'Only Nato membership can bring us security': Q&A with Ukraine's President Zelenskiy

·4-min read
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy

Reports of mass Russian troop mobilisations in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine have sparked fears of renewed war between Moscow and Kiev. In an exclusive interview with the The Telegraph's Senior Foreign Correspondent Roland Oliphant, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy argues that the confrontation is a test for Western values.

The Telegraph: What do you think the Kremlin is trying to achieve with the current troop build-up? Is it an invasion or some other objective?

Zelenskiy: There are more Russian troops concentrated on our border and in the occupied territory of Ukraine than in the period from 2014-2015, when the fiercest fighting in Donbas took place. This military potential can be used both to increase aggression and to intimidate with increasing aggression. And this applies not only to Ukraine. This is pressure on Europe and the West as a whole. It is a test of the strength of our ties and the weight of the words and decisions of Western nations.

We perceive this situation absolutely soberly and prepare for different scenarios. The same readiness is required from other states that value the basic principles of life. This is not just a struggle for territory. This is a conflict, which decides whether the true democratic order will be preserved, whether the principle of inviolability of borders will work, whether there will be freedom of nations in choosing their own destiny. That is why it is logical for Western countries to support Ukraine.

Since 2014, when the Ukrainian Crimea was seized and the war in Donbas began, it has become clear to everyone that only by working together can we bring peace back to Europe. And how did it all start? Seven years ago, there were no provocations from Ukraine or NATO. There was no activity that could justify aggression. But at that moment it was not fully clear that the reaction would be common. This unity, the fact that we are together, is the most important thing now.

President Zelenskiy on the frontline in eastern Ukraine - AFP
President Zelenskiy on the frontline in eastern Ukraine - AFP

The Telegraph: How should the West respond? What does Ukraine need from the West?

Zelenskiy: Support should be adequate to the threats that exist today and are possible tomorrow. We see that Russia is using more than just military pressure. These are also waves of disinformation, the spread of extremely destructive conspiracy theories, attempts to interfere in political and electoral processes in other countries, cyberattacks, economic pressure and the export of corruption. Manifestations of this or that element of such activity have already been noticed in all Western countries.

That is why we must jointly fight disinformation, protect our political institutions and ensure the transparency of economic processes. For Ukraine, as a state that is being reformed for full European and Euro-Atlantic integration and at the same time defends itself from armed aggression, concrete systemic support is very important. The key thing is that we need a NATO Membership Action Plan.

It is only Ukraine's accession to the Alliance that can guarantee security and peace, as well as inviolability of basic principles in the long run. On the way to such accession, both the institutional work on the implementation of NATO standards and reforms in our country and the obvious political message for all that NATO exists and really cares about security are very important. The Membership Action Plan for Ukraine can be just such a message.

Ukrainian servicemen and a tank close to the front line with Russian-backed separatists near Lysychansk, Lugansk region  - AFP
Ukrainian servicemen and a tank close to the front line with Russian-backed separatists near Lysychansk, Lugansk region - AFP

The Telegraph: What would you like to see emerge from the Biden-Putin summit announced yesterday, and what do you think Biden needs to say to Putin at the summit to defuse the current crisis?

Zelenskiy: President Biden has a good understanding of the situation in our part of Europe and of the Ukrainian context. We talked recently. So, I am sure he will formulate to the Russian leader exactly what outlines our common position with the Western states: there is no alternative to peace and therefore we need to return to meaningful negotiations to end the war in Donbas. But let's take a closer look at what was said about a possible meeting between the American and Russian presidents.

This is just a proposal, and there have been no specifics of its implementation yet. However, we already have a crisis situation. That is why it is important that our joint efforts bear fruit and that it is clear to everyone that aggressive actions or threats will never benefit anyone. This position is already very strongly expressed by Britain. In a conversation with me, Boris Johnson expressed solidarity with Ukraine and full support. This is exactly what is needed.