As It Happens·Q&A

Why Zelensky won't stop pushing for a no-fly zone, according to his former adviser

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once again pushed for a no-fly zone to be established over his country during an impassioned speech to Canadian Parliament on Tuesday.

Igor Novikov says Ukraine’s president will do whatever it takes to ‘prevent the loss of human life’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continues to call on NATO to establish a no-fly zone over Ukrainian skies. (Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images)

Story Transcript

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once again pushed for a no-fly zone to be established over his country during an impassioned speech to Canadian Parliament on Tuesday.

But Canada and other NATO members have repeatedly refused this request, saying it would only escalate the conflict by forcing NATO countries to enforce the ban on Russian jets in Ukrainian skies by force.

Nevertheless, Igor Novikov, a former adviser to Zelensky, says the Ukrainian president will keep pushing for a no-fly zone, because he believes it's the best way to safeguard human lives.

Novikov spoke to As It Happens guest host Gillian Findlay. Here is part of their conversation.

Your president today, speaking to Canada's Parliament, [was] once again calling on Western countries to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine. As you know, this is something Western countries, NATO, has rejected for reasons that they've been very clear about, that they feel this was only going to make things worse. Why does he continue to raise this?

From our perspective, it seems obvious that this conflict goes way deeper than Ukraine and Russia. From what we're seeing, from the atrocities and from the sheer scale of what's going on on the ground, it's unlikely that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will stop unless he's stopped.

So I think refusing to close down our airspace and kind of avoiding potential conflict with Putin is just postponing the hostilities, not avoiding them.

I keep saying that for President Putin, any pretext is a non-sequitur. He acts pre-emptively in an unprovoked manner. So he's never going to fight you unless he decided to fight you. And he will fight if he's decided, regardless of any pretext or provocation. 

In that sense, any loss of life, from bombardments and from cruise missiles [against] Ukrainian civilians, is unnecessary and a terrible tragedy. That's why the president is not giving up on trying to convince the West to help us on that front.

Does this suggest that he is getting some indication from the West that this might be possible despite the public comments to the contrary?

I think it doesn't matter whether he's getting any indications or not because if there's the smallest chance of trying to prevent the loss of human life, he's going to jump at that chance.

He's like that and, you know, it's our children that are dying. I mean, nearly 100 children have been killed that we know of. That's very important to understand. I think the real scale of civilian deaths will only be uncovered once this is over, unfortunately.

WATCH: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Parliament

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses Parliament

5 months ago
Duration 12:01
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a speech to MPs and senators in the House of Commons.

We are now 20 days into it, and discussions are happening about how this might end. Today, Mr. Zelensky was quoted as saying that Ukraine realizes it will not become a member of NATO. Is this him stepping back from his previous statements on this?

I keep describing him as a human being in the world of politicians. So he's incredibly sincere and straightforward about his standing on any given issue. So I think he's just stating the obvious.

Ukraine's been adamantly trying to become a member of NATO since many years ago. And we've been told conflicting things. So basically we're being told that, you know, the doors to NATO are open. Russia has no say over that.

But at the same time, any efforts towards NATO membership falls on deaf ears.

But that is a condition that President Putin has put on negotiations, that Ukraine must not become a member of NATO. So does this suggest that, perhaps, there is an opening for a negotiated end to this conflict?

If there's any chance of getting anything out of diplomacy, that chance should be taken. Once again, human life is a virtue above all, not only to the president of Ukraine, but to the people of Ukraine.

At the same time, look, I think regardless of what happens in terms of our NATO membership, it's NATO that is kind of losing here. Because, in effect, what's happening here is that fear and indecisiveness … has been weaponized by President Putin to weaken NATO. So de facto Ukraine is being denied membership because the West is de facto afraid of President Putin. 

And that makes NATO weaker, not Ukraine.

WATCH: Federal leaders welcome President Zelensky's address to the House of Commons

Federal leaders welcome President Volodymir Zelensky's address to the House of Commons

5 months ago
Duration 5:34
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Interim Conservative Leader Candace Bergen, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet addressed Zelensky in the House of Commons and pledged Canada's support to Ukraine.

You know President Zelensky well. You worked with him very closely when he became president and helped him formulate this ownership of the information war, if we can call it that. How is that working, do you think? 

We've been victims of Russian fake news and propaganda and information attacks for ages now.

So I think President Zelensky has a very strong position as far as the information side of this hybrid warfare is concerned.

And why is that so important?

This is the social media war.

It's being decided not on TVs and on the battlefields. It's being decided in the hearts and minds of the people. Let's face it, I mean, without the Western support … not necessarily the governments, [but] people of the West supporting Ukraine, Ukraine is going to lose.

The most effective and the most peaceful way to end this war would be to open Russian people's eyes to what President Putin's been doing.

It's only the Russian people who can wake up to this war and stop it.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, with his former adviser Igor Novikov. (Submitted by Igor Novikov)

Is that why [Zelenksy] often seems to always make a point of speaking directly to Russian people in Russian? 

He's trying to, first and foremost, break through that wall of propaganda because Russian people have de facto been zombified over the last at least 10 to 20 years.

All of us, because of where we are in the world, we have acquaintances and friends in Russia. Some of us speak the same language, so we communicate with them often. And you know, it's horrifying to see that Putin's only built this propaganda machine, he's de facto created an alternate reality where people believe that south is north and vice versa. It's like an episode of, Black Mirror.

You have said that Ukraine will only survive if people pay attention, if the West pays attention. We are now at Day 20 [of this war]. Time passes. Invariably, the world's attention fades and moves on to other things. How can he, how can Ukraine, continue to hold onto our attention as this continues?

President Zelensky is perfectly equipped for that because of his show business background and the people around him who I believe to be amongst the top experts in this new phenomenon called the attention economy.

But as a human being, you know, as a citizen of the world, I really hope that people dying unnecessarily and children dying unnecessarily will be enough as a reason for people not to turn away because of a new rock album or something. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.


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