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The President. Food. Lies. VoxCheck Of Zelenskyi During The Marathon Press Conference

Photo: president.gov.ua
11 November 2019
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On 10 October, Volodymyr Zelenskyi  held a press-conference for several hundreds of journalists. They were all gathered at the newly refurbished Kyiv Food Market. The event itself lasted from 10 in the morning until late at night – Guinness World Record representative in Ukraine presented Zelenskyi with an award for “the longest press conference in the world”. VoxCheck team, however, did not get any awards for the longest fact-checking marathon, even though we listened to the President very attentively and did fact checking for everything he said.

All in all, we have selected 14 statements by the President that contained factual information and numbers. This means that on average there was one fact an hour voiced by Zelenskyi. Six of the statements contained manipulations, exaggerations or were clearly untrue. Another six are truthful. Zelenskyi was mostly telling the truth when discussing international politics. The President in general said a lot on this topic during the conference.

There was sufficient statistics in what he said as well frequently cited specific numbers and sociological data. Yet, he was not very accurate when using those numbers – he often made mistakes or was manipulative.

For instance, he said the courts were second to Verkhovna Rada deputies in the least trustworthy rating. 

Technical mistake

“People do not trust judges. There were the second to the Verkhovna Rada deputies at the time when we were abolishing parliamentary immunity.”

On trust in the judiciary (10:20:50-10:21:02)

Indeed, people do not trust the judiciary but according to the recent survey conducted prior to the abolishment of immunity, the judiciary was the fifth on the least trustworthy list, not the second. But we assume that Zelenskyi was only referring to state institutions – here the courts are indeed the second in the least trustworthy rating. 

The statistics of least trustworthy is as follows: Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (81.6%), officials (80.5%), Russian media (78.6%), political parties (76.2%). 75.4% of the respondents did not trust and mostly did not trust the judiciary.  

Zelenskyi made another mistake when speaking of the number of prosecutors. When proving his point that the number of prosecutors was too high, he cited an incorrect number – 5,000 of prosecution service employees. 

Technical mistake

“I meet the deputies and I tell them, “We need this law, the Prosecutor’s General Office reform. We need it.” Why? 5,000 prosecutors. Well, we understand that there are honest people, there are professionals, there are decent people. But there are also others. Let us call a spade a spade. But there are also others. But the total number is 5,000.”

On the number of prosecutors (27:07-27:36)

In fact, according to staffing list of the Prosecutor’s General Office, as of 2019 the number of prosecutors and investigators foreseen is 10,600. In addition, Prosecutor’s General Office reported that 5,640 prosecutors expressed their desire to undergo repeat qualifying examination, which is almost 50% of the total number of prosecutors. 

So, when saying we have too many prosecutors Zelenskyi was in general correct but he should have referenced the right statistics. 

Presidential lie

Lie

“When we speak of statistics – 89% (want – ed.) for the war to end.”

On people wishing for the war to end, 10/10/2019 (43:21-43:26)

According to Rating Group survey of 13-23 June:

  • 45% of the respondents claim that the military action in Donbas is the most important problem in Ukraine;
  • 33% of the respondents claim that the military action in Donbas is the most important problem for them personally;
  • 65% of the respondents claim that the end of war in Donbas would increase their trust in the President and 45% say it would increase their trust in parliament.

Another survey of the Rating Group of 21-25 September showed that 23% of the respondents supported continuation of military action in Donbas. Other respondents said they supported termination of military action, recognition of the territories as temporarily occupied and freezing of the conflict (34%); granting the territories an autonomy within Ukraine (23%) or separation of these territories (6%). 

There is also the survey by Kyiv International Institute of Sociology of 8-20 August 2019, in which 71.5% said “stop the shooting in Donbas” when asked “what should the immediate measures of President Zelenskyi and his team be?

The survey by Democratic Initiatives Foundation about the situation in Donbas did not ask the respondents as to whether they would want for the war in Donbas to end.

Thus, in none of the publicly available surveys run by reputable survey research companies, which mention the Donbas issue, 89% of the respondents name end of the war as the priority.

Lie

“We still have sanctions against Nord Stream 2 in place, yes, it was back then by the way, and the sanctions were imposed by the US.”

On Nord Stream 2, 10/10/2019 (4:27:08-4:27:18)

A bill on sanctions against Nord Stream 2 was approved by the US Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. For the bill to become a law and for the sanctions to be enacted, it is necessary for it to go through several more stages – the Senate, House of Representatives and the President.

Exaggeration

“By the way, Denmark is also supporting us and their attitude towards Nord Stream 2 is a continuation.”

On Nord Stream 2, 10/10/2019 (4:27:47 AM-4:27:55)

Four countries – Finland, Sweden, Germany and Russia have approved the construction of Nord Stream 2. Denmark is currently abstaining.

Initially, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was supposed to run in parallel to the existing Nord Stream 1 pipelines, which go through the territorial waters of Denmark. But the Nord Stream AG operator recalled this application because of amendments to Danish legislation, which mean that the case can be transferred for consideration of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark instead of Danish Energy Agency.

The Danish Energy Agency currently has two applications for the potential route – one route going northwest of Bornholm island and the other – southeast of the same island. The pipes will go through exclusive economic zone of Denmark (a different category of waters – key difference from the first application). The grounds under which Denmark can reject the latest two projects is threat to the environment or shipping. What is currently being discussed are the environmental threats of building the pipe.

Consequently, Denmark has non-Ukraine related motives for delaying approval of the project, e.g. ecology, relations with the US, etc. That is why our verdict is “exaggeration”. 

Lie

“Market prices for our country, yes, they mean some sort of increase, increase of tariffs. But you can see that we have started decreasing them since summer. That is, that is our task.”

On the decrease of gas prices for residential customers, 10/10/2019 (9:13:19-9:13:34)

Gas tariffs started decreasing back in April, and that was the decision of the previous Cabinet of Ministers. Respectively, Zelenskyi is telling a lie when attributing the new gas prices to the new government.  

Manipulation

“Let us go back to the beginning of your question – the part about people coming back to Ukraine. By the way, my phone battery is dead. I would like to….I can show you the chart – the number of people coming back has increased. And if you look at actual statistics for the past 5 years, the numbers have gone up in the past 6 months. This is very interesting information. I do not think that this… I do not think we have done something special besides the fact that we are new people and the people trust us. Indeed very many people, the numbers are increasing, are coming back gradually. But we have a problem, obviously, of people leaving.”

On comeback of Ukrainians living abroad, 10/10/2019 (9:16:53-9:17:34)

There are different numbers for the migration of population.

According to State Statistics Service data (based on the Migration Service data), the migration balance (more people coming to Ukraine than those leaving) increased in 2017 and 2018. What is more, the increase happened both at the expense of more people coming and less people leaving. 

If we compare data for January-July 2018, then the migration balance increase was almost 3.8 times higher in comparison with the same period of 2017, and in the same period of 2019 it dropped by more than 3%.

Yet, the methodology that the State Statistics Service is using to assess migration movement in reality reflects not the change of place of residence but only the registration at State Migration Service. Registration cancellation is completed by a small number of migrants only – mostly those who obtain citizenship of a different country and simultaneously opt for renunciation of the Ukrainian citizenship. Ukrainians, who are permanently or temporarily staying abroad and do not have their registration at Migration Service canceled, are not accounted for in migration indices.

As a result, this is a manipulation by Zelenskyi because

  1. those coming to Ukraine include not only Ukrainians but also foreigners;
  2. officially increase of immigration has been happening for three years in a row and not just in the last six months;
  3. if we assume that part of these people are those who have once left, then we do not know their specific reasons for coming back. It is not a fact that somebody is coming back because of their trust in Zelenskyi.

On the difference in the methodology of migration movement assessment see VoxUkraine article “The Great Migration: Why No One in Ukraine Knows How Many of our Compatriots Have Moved Abroad

Exaggeration

Journalist, “A question about NSDC. This year the draft budget contains over 28 billion UAH for NSDC. It is 157 times more than the amount allocated in the previous budget. I would like to know what caused this increase of funding.”  Zelenskyi, “I will tell you about the information you are having. It is not true. <…> NSDC has a security and safety budget. They take this budget, they have meetings with officials in charge of security and defense and they have a look at it. This is how it used to be as I was explained and I think that is where this number is coming from. Each law enforcement body that was entering, or any agency, that was entering the security or defense sector, they were telling, “We need this much”, and the others said, “And we need that much”, “And that much”. And then they sat down at the NSDC and said, “But why you?, And why you?” They were haggling, that is what they were doing. And this time, it was the task of Rada… That is why I think you are taking these numbers from there… Journalist, “But this is the draft budget they have submitted now…” Zelenskyi, “Look here, look here… I do not understand what a draft budget is, I understand what a budget is. Now – what is the sum you are having?” Journalist, “28.6 billion.”  Zelenskyi, “And I think that you mean the sum, including 27 billion, which the NSDC did not manage to distribute between security and defense prior to submission of the draft budget. Well… And I am telling you, if you can see that, what we have done here. We have increased the GDP share for security and defense to 5.4%, out of which we have confirmed 136 billion on army and the military and, by extension, on the Ministry of Defense and for the first time in Ukrainian history that is 3%. These are complete 3%. Now. The sum includes 27 billion – they could not reach an agreement on who was getting those, where the priorities should lie. That is why we stopped those and made the Ministry of Defense a priority. So I think most of that sum went back to the Ministry of Defense.”

On the budget of National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) and the security and defense budget, 10/10/2019 (9:31:04-9:31:29, 9:32:20-9:34:14)

The draft budget 2020 foresees 28 billion UAH for NSDC, while the sum foreseen in 2019 was 177 million UAH. Thus, the difference is indeed almost 158 times.   

According to preliminary calculations, expenses on security and defense will make up 5.4% of GDP, while the expenses on defense will make up 2.37% of GDP not 3%. In face value, the expenses on defense will remain on the same level as in 2019. Zelenskyi was only right when saying that in the previous 7 years defense was never funded to the extent of 3% of the GDP. 

The whole defense sector currently foresees a budget of 107.8 billion UAH, not 136 billion UAH.

Regarding the expenses on NSDC, the explanatory note to budget 2020 says that 28 billion UAH will be allocated additionally based on the decision of the National Security and Defense Council.

Presidential truth

Truth

“And after our meeting (between Zelenskyi and Vice-President of the US in Warsaw – ed.) the US cleared (security assistance to Ukraine in the amount of $250 million – ed.) and you also know there is an addition there, another $140 million in assistance.”

On the US security assistance to Ukraine, 10/10/2019 (19:30-19:39)

Donald Trump froze security assistance programme to Ukraine in late August. On 12 September the US Embassy to Ukraine informed that the assistance programme had been cleared and additional $141.5 million would be given from the US Department of State’s program International Military Funding budget 2018 and budget 2019. 

The meeting between Zelenskyi and Vice President of the US took place on 1 September.  

Truth

“Our relations have now improved, they are quite good, we have created a working group and the working group has meetings with the Polish side. I do not know, to be honest here, about the dates of those meetings but we have signed, you know, a number of agreements with the Polish side and new relations have been established and are being established in the gas sector.”

On the relations with Poland, 10/10/2019 (4:44:36 AM-4:45:00)

Volodymyr Zelenskyi and Andrzej Duda have agreed to update the bilateral working group and normalize the relations in the sphere of national memory.

At that time, representatives of Ukraine, Poland and the USA also signed a memorandum on trilateral cooperation to diversify gas supply sources and enhance energy security in Ukraine.

Truth

Journalist, “But the law has allegedly been registered, the bill… (on cannabis legalization – ed.) Zelenskyi, “Listen, I have not seen a registered law from the Servant of People party.”

On cannabis legalization, 10/10/2019 (8:08:15 AM-8:27:18)

The Servant of People party has indeed not submitted a bill on medical cannabis legalization. The plan to register a bill on medical cannabis legalization was voiced by Yevheniia Kravchuk, deputy from the Servant of People faction.

Truth

“The International Monetary Fund, if we are being honest, demands market prices. This is fairer, yes.”

On the IMF and gas tariffs, 10/10/2019 (9:13:11-9:13:18)

The Memorandum with the IMF foresees the obligation of the government to conduct complete liberalization of gas market – establish gas prices for residential consumers based on import parity. Yet, it would not be right to call the Memorandum as “demands” of the IMF as it is product of negotiations between the IMF and the Ukrainian government.

Truth

Zelenskyi, “So you think it would be right if foreign, western investors became landowners?” NV journalist, “I see nothing bad about it.” Zelenskyi, “Thank you. But 80% of people in Ukraine won’t agree with you.”

On foreigners owning land, 10/10/2019 (57:53-58:06)

According to the 28 September – 1 October survey run by Rating Group, 81% of the respondents (slide 7) do not support sale of agricultural lands to foreigners.  

Truth

“The Law On Special Status exists, it is effective. After 31 December, there will be no Law On Special Status.”

On the special status of Donbas, 10/10/2019 (4:07:18 AM-4:27:18)

Pursuant to Article 1 of the Law of Ukraine On the Special Order of Local Self-Governance in Separate Parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions, a special local self-governance order is introduced in separate parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions until 31 December. 

At the same time, the duration of the law has already been extended three times. Initially it was supposed to be in force until 2017, then in 2017  there was an extension until 2018, and in  2018 – an extension until 31 December 2019. In case of another extension, amendments should be introduced to the law meaning that the existing revision will be terminated.

Authors
  • Maksym Skubenko, Svitlana Slipchenko, Yuliia Zhaha, Valeriia Stepaniuk

Attention

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations