“We want Crimea to return to the borders of 1991, only then we can talk about peace” – interview with Vice Prime Minister of Ukraine Iryna Vereshchuk to one of the most influential Italian media La Stampa

Опубліковано 3 March 2023 року, о 10:09

Iryna Vereshchuk’s face shows a wave of emotion as she thanks Italy for supporting Ukraine since the first days of the Russian invasion. “You are a great nation, you have had, and have outstanding leaders of the state, I admire Giorgia Meloni as a politician, Prime Minister and woman,” says the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Reintegration of the Temporarily Occupied Territories. Decisively defining the terms of negotiations on the part of Kyiv: “To return Crimea and return to the 1991 borders,” she rejects Silvio Berlusconi’s claims, calling them “Putin’s alpha model” that has already become history.

  • Let’s talk about the present, what do you think of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni?

“I have been watching Giorgia Meloni since the beginning of her tenure, I see how much she cares about Italy and the role of Italy in the system of European and democratic values. I respect her as a politician, as a Prime Minister and as a woman because she has managed to achieve important goals in terms of politics and career. I am confident that she will strengthen and multiply the great historical glory of our friend Italy.”

  • What is your vision of the conflict a year after the outbreak of the war?

“Despite the losses, we have become more united. We will come out of this war stronger internationally. The world has noticed, understood and supported us. This is our strength. This war will become a boundary between the old Ukraine (corrupt, with internal conflicts) and the new Ukraine – strong, united, fair, where there will be no place for privileged people, where there will be no oligarchy and corruption, a country where people will believe in justice.”

  • How long do you think Western allies will continue to support Ukraine in this war?

“I am convinced that Europe and the West are led by pragmatic and rational people who realize that a secure Europe will not exist without a peaceful and secure Ukraine. By helping us, they are investing in the future of Europe.”

  • Does a secure Ukraine include Crimea?

“There will be no security for Ukraine or Europe without Crimea. It is in the interests of Europe, the UK and the US to make sure that Russia cannot use Crimea as a military foothold. This is currently the basis of world politics.”

  • What are your conditions for sitting down at the negotiating table?

“Restoration of the Ukrainian borders of 1991 and their recognition by the international community.”

  • Why is Bakhmut so important?

“Bakhmut is a fortress of the Ukrainian resistance, as President Volodymyr Zelensky called it. The more the Russians, together with the prisoners from the Wagner group, try to take it, the more they will encounter our resistance. If we withdrew from Bakhmut or Donetsk region, they would not stop and seize more territory. Moscow believes that if people in the region speak Russian and go to the Moscow Patriarchate church, it is Russian territory. This is not the case.”

  • Do you think that Meloni’s government has taken a strong and clear position on Ukraine?

“In the first days after the invasion, Italy demonstrated its purpose in the European space – it is to be a leading country, to take responsibility for helping those who have been unjustly attacked. On July 26th, the Italian parliament voted in favor of a law that makes it possible to provide military assistance to Ukraine, which is an important and motivating support. Italy stands on the side of truth and justice, despite the interests of certain political figures. Everyone voted in favor, and the Council of Ministers supported the provision of military assistance, which is important for us. Italy has shown us that it has great leaders, and we will always remember this.”

  • How would you comment on Berlusconi’s words?

“Berlusconi is a product of the past, i.e. an era when people ruled not on the basis of values but with the help of other political instruments. But it doesn’t matter, we are not offended, we take it with understanding. We too were influenced by this type of politics and false worldview. The future belongs to other politicians who spread other values, we just have to wait and not assign too much importance to such episodes. Berlusconi reminds us of Putin and his men, alpha males who show disregard for rules and principles, believing that they are allowed to do anything. It is difficult for politicians with such strong egos to admit that a big country like Russia is being beaten by a smaller country like Ukraine, and this exposes their weakness.”

  • In your opinion, is Putin ready to use an atomic bomb?

“I think not. A recent poll showed that 89% of Ukrainians would continue to fight even if Putin used an atomic bomb. Moscow tried to blackmail the West with a nuclear threat and got the response it deserved from China and India as well.”

  • Did you ask yourself why the allies did not immediately provide some weapons?

“In 2014, Putin showed his true colors when he seized Crimea. Instead of stopping him, the world began to negotiate with him. They continued to allow Russia to arm itself militarily and technologically. The Kremlin managed to convince a large part of the Western establishment that it would be better for them to back down and cede part of Ukraine to the Kremlin in order to maintain relations with Moscow and maintain relative peace in Europe. Putin has managed to impress other leaders because of his challenging style, so what is happening now is a kind of echo of 2014. But we had politicians like Mario Draghi, Andrzej Sebastian Duda, Boris Johnson, the leaders of Lithuania and Estonia, and others who did not hesitate to demonstrate their position in the early stages of the invasion. And now others are joining them. We’ve turned the tables; the course of events has changed.”

  • And what about Joe Biden?

“Biden has sent a clear message to everyone. We must no longer flirt with certain individuals, we must start calling a spade a spade and realize that Russia has already lost in terms of strategy and tactics.”

  • Some people talk about a Ukrainian renaissance, do you agree with this?

“It is true. One prominent Italian statesman said: “We have created Italy, now we have to create Italians”. Now we have to change a lot of things in a short time. President Volodymyr Zelensky demonstrates capacity and competence in this regard. We have external challenges, such as the Russian invasion, but also internal challenges, such as fighting corruption, eliminating the oligarchy, overthrowing the influence of Russian fifth columns on our government. Obviously, under the effective leadership of our president, these changes are being rapidly realized. The desire of the Ukrainian people to be a sovereign country that will be part of the EU and NATO is obvious.”

  • Are you concerned about the change in San Remo’s position?

“Not quite, the president is addressing and talking to the whole world. He has made so many speeches that he has been heard and understood in so many forums. Those who tried to limit him in some way will not be able to limit the energy that the Ukrainian people radiate. It was an unusual but not too important episode. I think that Italians help us because they somehow recognize themselves in us, we remind them of themselves in the past. Your people have a big heart and a big soul, and that’s the main thing.”