Watch CBS News

Transcript: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on "Face the Nation," April 3, 2022

Full interview: Zelenskyy on “Face the Nation”
Full interview: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on “Face the Nation” 31:40

The following is a transcript of an interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that aired Sunday, April 3, 2022, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He joins us from Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine. Good afternoon, sir.


MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. President, Russian forces appear to be withdrawing from the north of Ukraine. Do you think this means Putin's calculus is changing?

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: Thank you for this question. You know, MARGARET, we- they have pulled out from some localities. In others they are redoing the redeployment because the conflict- the situation is difficult. There were some communities that they were trying to take several times, and this is a tragedy because our army had to take back as well. So the city of Chornobaivka- nine times they attempted to take it over. But we think this is the redeployment, in our opinion. They're changing the tactics now. They were trying to take Kyiv and some cities in Kyiv region. Some of them have been occupied and then they destroyed everything. The civilians, the houses, they were stealing washing machines and equipment. So they were torturers as well. I think the clips that we shared with you, you have seen for yourself. It's important for the free people of the United States to have a look at it and underst- and see for themselves. Before the war when there was a lot of free time, we were watching different films and also war movies. But we couldn't have imagined anything like this because this is a maniac type of decision to just- to destroy the whole nation.  Well, in- in terms of the tacts- tactics and them pulling out and what the strategy of the- of Putin is, they are now focusing in the east of Ukraine. So this corridor, which is going from the Crimea to the east of Ukraine, this is in the south of Ukraine. And this is where they are trying to focus in terms of armament, in terms of deploying their personnel, the Chechen troops occupying the cities. They were bringing people in from different parts of the world because they were in deficit of their personnel and now they are grouping all of these troops in the south and east of our country.

MARGARET BRENNAN:  The images you're talking about have been described by leaders around the world as horrific. The mayor of Kyiv used the term genocide. Your vice prime minister is asking if this is fascism or genocide in terms of what has been left around Kyiv. Do you feel that the world will actually make good on this promise to hold Vladimir Putin to account for war crimes?

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: Everything has to be fair and according to justice, as the civilized world will decide. We believe in justice, in the justice of the Western world of- and therefore, the question is not only about the leader of Russian Federation. We wouldn't think that it would be fair to take only him. I think all the military commanders, everyone who gave instructions and orders should be punished adequately. The adequate punishment to these people is difficult to be achieved. It has to be done according to the law and what they have done. And I want to apologize to you and to those people who are watching us now, but for some things that they have done. When we find people with- with hands tied behind their back and decapitated. Such things I don't understand. I don't comprehend the kids who were killed and tortured. So it wasn't enough just to kill for those criminals. Maybe they wanted to take gold or washing machines and they were killing, but they were also torturing them as they did this. And your question is absolutely fair, but I don't have the answer. I don't know what law or what imprisonment term would be adequate for this. As the father of two childr- children and as a president, I think that these people, if they are put behind the bars, this is one too little for what they have done.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is this genocide?

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: Indeed, this is genocide. The elimination of the whole nation and the people. We are the citizens of Ukraine. We have more than 100 nationalities. This is about the destruction and extermination of all these nationalities. We are the citizens of Ukraine and we don't want to be subdued to the policy of Russian Federation. This is the reason we are being destroyed and exterminated, and this is happening in the Europe of the 21st century. So this is the torture of the whole nation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In the Donbas southeast area of your country, the city of Mariupol, are you having any success getting civilians out?

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: Many people, many thousands of people have been evacuated. In certain cities, 35, 30, 40,000 have been evacuated. So altogether, hundreds of thousands. But nevertheless, there are still hundreds of thousand remain blocked. Some of them are blocked or behind the bars.  To answer to your question about Mariupol, before the beginning of this full-fledged war and the occupation of Mariupol, there have been lots of people and all the corridors have been blocked, including humanitarian corridors, the supply of food and water. So in this city now, there is 150,000- lots of dead bodies in the street. Lots of wounded people among the military and civilians. The evacuation happens only when the Russian side agrees to a Ukrainian proposal to open a corridor. So the corridor for the food or water simply do not exist in those cities that are occupied by Russia. The corridor that we agree on with the Russian side to simply let the people go. Some of them are walking by foot, dozens of kilometers to reach the place where we- we are. So 120 kilometers walking in foot- is simply impossible. Many of them have been walking. Many of them have died on the- on their way. Some of them had to be picked up by other people and taken out from these blocked cities. So on the daily basis, every day, we are putting forward the proposal not only to unblock but at least to send the transportation there. So many people were shot at and- and killed. We were sending these people with- these convoys with journalists and priests. We thought that these people will not be shooting at the church representatives so at first our people were not afraid. So then all of that was blocked and- and people were shot at. So that's the only thing now. They- only when they agree and open up the city, the people start running as they can. But no food, no water can be brought in. So it's a humanitarian disaster there.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. President, your team shared with us a video, images that your government has gathered of what has been left behind outside of Kyiv that I do want to share with our viewers. And I want to ask you about it. And looking and listening to what Vladimir Putin has said. He's called Ukraine not a real country. He said it's controlled by little Nazis. He's called you a drug-addled thug. Is he someone you can negotiate with?

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: As the president of Ukraine, they cannot be just my personal view about President Putin and a dialogue with the Russian Federation. I have to stand for the interests of my country. So it's difficult to say how, after all- what has been done, we can have any kind of negotiations with Russia. That's on the personal level. But as a president, I have to do it. Any war has to end. Just end. I'm not talking about ending this with peace, because peace in this situation when there are thousands of people killed, is something that I'm not fine with. But there is no- any other way. That's- I'm saying as a president, there's no any other way, but the dialogue, if we don't want hundreds of thousands, millions to die. But it's important to have the agreement between the two sides and understanding or at least the desire to understand that we need to have a dialogue. Because we're going to stand until the end. And they have to understand this. So I'm- keep talking about this dialogue, something that I have been repeating throughout my term as a president.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Russia's peace negotiator said today Ukraine has agreed to a number of terms: staying neutral, not joining a military bloc and refusing to host military bases. Do you have at this point any points of agreement with Russia?

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: The representatives can not agree- or not agree. They can discuss different perspectives and prospects regarding the possible future agreement between the two sides, so put forward the proposals, have discussions, discuss certain items. Because only the president can endorse this- or not just the president, but the whole nation. So the approval will be done on the level of the leaders of the country here. The important thing in this agreement are security guarantees. Security guarantees should include a circle of countries who will be supporting our country. And in case there is an aggression by Russia against Ukraine, these leaders in these countries will be assisting Ukraine in different capacities, following certain security conditions that have to be agreed between these security guarantor states. And this agreement is about such security guarantees that- which would make us protected. Russia also puts forward proposals or conditions, but most important that it is not ultimatum as it used to be, because at first they were thinking about taking over the country just in the matter of three days. And they were- we see how they are behaving now. They were going to exterminate all of us. And we didn't allow them to do this. We protected our people, our country. So such security guarantees in this agreement will give- will- Ukraine will take a non-nuclear, non-bloc status, neutral status. But at the same time, Ukraine will have the membership in the European Union. So there are other conditions- so economic conditions following the values of the European Union, which are very close to the Ukrainian people. So it's difficult for me to comment on this question. I think they have had arguments during negotiations on other items. We think that the parties are very close to reaching an agreement. We do not believe that Russia will be able to adhere to the conditions that we are negotiating right now. But as I said, without dialogue, we cannot put an end to the war. So they are discussing, they are arguing, but they are still moving forward regarding these parts and these sanctions in negotiations with Russia.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In terms of security guarantees, the United States has given security assurances to Ukraine in the past and that did not stop this invasion. When you recently spoke with President Biden, did he make you any kind of concrete promise that the US and NATO wouldn't let this happen to Ukraine again?

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: I would like to thank the United States and Biden administration and their bipartisan support in everything they're doing for us. But nevertheless, the United States have not provided the security guarantees to us. You have to understand this as a president of the country in war. The United States is our strategic partner and they are supporting us. But security guarantees is when you have an enforceable document. Even the Budapest Memorandum was a- a treaty. We have given away our nuclear power and it was just a piece of paper. It wasn't a security guarantee, although there was a circle of countries who acted as a guarantor in case our sovereignty and territorial agreement is violated. So we don't believe in papers any longer. So we are very grateful for the support of the United States. Indeed, and it's a very powerful support. But in terms of security guarantees, we have not received them yet from anyone and we have to get them. For us it is important also what the circle of countries who will be providing the security guarantees is going to be and how specifically this will be enforced. So how this will work in reality, because even NATO countries do not fully understand what is going to happen if Russia will attack NATO countries, these smaller countries like Baltic countries, beautiful countries. They're our friends. But they are afraid. They are not confident that tomorrow the world will protect them from Russia if anything happens. Why I'm saying very honestly this, because we can see from what Russia is doing, whatever Russia is speaking out, they are then doing this later on. So just listen to what they say. They say that- it- it- the country needs to deserve to be a sovereign country. It is not- because not all countries, according to them, deserve to be sovereign. So the world is standing with the strong ones. That's where they are staying. The- the politicians are saying this. The entourage of the Russian president is making such state- statement. And you cannot just respond to this by stating your concerns. This is what happened in our case. Only the concerns, that someone is concerned about this. That's one too little, one too small. And this is why these small countries, they don't know what will happen tomorrow. Will the NATO countries protect the Baltic states if Russian Federation will invade? Because there was an agreement that- that because there was an agreement allegedly that NATO will not advance to the east. This is what Russian argument was. So this is why no one has 100% assurance about what the future holds. Whereas- whereas we of the present day, we have the war. So I'm not, as a president, satisfied with just assurance because then I don't know what the agreement is going to be about and whether we will have an agreement with Russia. What are we going to agree about? Who are going to be the guarantors? Because if tomorrow the war starts again, and only sanctions will have been introduced, well, that's about nothing. Because sanctions are important. They cannot stop the aggression. And we don't need such guarantees. I need legal, powerful guarantees where there was a description about the weapons, human factor, sanction policy and prevention- preventive type of response, not only after people will be killed. Not after we had eight years of war in Donbas with ups and downs, and then out of the blue, you have a full fledged war from Russian Federation. Now we're interested in real, enforceable guarantees. Can be five countries, guarantors. Maybe even three will have a full fledged defense for Ukraine and will- will be involved to protect Ukraine. Then we can sit down around the table with Russia and then only I understand what this dialogue is about with Russia. And this will be a logical solution. I don't know for how many years, but at least I will be able to come out to people and say, we have to try to come back to normal life to- to take back the life that was given to us. And that's what it's about.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Russia seems very interested in this resource-rich part of eastern Ukraine. I wonder, will you settle for anything less than a full withdrawal of Russian troops from every inch of Ukrainian soil?

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: This is the bare minimum that we have to start the deoccupation with. It should be 100% withdrawal of troops to the borders that existed prior to the 24th of February, at least. This would make us to at least- to start discussing other questions about the deoccupation, about how de we live- live on after this. We have our dialogue with them. So I can't even have a meeting when the shelling is going on. So first the cease fire. Then we can have a meeting with the Russian president. If they have the- an approach that they- he's making this authoritarian decisions, what do we need this bloodshed, drama, performance for? Let's simply sit down together the two of us. We will discuss a point in time when the end of the war will come, and after we discuss the security guarantees together and the- the neutral, non-bloc status, but preserving our sovereignty, our strong army. And if that agreement will be violated, we need to have the possibility to defend ourselves. After we discuss this, then all the troops have to be withdrawn. After they are withdrawn, then we can sit together with the countries and they will act as the guarantors of the security. Because the- how can you imagine leaders of the global countries meeting at the time when the tanks will be still on our territory? So the guns and the cannons and the tanks, cannot dictate us, what the future will be for Ukraine. This is what Russia started when they started the war.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. President, you are asking the United States for heavy weapons, for planes, for Patriot missile systems, the kind of thing that could shoot down incoming Russian missiles. You've asked for the Iron Dome system that Israel has. All of these things take years of training. Are you expecting the war to drag on for years?

PRESIDENT ZELESNKYY: There is- there are types of weapons that will not reduce the defense system of any NATO country if it is transferred to Ukraine. So because the United States could influence some of the NATO countries in Europe and pass this weaponry to us. Because this was transferred to them some time ago as a support of the United States to those countries. For many of that military equipment is back from the Soviet times. So it- it- it was even manufactured in the United States. It was built even in Russian military factories and Ukrainian military factories. So I see no problem in transferring that type of military equipment to us. And then we don't need to spend any time for training because we know that type of weaponry very well and that is- can be done very quickly. That would be a swift assistance and very quick support. And I think the United States could influence that decision and many European countries could make it happen. Especially those European countries who were- were in- in the relationship with the former Soviet Union. And there's lots of that weaponry there. And as a bare minimum they could care- could share this with us, which they are doing. But the pace is not very fast. We're losing people. We- and the people are more valuable than any equipment that they might have shared. In terms of these- of large scale systems produced by the United States and other countries, we are looking forward indeed for this kind of support, but unfortunately that is even more complicated than the previous items that I have mentioned. In terms of fighter jets or bombers, any planes that could help us very much. They could rescue lives, and Russia wouldn't have the advantage in the sky. Unfortunately, we cannot receive this. And it's about NATO position. We have been talking for such a long time that NATO- that Ukraine cannot be a part of NATO. And they keep emphasizing this to us when they are saying that NATO countries cannot transfer everything they want to us because NATO countries cannot be part of this war. Although I would like to repeat this again, that you cannot stand in the middle between the evil and the good, the white and the black. This won't happen. You still have to take sides.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. President, are you changing tactics in this war? Today there were blasts that have been heard in a Russian city near the Ukrainian border. There was a similar attack the US said Ukraine carried out just a few days ago.

PRESIDENT ZELENSKYY: We're not changing the tactics. We're fighting for our country on our terrain. We have had similar things in the past several years, and this is the fearmongering that they were using in the occupied territories. So the Donbas, they were showing different clips of explosions as if we were shooting at something. But no one could prove this with the satellite imagery because they were turning their weapon 180 degrees and shooting at their own house- housing blocks. So I'm not even paying attention to these kind of insinuations by Russian Federation. Sometimes, I think in the occupied Donbas some people may not have known what the reality was, but nevertheless, we do know how these militia was acting. Even when we agreed about the ceasefire on the contact line that we used to control between the Donbas and the temporary occupied territories, they would still find an opportunity to put an end to this. They would turn their weapon 180 degrees and shoot at their own city. And the escalation would- would be triggered like this. So there's no- any tactics of that sort. We are not fighting on a foreign soil. There- there are no weapons or personnel of Ukraine on the Belarussian or Russian soil. And during the first days, we were showing the clips to the whole world and everyone saw the missiles, cruise missiles coming from Belarus. And there is satellite imagery to prove this. And people were making videos on their smartphones, even people in Belarus. They're not supporting this war against us. So even nationalists in Belarus were making videos of this, missiles flying in and the helicopters, by the way, who were bombing those same cities that you mentioned in the very beginning- that these clips are from that you were showing to- to your audience. And even at that time, we were not responding with our air defense system. We're not shooting at Belarus even during those circumstances, because this is not our tactics. This is not the approach that we follow.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. President, you've been generous with your time. We're so glad that you could join us. And we hope that you and your family remain safe.

PRESIDENT ZELESNKYY: Thank you very much for your time. Take a good care of yourselves, your families and the peace that you have in the United States. Don't forget about Ukraine. Please help us keep. Keep- keep on helping us. We have the same values. We have the same color of blood. And we are fighting for freedom and we will win indeed. And thank you very much.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you. FACE THE NATION will be back in one minute. Stay with us.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.