Zelensky's aide Yermak: President to soon surprise the most pessimistic skeptics
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Andriy Yermak, aide to the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, elaborated on his visit to the United States and preparation for the president's upcoming visit, prospects for the development of Ukrainian-American relations and his functions as an aide to the president.
Q: A few days ago, you had an eventful visit to the United States jointly with Oleksandr Danyliuk, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine. Could you please share details of the visit and the meetings you had?
A: It was a two-day visit. I had a number of meetings, including meetings we jointly held with Oleksandr Danyliuk. One of them was a meeting in the White House with National Security Adviser John Bolton, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations Kurt Volker, and U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland.
A number of key issues concerning relations between our countries, as well as details of the future visit were discussed. You know that we've got an official invitation, and now we are working on preparations for this important official visit.
I would like to separately emphasize the support of Ukraine in all areas. Interest was expressed in building relations with President Zelensky, congratulations and expectations were conveyed. In the U.S., they closely monitor the president's actions, his steps, including trips around the country, communication with various officials, are in the center of attention.
Separately, I would like to highlight a meeting with Kurt Volker. This was just happening on the eve of our trip with Deputy Head of the Office of the President Vadym Prystaiko to Paris for a Normandy Four meeting.
The second day was devoted to congressional meetings. I talked to both Republicans and Democrats. The main purpose of these negotiations was to discuss a bill against Nord Stream 2.
In general, I will say that President Zelensky is a very visible figure for the United States; they are awaiting his visit with great interest. They see that he is a young, energetic, aimed at fighting corruption and sincerely wants changes in the country.
I got the firm impression that they in the United States believe Zelensky, and it isn't easy to convince Americans. It seems to me that the openness and sincerity of the president, the desire, in the first place, to remain human is very appealing to the Americans. Our partners expect that relations with Ukraine will reach a qualitatively new level, this was mentioned at all meetings. In the United States, President Zelensky's peace initiatives also resonate.
I also had meetings with representatives of the Ukrainian Diaspora, who are traditionally very active. Many of them were at the [President Zelensky's] inauguration. They are also waiting for the president's visit.
Separately, I'd like to note that I arrived in the United States with the news about President Zelensky's decision on changing the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, which should be an important step towards taking the relations between our countries to a new level.
Q: Tentatively when could Zelensky's visit the United States take place?
A: The most convenient dates are under discussion right now, because the planning of the visit should take into account not only the schedules of the presidents, but also a huge interest in President Zelensky, as I said, from the leaders of Congress, American businesses, and so on.
Q; Was the possibility of expanding the Normandy Format involving, in particular, the American side, discussed during your meetings in the U.S.? After all, in his recent video address to Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Zelensky proposed, as an option, involving the signatories to the Budapest Memorandum – the United States and Great Britain – in Normandy Four talks.
A: In the address by President Zelensky, of course, there was a call that once again demonstrates that we are for transparency and openness, including in the negotiations to end the war in Donbas. If this goes into the framework of any formal proposals, then we will discuss it. So far we have the Trilateral Contact Group in Minsk and the Normandy format in which the United States is not officially participating.
At the same time, I absolutely support the position of our president to expanding the range of possible participants. And their participation may be different. We are ready for the examination of our position by any international partners and organizations, because openness always provides an opportunity to defend our position.
Q: A few days ago, William B. Taylor, Chargé d’Affaires, a.i. of the United States Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, said that Ukraine had first applied for military equipment through the sales program of the U.S. Department of Defense, which would be considered. Did you discuss this issue in the U.S.?
A: I can say the following: during our meeting in the White House, we, together with NSDC Secretary Oleksandr Danyliuk, discussed prospects for our cooperation with the United States, including in the military sphere. I am not ready to talk about the details, but I confirm the fact of a conversation on this topic.
Q: Does Ukraine find the U.S. position on Nord Stream 2 satisfying?
A: Of course, we support all the steps of our partners that strengthen the energy security of Ukraine.
Q: What do you expect from the change of the Ambassador of Ukraine to the U.S.?
A: I fully support this decision. Ukrainian-U.S. relations should reflect and take into account the position of President Zelensky. Ukraine should become a mutually beneficial strategic partner for the United States. This is the key to our success, and we have all the possibilities for this, the political will and a great desire. Naturally, this all implies there should be another person in the place of the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States.
Q: Are there any candidates now?
A: We are working on it. The president is very attentive to the choice of candidates. He does not make chaotic decisions. The president opts to hold a personal meeting with all key candidates, in addition to reading their dossiers, to understand for himself what kind of person he or she is, the level of his or her professionalism and motivation.
Q: There is an opinion that the president is in isolation and his communication is carefully controlled...
A: I can tell you the following: having graduated from the Institute of International Relations under Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, being a professional lawyer, I personally know so many politicians in our country, and all my life I have refused offers to go into politics. And only my unconditional faith in Zelensky and to President Zelensky is my personal motivation to devote five years of my life to this work. Knowing the president well, I can tell you that he is a strong, intelligent, charismatic leader who always makes decisions independently. And I am sure that in the very near future he will pleasantly surprise even the most pessimistic skeptics.
Q; What is your scope of your authority, and which areas are you responsible for in the Presidential Office?
A: The same as First Assistant to the President Serhiy Shefir, I am directly subordinate to the president. We are the people who perform the functions directly delegated by the president.
For example, one of the areas of my work is the sphere of international relations: the settlement of the situation in Donbas, participation in talks as part of the Normandy Four format, regional policy, energy security issues, the humanitarian sphere.
In principle, I am always there where the president needs my help. Now, for example, this is a question of preparing his visit to the United States.
My background involves a variety of tasks. I am an expert in international law by profession and therefore I understand challenges perfectly well both inside and outside the country, including those related to the economy, security and a number of other areas.