The president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko met with newly inaugurated Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez on Monday, in what was the first visit of a Ukrainian head of state to Spain in 22 years. Unlike former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Sánchez speaks English as well as Poroshenko and together they spoke about Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea and the open conflict in the self-proclaimed “people’s republics” in the Ukrainian cities Donetsk and Lugansk. Given Russia’s meddling in the independence drive in Catalonia, the heads of state warned that the massive fake-news factories, well known in Ukraine, were far from giving up their goal to destabilize the West.
Question. What are you expecting from the new Spanish government?
Answer. I think it’s extremely symbolic that Ukraine is the first country to have a meeting with the new prime minister. We have discussed very important questions for the near future. Point number one is Spain’s strong support for Ukraine’s aspirations to join the EU. This year, Spain is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Spanish constitution.
In that this period of time, Spain very successfully used the procedure for the entry to the European Union and the support of the EU for the democratic reform of Spain. We want to learn for this experience. The second is that the new prime minister clearly supports a strong Ukraine and he very much appreciated the strong Ukrainian position on keeping Spain’s unity and not supporting any separatist movement in Spain.
Fake news is dangerous for the whole of democracy
Q. The former Spanish government strongly supported the Ukrainian government against Russian aggression. Do you expect this support to continue?
A. Definitely. It was the message we received today. Just as we support the territorial unity of Spain, the prime minister promised to support Ukraine territorial integrity including not recognizing the illegal annexation of Crimea, protecting Ukraine unity against Russia in the East of my country. I can confirm that we have very effective coordination and mutual understanding of the situation. I’m very happy with today’s meeting with Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.
Q. Does Sánchez support maintaining sanctions on Russia?
A. We are absolutely confident that all European countries, member states, including Spain, will definitely support the continuation of the sanctions until the Minsk agreement is fully implemented. This means the withdrawal of foreign troops, the withdrawal of tanks and artillery from my territory and the release of all hostages. It is not possible just to ignore the situation because we have completed the investigation into the MH17 plane crash and we have firm evidence that it was Russia which attacked the Malaysian airways plane in May 2017 and killed 298 innocent victims.
Q. There was a lot of misinformation about this incident. It was 2014 and there was already fake news about the plane. [Russian media such as RT reported that “the plane was brought down from an area controlled by Kiev.”] Has Ukraine been a testing ground for the fake-news campaigns that we are now experiencing in the West?
A. I can’t say that Ukraine is the testing ground because the whole world is the testing ground for the Russian fake-news policy. It was the United States during the election campaign, it was United Kingdom during Brexit, it was Catalonia during the Catalan separatist crisis, and of course, during the illegal annexation of Crimea when President Putin said: “There are no Russians there.” There were 60,000 Russian troops which penetrated into the sovereign Ukrainian territory!
Q. Truth is a central concept for journalism. Russian media such as RT and Sputnik regularly speak of a civil war in Ukraine. Is it true that there is a civil war?
A. Everybody knows that this is fake news which is paid for and distributed by Russia. Russia spent several hundred million dollars on Russia Today and Sputnik, to distribute this campaign of fake news. I think that this is a very powerful instrument for Russia to exercise influence on all democratic countries. I mean free press, I mean free elections, I mean democratic means to destabilize the situation in the country.
Q. RT and Sputnik have compared the current situation in Ukraine with Nazi Germany and have said that the Ukrainian parliament glorifies fascism.
A. Simply: don’t trust Russian media. This is a very simple answer because we are one of the nations who suffered the most during WWII. We have a genetic memory against fascism. With that situation, we have turned to the European family. With that situation, Russia is just trying to continue their policy of fake news, including using accusations of fascism. This is absolutely dangerous for the whole of democracy and we should fight against the problem of fake news.
The purpose of the killing was to destabilize the political situation in Ukraine
Q. When Russian President Vladimir Putin was re-elected in March, Margarita Simonyan, the head of RT and Sputnik, celebrated the victory by calling Putin “vozhd.” It’s a term that was used, among others, to address Stalin. Is Stalin glorified in Russia?
A. Today, we speak about the Holodomor, the genocide of Ukrainian people, the famine which Stalin organized in Ukraine. As a result, eight million Ukrainians, without a war, were killed. This tyrant is absolutely equal to Hitler. Now Russia is starting to sponsor television programs, books, films, with a sponsored propagandist machine that says: “OK, Stalin is a hero of our time for the Russians.” This is extremely dangerous. That’s why Russia attacks Ukraine because we hate the idea of staying in the frame of the Soviet Union or in the frame of the Russian Empire. Remember that Putin said that the biggest tragedy of the 20th century was not WWII, was not the Holocaust, was not Holodomor, it was the collapse of the Soviet Union. I imagine that the RT manager used the term “Vozd” to mean Führer.
Q. Last year an accusation of Nazism led to a disinformation crisis in Spain. The soccer player Roman Zozulya, from a second division team, was going to be signed to the team Rayo Vallecano but then Russian media and others in its orbit published that he was a fascist who had given the Nazi salute. It was fake news but the pressure caused Zozulya to lose the contract. Was this another way to attack Ukraine?
A. This is a part of the technology, very well financed, well sponsored, and very well organized, to professionally distribute fake news. Mr. Zozulya is quite a famous footballer in Ukraine, but would never had appeared in top media if it hadn’t been for this case. When they began to attack Zozulya, it became the main event in Russian media. It was a great pity that the reaction of the owners of the team and the reaction of the fans was like that. Zozulya did nothing wrong. Zozulya was just defending his own land, his own country.
Q. In 2015, eight Spaniards were arrested after fighting in east Ukraine for a pro-Russian group. They described themselves as anti-fascists and said they were fighting the “Fourth Reich.”
Russia attacks Ukraine because we hate the idea of staying in the frame of the Soviet Union or in the frame of the Russian Empire
A. I want to thank the Spanish government for their cooperation on this issue. These ultra-nationalists came to Ukraine illegally to kill innocent Ukrainians. This is completely unacceptable, this is a crime. Russia sends snipers and they go there for hunting, but hunting people. It doesn’t matter if this criminal has a Spanish passport, they’re still a criminal. And I’m very proud that the Spanish authorities investigated this case.
Q. Your government has been criticized for allowing the staged assassination of the Russian dissident Arkady Babchenko. Was it necessary?
A. Would it have been better for the journalist to have been killed by the Russian secret service? The purpose of the killing was to destabilize the political situation in Ukraine. To show the whole world the information: OK, Ukrainian authorities cannot control the situation inside. Our secret services delivered the information and demonstrated that we are effectively fighting against this killer. They will arrest the organizer, and I think in the very near future they will show where they received money, the orders, the list of the next journalist they plan to kill.
If you need to protect the freedom of press, if you need to protect the journalists or people from assassination, we have to sometimes use this type of technology. This is not a president who gave the order; this is the order of the special investigator. But I support my secret services, if they protect the journalist, if they save the life of the journalist.
Q. It’s claimed there are another 30 possible victims on the hit list. Many of them are in the Ukraine and other countries in the EU. Have you informed these authorities of the countries that these people live in?
A. Not me. But we have special services in the investigation process. I hate the idea of making any political show of this process, because this is the investigation of a murder attempt.
Q. Does Ukraine’s secret service work closely with the EU secret service?
A. Definitely. I instructed my chief of secret services, and we agreed today with the Prime Minister Sánchez that in a very near future, we will organize the meeting of our intelligence chief to exchange information. This is a symbol of trust between our two nations. This is not just about investment, but rather the very intense top-level political dialogue, effective support through the structure of the European Union, the European Parliament, international financial organizations, and also the cooperation on defense and security.