Interview with Savik Shuster for "Rain" TV
Presenters Julia Taratuta, Denis Kataev:
- Savik, you are an experienced journalist, you have covered a great number of Ukrainian and Russian elections. Have you ever witnessed anything similar to what we can see today in Ukraine?
- I believe today it is necessary to discuss not Vladimir Zelenskiy and Petro Poroshenko, but the choice of the people. It is a matter of great importance. Three-quarters of Ukrainians who went to the polls voted for Vladimir Zelenskiy. That is, they voted for radical change, for a new generation, for another path of development for Ukraine. It is very significant, because the people are sovereign, and it is important. We wrote this in the Constitution, and then we forgot about it. But the people decide.
You understand that in Ukraine more than 70 percent support Zelenskiy, and in Russia more than 70 percent support Stalin. Under these circumstances it is necessary to find a common language and to terminate this war.
Because of the war, everybody just gets poorer. We get richer when we live in peace and enjoy common success. Currently, Vladimir Zelenskiy has a very serious task. He needs to show the Russians that Ukraine can build a country that Russians will look upon with envy.
- Do you remember the year 2000, when the people of Russia elected Vladimir Putin? At that time, many people also relied on him. He also was a fresh face after, figuratively, as the people said, the drinker Mr. Yeltsin, and that's what happened in the end. How do you think, is there a similar danger in Ukraine?
- Without the slightest doubt, everything is possible. Our knowledge of Mr. Zelenskiy is very limited. We don't know him as a politician at all. I don't know his strategy, tactics, which people he will choose, or why he will choose one over another. Those people whom I saw, for the most part, they have no any experience in politics. We don't understand what they can do. However, we all think that it’s likely that Igor Kolomoiskiy, one of the most important Ukrainian oligarchs, has in one way or another been influencing him and will continue to influence him. But we have no answers to all these questions.
I would not compare Vladimir Putin in 2000 with the present Mr. Zelenskiy, because in 2000, the history of post-Soviet Russia was a little bit different. In 1996, all forces were turned to make Mr. Yeltsin the president for the second time. It was necessary to show that Mr. Zyuganov was the worst of evils, and Mr. Yeltsin was the lesser of the two evils. And for these reasons, all of the rules of democracy were thrown out. Mr. Yeltsin was elected, and later he decided to resign and he appointed Mr. Putin, or somebody appointed Mr. Putin in his place. Everybody thought that Mr. Putin would obey those people who appointed him. In his turn, Mr. Putin decided that he would stand alone. But that is another story. It is Byzantine; it is unrelated to open democracy. All that’s happening today in Ukraine is happening in an open society; it is an open democracy. Imagine a person like Mr. Zelenskiy becoming president of Russia. It is possible for you to imagine that?
During our research, which we conducted over a period of a month and a half, we posed politically incorrect questions. For what reason? Because the politically correct world disappeared, it lost. And now we ask the question: "Ukrainians, can a Jew become the president of Ukraine?" And it turns out that he can.
Thus, three-quarters of the Ukrainian people who went to the elections today destroyed all the labels that had been pinned to Ukraine – "Bandera supporters", “anti-Semites”, etc.
Today Ukraine showed that it is an absolutely open country that is looking for the right way to live and develop.
- And how do you imagine the development of Russian-Ukrainian relations under the rule of President Zelenskiy? What will he do? Russian political analysts often say that the same status quo will be expedient for him as for the Russian side, because it is not understood how to break Minsk deadlock. Mr. Zelenskiy will bide his time in the same way that the Russians are doing. In such a manner, everything will stay put.
- I think that the future of Ukrainian-Russian relations depends much more on the relationship between you and me rather than on the relationship between Mr. Zelenskiy and Mr. Putin. I strongly believe it. Because it is impossible to fight when we don't want to fight.
- Let me make sure I've got this right: it seems to you that Mr. Zelenskiy won on this, figuratively speaking, anti-war wave?
- It’s part of it; 75 percent of Ukrainians voted for Mr. Zelenskiy and 75 percent of Ukrainians polled in our research feel humiliated because Mr. Poroshenko makes money off the war. That isn’t mere coincidence. You know, a politician cannot continue to lead the elite and the country if he makes money off the people who die. In 2014 Ukraine was faced with aggression. Who went to defend the country? These were volunteers; these are people who went to the front empty-handed. And now this is the whole society. They know that the man whom they had elected with a majority in the first round as president of the country and supreme commander, eventually made money off their deaths. Do you understand what that means? It's terrible. It is true that Ukraine doesn't want to fight – it is obvious. It would like to find a common language.
- You said that the future of Russian-Ukrainian relations depends more on civil society, but this is, to be honest, an idealistic viewpoint. Much depends on the political bosses. You have just said that an important message really happened in Ukraine, that a Jew can be a president. But can this Jewish president shake hands with Vladimir Putin and negotiate with him?
- It depends a little on Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, it depends on the values he has in life and on what generation he is from in general. From what he has done up to now, I see him as a man of the old generation, pre-Gorbachev. And, of course, it is difficult to talk with such a person. The people with whom he surrounds himself have the same views. This is not about the age, this is about the values. Will Mr. Zelenskiy and the people around him be able to get to Mr. Putin's heart of hearts? I believe not. We need to understand what to do with Lugansk and Donetsk. Either you go to war or say that the people will decide for themselves how they want to live.
Maybe when the people who live in Lugansk and Donetsk saw what Petro Poroshenko was doing, they did not want to return to Ukraine. I don't exclude this fact. If Mr. Zelenskiy becomes such a person, do you think that they will have a mind to return to Ukraine?
In such a case, this is not a conversation for Mr. Putin. This is a completely different kind of conversation. That's why I say that Ukraine should build such a country and create a situation in which people want to live. This is the principal task for Mr. Zelenskiy. And Mr. Putin has absolutely nothing to do with it.
April 21, 2019