK and France and Jordan along with Israel repelling many hundred drones and missiles that were launched on Israel that day. In your joint address to the nation last night, you said the whole world saw what real defense is. The whole world saw that Israel was not alone in this defense. Do you think that the same message is being sent to the world about Ukraine?

Volodymyr Zelensky (02:12):

I will give you one example, a very simple example. The Trypilska power plant, electricity in the Kyiv region depends on it. 11 missiles were headed towards it. The first seven, we took down. Four destroyed Trypilska. Why? Because we had zero missiles. We ran out of all missiles. When someone says that our allies cannot provide us with this or that weapon, or they cannot be in Ukraine with this or that force because that would be perceived as if Ukraine is engaging NATO in the war.

Well, after yesterday’s attack, I want to ask you a question. Is Israel part of NATO or not? Here’s the answer. Israel is not a NATO country. The NATO allies, including NATO countries have been defending Israel. They showed Iranian forces that Israel was not alone. And this is a lesson, this is a response to anyone on any continent who says, “You need to assist Ukraine very carefully so you don’t engage NATO countries in the war.”

Amna Nawaz (03:12):

You have said that if the US Congress does not approve the aid that it’s currently considering, which is some $60 billion that’s been held up by Republican lawmakers. You said if that doesn’t move forward, Ukraine will lose the war. If that aid does not move forward, how long do your troops have? Is this a matter of weeks or months? I mean could they sustain a spring Russian offensive?

Volodymyr Zelensky (03:36):

I can tell you, frankly, without this support, we’ll have no chance of winning. You need to be much stronger than your enemy. Today, our artillery shell ratio is one to 10. Can we hold our ground? No. In any case, with these statistics, they’ll be pushing us back every day. To defend 100% of what’s in our control, we would need to go from one to comparing numbers, 10 to 10.

Amna Nawaz (04:03):

But does that 60 billion potentially, does that help you to essentially strengthen your defensive strategy or does it help you to actually break through Russian defenses? I mean what is the plan to use that aid in a way that could actually change the dynamics of the war right now?

Volodymyr Zelensky (04:22):

It’s a lot to preserve ourselves. It’s very difficult for us. We are fighting against a large army. They don’t care about their soldiers lives. They’re not training them. They’re not as trained as our soldiers, but there’s a lot of them. They have an unlimited number of people and a lot of shells.

They use Thousands of drones against us. Tell Me, please, how can you fight against these thousands if you don’t have weapons to take them down? They have aircraft taking off from Crimea and engaging us at a distance of over 300 kilometers. It could be over 300, 400, 500 kilometers depending on how deep they’re targeting from Crimea. How can we destroy those?

The plan is very simple. It’s very clear. It exists. There is a specific weapon that we need to advance. There’s a specific weapon to defend the skies. This plan exists, besides, all the partners have it in their hands. This is the plan for what we really need.

Amna Nawaz (05:22):

Mr. president, as you know, there are those who say, “Look, the US and the West armed Ukraine, trained Ukraine for a counteroffensive that was largely seen as a failure because you were unable to dislodge Russians from territory.” And they don’t believe additional aid would actually allow you to break through Russian defenses. It would, as you say, helped you to preserve, to protect where things are right now. If it’s this hard to get aid through the US Congress right now, what leads you to believe it would be any easier next year, especially if Mr. Trump was reelected as president?

Volodymyr Zelensky (05:57):

We don’t think it will be easier for us. We are fighting. We are not thinking about next year. We’re thinking about tomorrow. Our goals are much more about real life. We need to live tomorrow. What’s going to happen next year? Well, frankly speaking, nobody knows because we don’t understand what support Ukraine will have. What other explosions and wars might be happening in the world? What’s going to happen in the US Congress?

They might make a decision and I hope they’re listening to us and we’ll make a decision in the nearest days or weeks, but not longer. Make a positive decision, but we don’t know what’s going to happen. We are just saying at least give us and you will receive some share of the air fleet, some percentage of what Russia is using against you, but how can you have aircrafts one to 30, artillery one to 10, how can you wage a war against Russia like this?

We’re not asking for missiles for 2000 or 3000 kilometers, nothing like that, and nobody is asking for 500 aircraft or 300 like Russia. In fact, Russia is using 300 aircraft just in the territory of Ukraine.

Amna Nawaz (07:04):

Mr. President, as you know, the Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson has said that he is likely to move forward this week to approve aid for Israel, but it’s not yet clear if aid for Ukraine will be part of that effort or not.

Volodymyr Zelensky (07:20):

It’s strange.

Amna Nawaz (07:21):

Why is that strange to you?

Volodymyr Zelensky (07:22):

Well, it means that this is not about security. It’s pure politics and it’s a disgrace for the world and a disgrace for democracy. For those who only speak of democracy, it’s just talk.

Amna Nawaz (07:36):

Why is it a disgrace? Why do you use that word?

Volodymyr Zelensky (07:41):

Well, if the Congress will divide this assistance after everything that happened, will divide into Israeli and Ukrainian, then it means that this is a matter of elections in the United States. It’s a matter of pure politics that now when the whole world is saying, “How could Iran strike Israel? So now we need to support only Israel and forget what is happening in Ukraine.”

This is pure politics. Nobody cares how many people are dying in Ukraine every day. They only care about their approval ratings. That’s what it’s all about. They’re forgetting that dead people don’t care about ratings. If Ukraine falls and there’s a war on other NATO member countries and there will be a war. And then the US soldiers will be defending and dying, that’s what it’s going to be.

People in Congress need to think twice about pushing these political matters with regards to support of Ukraine and vote to support all of the countries whose lives depend on it.

Amna Nawaz (08:35):

Have you spoken directly to House Speaker Mike Johnson?

Volodymyr Zelensky (08:38):

Two times. I talked to him last year. I was visiting the United States, specifically, I had a meeting with the speaker, with the president, with the Congress. Then we had a meeting behind closed doors. They all agreed 100%, those who were at that meeting, they were saying, “There will be support. Believe us. By the end of the year.” We had a conversation with the speaker over the phone and he told me that he fully supports Ukraine receiving the support.

He said, “Yes. Of course.” He supported to give defending aid, this package decision of Congress to Ukraine. It’s very important and et cetera. And what is very important? That those period, I also spoke with congressmen, a lot of them many times, and all of them said to me that, yes, Ukraine will get.

The question is in days or some weeks after that, months and et cetera. And one important moment, the last one when I spoke with a team of congressmen, they said, “Maybe it’ll be not cheap money. Maybe it’ll be… I mean this-”

Amna Nawaz (09:49):

Structured as a loan?

Volodymyr Zelensky (09:51):

Yeah. Loans. Yeah. Yeah. I said-

Amna Nawaz (09:53):

And you are open to that?

Volodymyr Zelensky (09:55):

I said, “It doesn’t matter for us for today.” We wanted another way to get this money last year, but for today, it doesn’t matter. We need to survive and we need to defend our people and that’s why your decision, the ball is on your field. Yes. Please, just make decision.

Amna Nawaz (10:17):

What about the role of former President Trump in all of this? Because it is an election year, he has enormous influence over the Republican Party where opposition to this aid lies. He’s previously criticized US aid to Ukraine. Do you believe that the former president is standing in the way of you getting the aid that you say you need?

Volodymyr Zelensky (10:38):

I’m very careful about this, because voices from inside the circle, from someone during the elections, I think it’s all a big question whether it’s true or not. I will believe that the United States will not stop their support and we will be allies and that the policy of the president, if the president changes, as for the Americans to decide, but the policy of the president will not change, at least as it relates to Ukraine. That’s important to us.

Amna Nawaz (11:03):

Mr. President, Russia has a population advantage. They Clearly have an artillery advantage. Russia right now has you outmanned, outgunned, and they believe they can outlast you and Western attention. Is it time to think about negotiating a settlement?

Volodymyr Zelensky (11:23):

We have offered the peace formula to the world. Currently, there are already first steps with specifics. In mid-June, there will be a peace summit in Switzerland and there we will prepare and elaborate on a plan to end this war. This summit will take place without Russia for Russia not to block this plan. Currently, Russia wants to destroy us all. Currently, Russia wants no negotiations. That is why the initiative should come from Ukraine. The country that wants to end this war in a fair piece.

Amna Nawaz (11:56):

But given the conditions right now, given the challenges that you face with uncertainty of foreign aid, advancing Russian forces, your own critical shortages, a major mobilization shortage, and a shifting global landscape in which you where a Ukraine is moving further down the agenda. Some would say those are impossible odds to overcome. If you don’t start to negotiate now, won’t conditions just get worse?

Volodymyr Zelensky (12:23):

I’m ready to negotiate now with you or with such people who really want peace. You understand?

Amna Nawaz (12:30):

Not with Russia?

Volodymyr Zelensky (12:31):

Yeah. But he doesn’t want, especially Putin. All their narratives, the documents from our intelligence, what they discuss about, we have it from our intelligence. We have it from the United States. They know everything the same, so we understand that he’s not ready for any negotiations. He doesn’t want. He’s not interested.

For him, this is not victory. He needs victory and for him victory is to destroy Ukraine. So how would you like us to talk to a person who’s willing to kill you? Simply kill you. He’s saying either you’re a part of Russia or we’ll destroy you all.

There are voices coming from the West saying that we are afraid, what’s going to happen to Russia if Russia loses? So are they not afraid that we are dying here every day, but they’re very afraid that there will be some sort of a danger, some sort of a migration crisis? What’s going to happen? Maybe China will be very strong, and if Russia will panic and have a revolution, then China will capture part of the territory of Russia, et cetera.

So everyone is afraid. God forbid China will be strong. God forbid there will be no Putin and there will be many countries. What’s going to happen to Russia’s nuclear weapons? As of now, the West controls the nuclear weapons, so that’s what I’m talking About. All those voices, all those messages, all of this is the disgrace that I was talking about.

Amna Nawaz (14:00):

You have said that this is not just a fight for Ukraine’s future, but for democracy’s future. That also includes the future of your own children, right? Your daughter, Oleksandra, your son, Kyrylo is his name?

Volodymyr Zelensky (14:12):


Amna Nawaz (14:13):

He’s now 11 years old?

Volodymyr Zelensky (14:15):


Amna Nawaz (14:16):

I know you’re separated from them, but when you do speak to them, what do they ask you about this war and what do you tell them?

Volodymyr Zelensky (14:23):

I sometimes look at our children and not only my own children, but the children of those families at war and those children currently in Ukraine. I think they know all the answers, and frankly speaking, if they would be answering your questions today, who knows? Maybe they would be wiser. They’re very grown up. They’ve been through a lot. They understand everything and they know everything. When they ask questions, they still ask in a childlike way.

It’s not a question of when this war is going to end. They understand that it depends on many factors and it’s not a question of whether Ukraine will be able to withstand this fight. They know it depends on many things, but Ukraine will definitely withstand. They’re very strong. I’d say they’re much more confident than some of our partners and sometimes they ask the question, “When can we live together again, dad?”

Amna Nawaz (15:17):

Do your children ever worry that you might not survive this war?

Volodymyr Zelensky (15:24):

I think they worry. They worry a lot. Well, it’s war. What else can I say? I think words don’t matter as much. You need to hug them tight. For children, words aren’t important. It’s important for them to feel you’re there. Not over the phone, but in person.

Amna Nawaz (15:49):

President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. Thank you so much for hosting us here and for your time, sir.

Volodymyr Zelensky (15:54):

Thank you so much. Thank you that you’re here.

Amna Nawaz (15:58):

Well, the streets here tonight in rainy Kyiv are quiet and largely empty with a curfew still in place, but as President Zelensky and I left that interview and walked through the halls of the presidential complex, he remembered back to the days when Russian forces advanced and tried to take this very city in those early days of their full-scale invasion back in 2022. He said that that was before he knew how long the war would last, before tens of thousands of Ukrainians had been killed, and before the future of his nation was this uncertain. All of that, the President told me, now feels like a lifetime ago. Geoff.

Geoff Bennett (16:34):

And Amna, you and our team have been on the ground there for some several days now. Tell us what else you’re working on.

Amna Nawaz (16:41):

Geoff, in the days ahead, we’re going to make a trip to the city of Kharkiv in the northeast. That’s a city that has been relentlessly pummeled by Russian forces. We’re going to talk to some residents there, talk to them about how they’ve been adapting to life under that assault and also what they can do to protect themselves.

We’re also taking a closer look at Ukraine’s energy and critical infrastructure, which has also been targeted in a way that we haven’t seen before by Russian forces with much more aggression and much more precision than we’ve seen at any other point in the war. We’re also going to be talking to some young Ukrainians here. President Zelensky has just lowered the draft age from 27 to 25, many more thousands of young Ukrainians could be called to join this fight. We’re going to talk to them to get their take as well. Geoff.

Geoff Bennett (17:26):

Amna Nawaz in Kyiv tonight. Amna, thank you.

Amna Nawaz (17:30):

Thank you.

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