As It Happens·Q&A

Western nations must respond to Putin 'from the position of strength,' says Ukrainian MP

Oleksandr Merezhko, a member of parliament and chair of the Ukrainian government's foreign affairs committee, spoke with As It Happens host Nil Köksal about Friday's bombing in Zaporizhzhia and Russia's claims of annexation.

At least 30 killed in Zaporizhzhia bombing as Russian president insists it will annex 4 Ukrainian regions

Burned and battered vehicles line road.
A Russian missile struck a convoy of civilian vehicles near Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on Friday. (Sergiy Chalyi/Retuers)

As Russian President Vladimir Putin escalates attacks on Ukraine, Ukrainian MP Oleksandr Merezhko says the only way to respond is with greater international strength.

His comments come one day after Putin announced Russia would annex four regions of Ukraine following Russian-backed referendums, which have been widely denounced as fraudulent. Putin said that he would protect the newly incorporated regions using "all available means."

"As Canada and NATO allies have said, the pre-orchestrated 'outcomes' of the referendums has no legitimacy and will never be recognized," Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said. "Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia will remain Ukrainian territory."

At least 30 people were killed and 100 injured after a Russian missile struck a convoy of civilian cars near the southern city of Zaporizhzhia on Friday, Ukrainian officials said.

The same day, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy announced his country is submitting an "accelerated" application to join the NATO military alliance.

Merezhko, a member of parliament and chair of the Ukrainian government's foreign affairs committee, spoke with As It Happens host Nil Köksal about the bombing in Zaporizhzhia and Russia's claims of annexation. Here is part of that conversation.

Can you tell me what you're hearing from survivors of this attack in Zaporizhzhia today?

I heard about this and I read it on the news. And I know that around 30 people have been killed and 40 or 50 people were injured. And among those who have been killed by Russian shelling, there are children and a whole family who was killed by Russians. So they deliberately targeted the humanitarian corridor in Zaporizhzhia.

A crater is seen beside a row of cars following the Russian missile strike in Zaporizhzhia. At least 30 people were killed, and 100 others injured. (Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine via Twitter/Reuters)

Russian media are reporting that Vladimir Rogov, the regional official in the Russian-controlled part of Zaporizhzhia, is blaming the attack on "Ukrainian militants." What's your response to that, sir?

[My] response is very simple. Russia is committing crimes which were well documented and registered against civilians on [a] daily basis. 

So they're doing it deliberately, with premeditation, and they can be blamed only for this because, you know, we have [a] different attitude towards people and towards civilian people, especially.

What would be the motivation for this? Why attack civilians in this way? Why would Russia do this?

Russia is trying to scare and to terrorize civilians and Ukrainians. And they are doing it every day, as I said.

They want to exterminate the whole country, Ukraine, to erase it from the political map of the world. And that's why they're killing civilians.

Can you describe what you've seen, the images from Zaporizhzhia, from this attack? Describe what the scene looks like.

I saw these images, I saw pictures, and there is a place where this shelling took place. There is a huge hole in the ground. And next to this hole, there are dead bodies and machines and cars ... lots of cars. And we can see many people killed or injured.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi visited the site of the Friday missile strike in Zaporizhzhia. (Reuters)

This attack, as you know, [is] coming on the very same day that Vladimir Putin officially claims to have annexed part of the disputed territories, including Zaporizhzhia. Do you think there's any connection between these two events?

I'm sure that we have such new waves of escalation each time Putin declares something or commits a new crime against Ukraine, so I don't think that it's a coincidence. I think this escalation is directly related to Putin's proclamation of [the] annexation of the occupied territories.

Ukrainian troops, according to reports we're reading today, are continuing to make big advances in Donetsk. I'm wondering what the annexations are doing in terms of the troop movements on the Ukrainian side. Are they adding urgency to this?

As for annexation declared by Putin, to me it's a gesture of desperation because he understands that he is losing this war. Even today, Ukrainian troops have liberated several towns, and part of Russian troops next to Lyman are encircled by Ukrainian army. And to me, it's a gesture of desperation.

He's trying, again, to scare not only Ukrainians — because we're fearless, you know, we lost any fear — but he maybe will be trying to scare the West by blackmailing the West and the whole world by using [the threat of] nuclear weapons.

Putin launches process to annex Russian-controlled regions in Ukraine

2 months ago
Duration 4:07
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered a speech Friday during a ceremony declaring the annexation of four Russian-controlled regions in Ukraine: Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia. The ceremony came hours after at least 25 people were killed in Zaporizhzhia by a Russian strike.

In his speech today, you may have heard Vladimir Putin was calling on the Ukrainian government to stop fighting and "return to the negotiating table." But [he] also said "we will not discuss Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson." What does that say to you about where this war is going?

It's a new hypocrisy on the part of Putin. You see, I was deputy head of Ukrainian delegation in the trilateral contact group, and we have been negotiating with Russia for almost three years. And I can assure you from my experience that it's hopeless to negotiate with Russia. Russia even doesn't consider itself to be a party to negotiations, so it's absolutely useless.

And, you know, [Putin] is using this rhetoric just for propagandistic purposes. But he has absolutely no intention to negotiate because any negotiations should be based on the principle of good faith and on international law. And when we're talking about international law, Russia should withdraw its troops from the whole territory of Ukraine if it is serious about any negotiations.

The desperation you mentioned — that you believe Vladimir Putin is desperate when he does these things —  does that concern you? Does that worry you, that that desperation will lead to more violence?

He will be trying to escalate more, that's for sure. 

First of all, he has cornered himself due to his absolutely irrational behaviour. But, you know, we are not afraid of this. And we should talk, and the West also should talk, to Putin only from the position of strength.

He understands only the language of strength. This is it. So to each of his provocations, the civilized world should respond with more strength and more support to Ukraine.

With files from The Associated Press and Reuters. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A edited for length and clarity.