Editor’s note: Asked in Petersburg last weekend if he would meet with Zelensky without preconditions Putin neither ruled it out nor committed himself to it but instead spoke out about how he sees his new counterpart in Kiev.
The transcript doesn’t do justice to the animated way Putin spoke, first allowing himself a jab on Zelensky’s account, but also allowing the theoretical possibility the new President in Kiev will turn out to be a good statesman for Ukraine.
If you listen to it carefully what Putin really did half-way into the question was he started to address Zelensky to offer advice, as an elder statesman, to a novice one, on how to pull that off, if that is what he wants.
There is little hope in Kremlin that Zelensky will defy the right-wing to move to end his country’s civil war, but if by some miracle he does the door in Moscow will be open.
Ukraine was on the agenda of a plenary session at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Naturally, president-elect Zelensky was discussed too.
Vladimir Putin: You know, he continues using certain rhetoric, calling us enemies, aggressors. He must somehow decide what he wants to achieve, what he wants to do. We’re not turning down diplomatic ties, we will work with him.
– Why not meet him without setting any conditions?
– Have I turned that down? I haven’t received an invitation yet.
– Are you ready to meet with him?
– Hear me out, please. I don’t know him very well. I hope we will meet sometime. Apparently, he is a good professional in the field where he had been working, he is a good actor. I mean it, and you’re laughing! Well… But it’s one thing to play a role, and it’s quite another to be someone.
And to play… To play a role, you definitely need talent. You need many talents, one of which is method acting. Every ten minutes you can change between two roles — a prince and a pauper, every ten minutes. And you must be convincing in both roles. Indeed, that’s a talent.
And to engage in public affairs, you need other skills. You need certain experience, knowledge, the ability to see the main problems and find the tools to solve these problems. You have to be able to bring together a group of capable people, cultivate a good relationship with them, believe in them, give them the opportunity to think freely and propose solutions, choose these solutions, and most importantly, explain to millions of people the reasons for the decisions that are made. And, what is crucial, have the courage and character to take responsibility for the consequences of these decisions.
I do not say that Mr. Zelensky does not have these qualities, he may very well have them. Perhaps, he lacks the experience, but, as the saying goes, that comes with time, quite quickly. But does he have the other qualities that I’ve mentioned? Maybe, but I don’t know. He hasn’t had a chance to prove himself yet. What we see are his contradictory statements. He said one thing during the election campaign and quite different things after the election. Let’s just wait and see.
– I also wanted to ask…
– And I’m not saying that he, having done nothing yet, has already ruined everything with his statements. Not at all. Well, we’ll see.