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On Sunday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky gave an extensive interview to four Russian journalists; the New York Times calls them “prominent,” but I don’t have any opinion on that score. They used ZOOM as a vehicle. After the interview, the journalists posted it to their social media accounts where, in short order, the Russian government ordered it taken down.
After they finished the interview, the journalists posted about it on social media, promising that they would soon publish it. Several hours after that, the Russian telecommunications regulator, Roskomnadzor, released a statement directing Russian news outlets not to publish the interview, and warning that an inquiry had been launched against the reporters involved to “determine their responsibility.”
Even by the standards of contemporary Russia’s arbitrary law enforcement, the statement was remarkable, offering no legal pretext to justify the order not to publish the interview. But in the wake of the law signed by Mr. Putin early this month — potentially punishing news reporting on the Ukraine invasion that deviates from the Kremlin narrative with as much as 15 years in prison — the government directive had an impact.
Meduza has provided a full transcript via Google Translate.
Here are some significant items.
Zelensky claims, and the video we’ve seen of combat operations seems to bear this out, that the Ukrainians have attempted to arrange with the Russians for the transfer of bodies of dead Russians back to the Russian Army. He says the Russians declined. Zelensky also claims that the Russians are rounding up civilians to be used as a bargaining chip. He says that many of the Ukrainians arrested by the Russians after the 2014 land grab in Donbas are still missing despite the EU and other intermediaries making inquiries.
When Zelensky is asked if Ukraine and Russia will ever be able to normalize relations, he tiptoes around but seems to say that Ukraine will turn its focus West in the future.
He dismisses the idea of peacekeepers, says the idea was Poland’s and that Ukraine doesn’t need a permanent conflict.
The Ukrainian Film Academy expelled Sergei Loznitsa, an ethnic Russian Ukrainian citizen. He has made a principled stand against penalizing Russian artists over the invasion of Ukraine. Zelensky condemned the expulsion.
Zelensky says that the Russians are deliberately dragging out negotiations. He goes on to say that the only item of negotiation is the withdrawal of Russian troops. The issues of Crimea and the fake Donbas republics must await the outcome of a referendum, and Ukrainian refugees would be allowed to vote in any referendum. Zelensky says Ukraine will not attack Crimea.
The discussion on the status of the Russian language is very nuanced, so much so that the translation is something of a word salad. Zelensky seems to say that the language in public schools will remain Ukrainian, but there will be no barriers to Russian language private schools. He definitely says that any decision on giving official status to the Russian language would require a change in the Ukrainian constitution. That decision will only come from a referendum. I’m guessing after the past month’s events that any such measure will lose in a huge way. One of the Russians sounds astonished that people will be allowed to vote against the referendum. Go figure. Zelensky also points out how the Russian language is losing popularity in Ukraine and other former Soviet Republics, and Putin seems to think he can reverse the trend by force.
Other than the interview taking place and being promptly censored by the Russian government, there wasn’t a lot of news made. It is obvious that Zelensky’s negotiating position has not changed (Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Reaches Its Culmination Point and Zelensky Plays Hardball in the Peace Negotiations) in the past week. This, undoubtedly, reflect the success the Ukrainian military is having on the battlefield and the state of negotiations with NATO and EU countries for aid. It is also significant that Zelensky is offering Putin exactly nothing that he has demanded. Zelensky is not resigning. The Ukrainian Army will not be disbanded (in fact, it will grow and become more capable). Zelensky will not recognize any change of status in Donbas and Crimea without a referendum. Russian will not be elevated to “official language” status without a referendum changing the constitution. In short, it is hard to see any common ground for negotiations.
Source: This post first appeared on RedState