What the opposition in Kiev thinks: "We made things too easy for the population"

As President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is always representative of Ukraine, but what does the opposition in the country say? Ivanna Klympush-Tsintadze was Deputy Prime Minister in Kiev and recently sat on a panel at "Café Kyiv", a major conference of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

What the opposition in Kiev thinks: "We made things too easy for the population"

As President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is always representative of Ukraine, but what does the opposition in the country say? Ivanna Klympush-Tsintadze was Deputy Prime Minister in Kiev and recently sat on a panel at "Café Kyiv", a major conference of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. With ntv.de she talks about mistakes from the past, her compatriots' will to win and what ammunition depots mean that go up in flames.

ntv.de: In Germany, some claim that Selenskyj primarily represents his own convictions during the war. How do you see that as a politician in the opposition?

Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze: I disagree with President Zelenskyy on many issues, but we are in complete agreement on this issue: Ukraine will only have freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity if we win the war. In order to make any kind of post-war negotiation possible, we must ensure that we are self-sustaining. We must preserve the country, the nation, the state. To do that, we have to fight.

They've been fighting for a year - how much longer can the country hold out?

According to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology poll, 86 percent of the Ukrainian population voted in favor of us continuing to defend ourselves against the Russian attack. This great encouragement stems from people's realization that our survival depends on victory.

Recently, several thousand people took to the streets in Germany to protest against further weapons for Ukraine. You demand negotiations, now.

These people think: it must be possible for you to negotiate with someone who kidnaps your children, who deports your fellow citizens under duress, who tortures and rapes your compatriots. But you can't negotiate with a terrorist. What these people who are protesting arms shipments don't understand is this: the most important humanitarian aid that can be given to Ukraine right now is arms. nothing else. We lack the instruments, equipment and weapons. But we have the courage, the bravery, the unity to push back the attacker.

86 percent support means 14 percent do not want to continue the fight. Are they visible in the public debate? Is there any debate at all?

I don't have the feeling that the 14 percent with a different opinion are trying to make themselves heard. They are not denied the right to do so, but they tend not to belong to the active part of society. Those 14 percent who don't support the fight don't automatically think we should surrender either. Other positions are also possible. You may think we can secure our survival in other ways.

Kaja Kallas, Prime Minister of Estonia, recently said that the West made the mistake of not showing Russia borders in 2014. What mistakes did Ukraine itself make?

Above all, we - I was in government for a few years after 2014 - made things too easy for our people. The war that has been going on for years has not affected the everyday life of most Ukrainians. They just got on with their lives. When my party warned that Russia would escalate the war, become more brutal, we were labeled as crazy.

A few days before February 24 last year, President Zelenskyj said in Germany that there would be no invasion of Russia.

My party has long warned that a major war was coming. After 2014, we had to deal with negotiations with Russia for years. That's why it was much more obvious to us than to others what was to come. In 2019 nobody wanted to hear us, we were called the "party of war".

Did the possible threat from Russia play a role in the 2019 election campaign?


Have your warnings harmed you?

Also: yes. A year ago it turned out that we were right. With the Minsk agreements we only bought time. After all, they allowed us to train and better equip our military. We were able to empower our troops to be able to repel the Russians.

If you say you made things too easy for your compatriots after 2014 - what should you have done differently?

For one thing, we didn't switch to a war economy, that was a mistake. Unfortunately, additional programs that we had set up to be able to produce weapons were terminated in 2019. And people who didn't live close to the front lines just carried on as before. Some glorified Russia in nostalgic memories of their youth when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. We haven't done enough to make it clear to the population how existentially Russia is threatening us. This realization was a process even for Ukrainians. Many people had to completely rethink after February 24, 2022.

Was this rethinking process only hampered by the memory of old times?

There were also Russian narratives that were constantly seeping in to us. Through Russian TV, which we shut down in 2016. Through Russian social networks to which we have blocked access. This was followed by a major debate with colleagues in the West.

About the value of free speech? Was that the point of your Western colleagues?

That's what this debate was about, but Russian social media isn't about freedom of speech, it's about undermining society from within. Their aim was to form disruptive forces in Ukraine. At that time, for example, some of our ammunition depots caught fire, but few people could understand at the time that this was a subversive action by Russia. Only now, looking back, did we understand that the attacks were from Moscow.

Where are the greatest dangers today?

Now I'm afraid that people in the West will get used to this war raging. That neither side makes really big gains, but a kind of stalemate develops and the West loses interest. Westerners need to understand what's at stake: if we Ukrainians fall, Georgia and Moldova will soon be gone too. Then Russia advances further and can attack NATO's eastern flank.

What can stop Putin permanently?

Russia's complete military defeat, isolation and punishment. Under no circumstances should the sanctions be relaxed after the end of the war. Russia must be weakened to the point where it is no longer able to restore its ability to attack.

That would be your security guarantee instead of contracts?

You know what: we had security guarantees in the Budapest Memorandum, ...

... which was signed in 1994. Ukraine agreed to surrender its nuclear arsenal, the third largest in the world at the time. The USA, Great Britain and Russia guaranteed their security.

And we pressed this in 2014 when Russia attacked, but to no avail. Security guarantees are useless. I believe the only security guarantee that would really work would be NATO membership. And not only in our interest, but also in the interest of the NATO countries. If we don't get in, they'll lose everything they're supposed to stand for.

And beyond morality, how else do you argue for Kiev joining NATO?

With costs. It's going to cost the West an enormous amount of money if we don't become members. Because that means, first, that Ukraine must be armed to such an extent that it is always, at any time, in a position to ward off a Russian attack itself. Secondly, Putin would have achieved his goal, ...

... to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO.

He will gather his strength and attack again. Again, Ukraine would need a lot of military aid, and that's going to be expensive. So also from an economic point of view: it is much cheaper for NATO to have us on board than outside. Plus: The military experience that we are gaining in this war against Russia, nobody else has but us. After the war, we train the soldiers in the West, not the other way around.

Some corruption cases from the Ukrainian government have recently become known in the local media. how big is the problem

There was an arrest of the Deputy Regional Minister for bribes. Journalists raised allegations of possible corruption in the distribution of food for soldiers. Recently, some people have been fired from the Department of Defense.

Such a thing feeds the narrative that Ukraine is a corrupt state.

What we have to watch out for is that these people shouldn't just be fired, but these cases have to be pursued and brought to justice. This is crucial for us, because Ukrainian society does not currently have zero tolerance for corruption, but less than zero. It's in the red - because of the war, because of the losses, there's absolutely no buffer left.

How badly do such cases damage Ukrainians' trust in their government?

People don't give up, they get upset. "Is it still okay? What's going on there?" - that's the kind of reaction in the population. There is a lot of pressure from the public and we need it. It's not that Ukraine no longer has a problem with corruption. What is important, however, is that we have created instruments and set up authorities to prosecute corruption. That was also part of the process when we achieved visa-free travel to the EU. We must use these instruments. Cases of corruption are everywhere, think of the Vice President of the European Parliament. What matters is how you answer it.

Frauke Niemeyer spoke to Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze