Zelensky told CNN’s international anchor during a one-on-one interview at the Munich Security Conference that he disagreed with the position that sanctions should only be inscribed after a possible Russian invasion.
“The question of just making it public… just the sanctions list, for them, for us, to know what will happen if they go to war – even that question has no support,” he said. told CNN.
“We don’t need your sanctions after the bombing happens and after our country gets shot or after we have no borders, or after we have no economy. .why would we need these sanctions then?”
“We had a discussion a while ago with one of the leaders of one of the major countries and we were talking about the sanctions policy…we had a different view of how the sanctions should be applied when the Russian aggression will happen,” Zelensky said. “So when you ask what can be done, well, a lot of different things can be done. We can even provide you with a list. The most important thing is willpower.
“If you can’t even disclose what will happen to whom if war breaks out…I doubt it will start after it has happened,” he added.
Russia has tightened its military grip on Ukraine since last year, mustering tens of thousands of troops, equipment and artillery on the country’s doorstep. The assault triggered warnings from US officials that a Russian invasion is imminent.
Asked about a potential false flag pretext for war with Russia, Zelensky told Amanpour that “any provocation is very dangerous.”
“I think the most complicated question is that in Crimea, in the temporarily occupied territory of Donbass along Ukraine and Russia, there are 30-35 thousand in the territories of temporary occupation… so provocations are, indeed, very dangerous, if you have that number of soldiers. A bombardment, a cannon shot can lead to war,” Zelensky warned.
“That’s what our partners believe, I mean the partners around us who have joined the borders with us. We know the history of the Soviet Union and they understand the kind of risks we face. Poland , Baltic States, Lithuania and Estonia, Latvia, Moldova – they know what this could lead to, so we have to be very careful,” he continued.
He went on to say that the losses between Ukraine and Russia were greater in 2014, but admitted that the current tensions are “horrible” and “a tragedy for our nation, for our people”.
“It is also a tragedy for the Russians who had good relations with Ukraine,” he added.
Ukraine’s president told CNN that NATO partners need to clarify a timeline on which the country could join the military alliance.
“Ukraine needs security guarantees,” Zelensky said. “We are smart people, we are not narrow-minded. We understand that there are a lot of different risks because of NATO, there is no consensus around other allies, the whole world is saying there is a certain distance between Ukraine and NATO that we need to walk. All we are saying is telling us how long does it take to walk that distance?”
In remarks prior to the conference, Zelensky posed a question asking why Ukraine was not allowed to join NATO. “We are told the doors are open…but strangers are still not allowed in,” he said.
Moscow sees NATO’s growing support for Ukraine – in terms of arms, training and personnel – as a threat to its own security. Putin also called for specific legal agreements that would rule out any further eastward NATO expansion towards Russia’s borders, saying the West has failed to honor its previous verbal assurances.
Amanpour also asked Zelensky about the aggressive use of US intelligence to dissuade Putin from invading Ukraine. He said he was “grateful for the work that our two intelligences have done. But the intelligence that I trust is my intelligence.
“I trust the Ukrainian intelligence services who … understand what is happening along our borders, who have different sources of intelligence and understand different risks depending on the data intercepted … this information must be used.”
He continued: “We’re not really living in illusion. We understand what can happen tomorrow…just putting ourselves in coffins and waiting for foreign soldiers to come in is not something we’re prepared to do.”
Zelensky then called on international partners to support Ukraine by investing in the country. “Strengthen our arms… our economy. Invest in our country. Bring your business.
“We are not panicking, we want to live our lives,” he added.
Zelensky also explained that his presence at Saturday’s conference was to ensure there was a Ukrainian voice in the room. “I’m the president, it’s important that all of our partners and friends don’t agree on anything behind our backs,” he said. “We’re not panicking, we’re very consistent that we don’t respond to any provocation.”
Some U.S. officials feared that Zelensky’s absence from Ukraine would open the door for Russia to make false claims that he fled.
Hours before the meeting with Amanpour, Zelensky met with Harris, telling him he was grateful for American support, especially in strengthening Ukraine’s defense capability.
“This is our land and the only thing we want is to have peace, to bring peace to our country,” Zelensky said.
During the bilateral meeting which lasted about 45 minutes, Harris told the Ukrainian leader that the United States “takes seriously the importance of the integrity and territorial integrity of Ukraine and your sovereignty, and the United States supported Ukraine in this regard”.
“We take any threat to your country seriously and have brought together our allies and partners to speak with one voice,” the vice president said.
Harris said she wanted to hear directly from Zelensky about her concerns and developments on the ground and would share with him whatever information the United States has on the current crisis.
“As you know, this is a watershed moment in our world history,” Harris told Zelensky.
CNN’s Kate Sullivan, Allie Malloy, Jasmine Wright and Eliza Mackintosh contributed to this report.