”People still donʼt realize what Zelensky did.” Secretary of the National Defense and Security Council Oleksiy Danilov — about Ukraineʼs preparations for war, and sanctions against Russians: an interview

Maria Zhartovska
Kateryna Kobernyk
”People still donʼt realize what Zelensky did.” Secretary of the National Defense and Security Council Oleksiy Danilov — about Ukraineʼs preparations for war, and sanctions against Russians: an interview

Before the start of the full-scale war, the role and functions of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) were a mystery to many Ukrainians. After February 24, everything changed. Oleksiy Danilov, Secretary of the National Security Council, has become one of the main spokesmen of the government, he is in constant contact with the president and now quite often criticizes other members of his team. For example, Danilov recently criticized the adviser to the head of the Office of the President Mykhailo Podoliak and reminded him of a loyal interview with Viktor Yanukovych when he was president. Danilov also criticized the head of the "Servant of the People" pro-presidential parliamentary faction David Arakhamia. He accused the latter indirectly, but in a way that everyone could understand, of lobbying the interests of Russian business in Ukraine. With “Babel” journalist Masha Zhartovska, who came to him for an interview, Danilov also speaks harshly, often interrupts and does not hide that questions about some allies annoy him. About them, as well as about Ukrainian politicians in Monaco, sanctions against Russian business, and about the president who did not warn the country about the war — in our long interview with the secretary of the NSDC.

You were one of those who said at the end of January and in the middle of February that the National Defense and Security Council did not see the threat of a full-scale invasion...

No, letʼs be absolutely correct here. At that time, it was about the fact that we "currently" do not see a threat of invasion. In general, regarding the invasion, all this story [about the fact that Ukrainians werenʼt properly warned about it] is gaining momentum now. Pay attention: weʼve already been at the war for 170-odd days, and this question did not arise. And now for some reason he needs to be raised, and people start talking.

And this is my next question. On August 16, in an interview with The Washington Post, Volodymyr Zelensky said that the Ukrainian authorities were warned about the Russian invasion, but did not provide specific data. He stated that if the Ukrainians had been warned about the war, it would have been more difficult to defend the country, Ukraine would have been losing $7 billion a month, and the Russians could capture us in three days. That is, was "do not enhance" the general strategy of the government?

Look, we have been preparing for the war since the first day. As soon as we took our positions [in the government]. Itʼs just that everyone imagines preparation in their own way. And when they say that we had to announce the beginning of the large-scale war on February 24, itʼs physically impossible to do so. What if the war did not start on February 24, but started on the 25th? By the way, do you remember how we were promised that the war would begin from January 10 to January 15? Or that it will start right before January 1? There were more than enough such messages. Another thing is when they [our opponents] say that our partners here warned us, I have a simple question: in what way?

Tell me?

In private conversations? You remember how the president asked for air defense, preventive sanctions against the aggressor country. I will explain what the matter is. Western partners did not believe in us as a people. They believed that the Russians would capture us in three to five days. In this chair [in front of me] sat a lot of respectable people...

Who exactly?

Very respectable foreign gentlemen from various institutions who said something like this: "Five or six days, then the destruction of the entire military and political leadership of the country, then concentration camps, then filtration camps — and you will cease to exist as a country." Thatʼs what everyone said, without exception. We answered that this will not happen, this is our land, we will protect it. We have the will to freedom. I told them all that we are different from the Russians. Russians are slaves. They have their own vision of the king, and we are free people. And I said, if you will help us defend the country, we will thank you very much for that.

In one of your interviews, you said that the only thing you did not expect was that the territory of Belarus would be involved [in the invasion], although there were such discussions. I know that on February 23 [Yevhen] Spirin wrote you that the lawmakers are talking about the possibility of an invasion from that [Northern] side, to which you said "oh really?".

I explain why it was a stab in the back for us. A few days before the full-scale invasion, there was direct communication between our Minister of Defense and the Minister of Defense of Belarus [Viktor Khrenin]. He guaranteed, gave the word of a general, of an officer, that there would be no such [threat from the territory of Belarus]. The next day, the head of our border guard spoke with his Belarus colleague on this topic as well, and the latter also assured him 100% that there would be no offensive. In general, in our understanding of the situation, there was really no idea about this particular format of war. We expected that there could be [an invasion on] Donetsk, Luhansk direction. Kharkiv was an option, but we did not expect such aggression as on February 24, you know?

But as for preparation, I donʼt agree at all with those who say that we were not prepared. Iʼm an informed person, but where was my extended family on February 24 [my mother, wife, four children]?


Yes, here. All my children, grandchildren, and relatives were here. I did not tell a single person in Ukraine that there would be a war on February 24.

But we worked out many, many questions in advance. And if you now look at the decision of the NSDC the day before, it was nothing more than preparation for war. If we had not removed the Russian agents from the information space, then imagine what the TV channels of [Russiaʼs ally in Ukraine Viktor] Medvedchuk (or rather, the Russian Federation) could tell you and me by February 24. They would hang noodles on your ears and talk about the "fraternal Russian people"? What would happen if the people involved in the schemes of the Russian Federation were not subject to the sanctions of the National Security and Defense Council? You just need to do an analysis. But everyone wants a simplified procedure when, letʼs say, one of the high-ranking officials comes out and says: "Guys, in a week or two the war will start, so everyone please hide."

How do you personally feel about announcements of a counteroffensive, for example, in the Kherson region or statements that the Crimean Bridge is a legitimate military target and should be destroyed?

Whose announcements are these?

[They were made by] advisors to the head of the Office of the President Oleksiy Arestovych and Mykhailo Podolyak.

I am not Arestovych or Podolyak.

But what is your attitude to this?

My attitude is quite simple. I have repeatedly emphasized it.

Thereʼs no need to do this?

The question is who does this. Does the Minister of Defense tell this?


Does the Commander-in-Chief do that? Is this done by the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council or is it done by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief?

You also posted a photo of the Crimean bridge on Twitter.

So what?


So wait a bit — I put the picture, we are waiting [for the Crimean Bridge to be destroyed].

But thereʼs no need to announce this?

I can be responsible for myself and for the NSDC apparatus, but I have no relation to the actions of other persons, just as they have no relation to me. If you talk to them, ask them about their actions.

Recently, a story about the "Monaco battalion" [regarding high-profile Ukrainian politicians and businessmen of conscription age who fled Ukraine] was published, it features lawmakers from the former [pro-Russian] Opposition Platform — For Life party: Ihor Abramovych, Serhiy Lyovochkin, and the Surkis brothers. They left the country before February 24, that is, they knew about the invasion. Will they be punished?

Tell me, please, where is morality and where are these people?

In Monaco.

No, where are they and where is morality? What attitude do they have to morality? This is not the case here. Maybe, taking into account their age or some other things, they can be abroad, but to be in Monaco, to show the whole world [their lifestyle in times of war]... I donʼt even want to comment o. Itʼs just rude, to say the least.

Oleksandr Novikov, head of the National Agency of Corruption Prevention (NACP), voiced the idea of a so-called "repentance fund" for Russian oligarchs to restore Ukraine. Maybe there is such an idea for Ukrainians?

Letʼs divide it into two parts. A total of six Russian oligarchs out of 66 took a conditional anti-war position immediately after February 24. And when some now begin to "repent", when they see that it went wrong... Well, Iʼm sorry, there was a certain time and circumstances for that, when certain timely conclusions should be made.

As for the Ukrainian oligarchs, the president fundamentally believes that if you are a citizen and a patriot, you should be in Ukraine during the war. We have oligarchs who never traveled abroad during the war, and there are those who left the country in advance.

Wonʼt you tell me their last names?

The time will come — and all surnames will be known to everyone.

One of the tasks of the NSDC is sanctions against Russian oligarchs. A few months ago, the NACP submitted to the Security Service of Ukraine and the parliament a list of Russian and Belarusian assets that can be confiscated on the territory of Ukraine. The recovery procedure is as follows: first, the NSDC blocks the asset, and after that the president must approve the decision by his decree. Right?

We have a law on sanctions, which clearly defines the entities that have the right to submit documents regarding the implementation of sanctions to the NSDC apparatus for further submission of these issues to the NSDC meeting. The subjects are the parliament, the Cabinet of Ministers, the SSU, the National Bank and the president. As far as I know, the head of the NACP Oleksandr Novikov sent the lists to the Cabinet of Ministers, the Parliament, and the SSU. I donʼt know whether he sent it to the president and the National Bank of Ukraine. These institutions should prepare documents and send them to us so that we can present them to the NSDC meeting. We do it, the documents are processed as they are received. During the war, we made 18 or even more decisions on sanctions, but itʼs another matter — we didnʼt go public. That is, there is a presidential decree, there are corresponding votes. I would really like it for everything work in a blink of an eye. But there is a procedure that takes some time.

Who coordinates the sanctions policy within the country?

What does the word "coordinates" mean? There are five state institutions that I have mentioned to you. According to the law, they have the right to ask questions about sanctions. If itʼs about closing of bank accounts, then it is the National Bank, if itʼs about property — itʼs the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Economy. As for the new legislation, itʼs the parliament. I cannot personally make decisions. The President acts only within the limits of his powers according to the Constitution. When they say that something needs to be done, then something can and should be done, but for this the lawmakers must adopt the relevant regulatory and legal documents.

There is a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, who directly or indirectly owns the Mykolaiv Alumina Plant in Ukraine.

Letʼs go without "directly" or "indirectly". There is the Mykolaiv Alumina Plant. As soon as we have the documents on this issue, the NSDC apparatus will take them into work and deal with them.

But when you want, you can do everything quickly.

You put here your own visions of these processes. We cannot do fast, and we cannot do long. We work only according to the law. As soon as there are submissions — neither the last name nor the name of the company is important, we will be able to work immediately.

Can you talk about the terms — when will the relevant documents be available?

You will ask such a question to the head of one of the relevant bodies. I am not the head of the NBU, I do not manage members of parliament, the Cabinet of Ministers, as well as the SSU.

There is a draft law according to which it is planned to create a sanctions policy bureau at the NSDC...

Itʼs not here [now]. I said in an interview [to NV radio] that when it appears, then we can talk about it. Maybe the lawmajers will decide that it is not necessary to do the bureau, but rather the Ministry of Sanctions Policy or Management. We do not know this. Itʼs a question to the lawmakers.

In your Forbes interview, you hinted that there are people in the Ukrainian government who help the Russians evade sanctions...

[Interrupts] I didnʼt рште anything. Iʼm just sorry that journalists are starting to interpret my words in their own way. You donʼt have to do this. If journalists wrote [like this]: Danilov said "white" — journalists write "white". And in our country it often happens that I say "itʼs white", and the journalist writes that "itʼs white, but if we look, itʼs not white, itʼs a little grayish".

Let me ask in a different way — are there people in the Ukrainian government who help Russian businessmen circumvent sanctions?

If you have examples, letʼs talk about it.

Here is a quote from your interview with Liga.net, where you said that you are concerned that no new names appear in the Ukrainian register of oligarchs, because now there is a powerful wave of narratives about the promotion of Russian oligarchs here. Who and what did you mean?

There was a situation when Russian oligarchs had a great desire, as they say, to change shoes in the air. Preventive public things sometimes give a very high-quality result.

You wonʼt tell by the surnames?

I emphasize once again: preventive publicity on many issues becomes a good safeguard to prevent similar negative phenomena.

Mr. Oleksiy...

What do you want from me?

You knew that Russian oligarchs started business in Ukraine, right?

I can show you the diagram on my desk — these are Putinʼs oligarchs, there are 66 of them, six of whom we position as conditionally not loyal to the Kremlin. The other 60 oligarchs, depending on events and circumstances, would love to change into Ukrainian embroidered shirt and run here.

You called Pavel Fuchs a Russian businessman...

If a person has been doing business in Russia for a long time, what kind of businessman is he? Of course, Russian.

The NSDC imposed sanctions on him. What about his assets in Ukraine?

This is the work of the relevant authorities, you should ask them. We have a complete list of sanctions, take it — and it becomes clear who is dealing with this issue.

As for Viktor Medvedchuk, sanctions were imposed on him even before the full-scale invasion...

Not surprising. So that you understand, this was exactly the preparation for the war — to neutralize people like Medvedchuk, and not only him.

Due to the fact that the sanctions were imposed before the war, as the Minister of Justice Denys Malyuska says, now it is not possible to go to court regarding the confiscation of his assets. Why?

We have a 2015 law on sanctions, and others are currently being developed, and deputies are dealing with these issues. Malyuska answered everything correctly. Because the deputies passed another law after the war, and assets cannot be confiscated under the first law. Therefore, it is necessary to calmly understand this.

Regarding other Ukrainian oligarchs. Earlier you stated that 86 people are being checked for compliance with the criteria provided by the law on oligarchs.

There are 86 people who fit one of the four criteria under the oligarch law.

Doesnʼt that mean all 86 will be on the registry?

In order for a person to be on the register, he or she must meet three of the four criteria.

How many people out of these 86 will be on the register?

Now there is a war, can you tell me who will remain among the oligarchs after the war and in what state will their fortunes be?


Therefore, you ask questions to which you already know the answer. The legislator did not suspend the law, but some have fortunes in Mariupol, and some in Kharkiv. We have to verify all these [assets], and besides emotions, there should be a real and unbiased assessment.

There is a debate that we either donʼt have oligarchs at all anymore or they wonʼt exist after the war.

I can say my personal impression: after the war, we wonʼt have oligarchs, because society will not allow people to influence politics, state processes, legislators, to buy laws, as it was before. I am more than sure that this will not happen, society will not allow it to be done.

Rinat Akhmetov is trying not to get into the registry. He gave to the state the licenses of his TV channels.

Is it good or bad? Tell me so I could understand the logic.

It depends on which way to look at it. From the point of view of de-oligarchization of the media market and influence on the media this is good, but from the point of view that we only have the "United News Marathon", which is influenced by the government — itʼs bad.

And how to evaluate it now? You have now said, "This is good and that is not good." Where are the scales on which you and I should measure all this? We take a different approach — there is an owner of this or that media asset, he or she has decided to abandon it, this is their decision, to which they have a legal right.

Apart from Akhmetov, do you see attempts by other people not to get into the register?

Each person independently determines what to do. I emphasize once again, it should be a systematic analysis of all these four points, which are mentioned in the law on oligarchs.

Regarding the deprivation of citizenship of [Ihor] Kolomoisky, [Hennadiy] Korban, and several other persons. For example, under which passport will you include Kolomoisky in the register of oligarchs?

First, documents must be submitted for a person. Society has a great desire to perceive everything in a simplified manner. Itʼs the same when they start to criticize: "Well, they didnʼt tell us that there would be a war on February 24." Really? This is what Putin told way back in February 2014. Told everyone, told the whole world. The other thing is that we didnʼt want to react, we wanted to slip through.

The question is where are we going if citizenship can be taken away just like that.

Why "just like that"?

Because it is not clear for what reasons.

So you start boiling water without reason. Are you interested in the citizenship of any of these people, that you care so much about their citizenship? Do you have two passports?

No. So the criterion is two passports?

No, no, do you have two passports?

I only have Ukrainian one.

So why do you care about them all? Our Constitution states that we have a single citizenship. And when people took the second, third, fifth — should they have thought about some kind of responsibility?

We have a single citizenship, but there is no penalty for multiple passports. And again, if the criterion is two or three citizenships, then when we talk about...

Apart from citizenship, there are many other things going on there. You have a second passport, come on, where do you pay your taxes? Please tell me if you are voting on the territory of our country...

After the interview, Danilov talks about one of the photos in his office. This is one of the mothers of the Dzerkalo Tyzhniaʼs project Moms, who lost her son in the war. Danilov looked for her and offered help, but she refused. Danilov recalls that she said that she did not need anything.

Can I finish the question?

No, I just want to explain to you why it is not only about two citizenships. Where do you pay your taxes? If you believe that you are a citizen of our country, but you pay taxes to another country, then I have a question.

For example, Korban says that he does not have another passport.

If he does not have a second passport, why should he worry?

You see...

Because these things do not affect the development of our country, period. It is already past. You have not realized a very simple thing. Volodymyr Zelensky is a gravedigger of the old Communist party nomenclature, the Komsomol-like structure that existed before he came to power. Until then, the country was ruled by Komsomol members and communists. I have a simple question: was Petro Oleksiyovych [Poroshenko] a member of the party?

Of which one?


Now we will get to Serhiy Tihipko this way. Yes, they were.

Yes, but Zelensky was not there. He performs a very important function. The assessment to his actions can be given after a certain time. You donʼt realize now what he did. Nobody yet realizes what Zelensky did.

When will we realize?

After this war, Ukraine will be a completely different country. As far as corruption is concerned, all the old schemes simply cannot survive. There will be no oligarchs. Will there be businessmen? There will be, but those who pay taxes, who are responsible for the fact that they create jobs, and they will be thanked for this.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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