Authorities must "break their spine", Zelensky believes.
President Volodymyr Zelensky considers the fight against smuggling one of the main tasks of Ukrainian authorities, while predicting major resistance on the part of traffickers.
"In the next two to three years, they will be rocking the country. They will. But if we fight them and if we have no coffee, salmon, or jamon available for some time, we will survive, but we will show them that there will be no other way. There is no other chance but to break their spine. Or should we just let them cross?" the president said, addressing business CEOs during a visit to Khmelnytskyi region.
As an example of such a confrontation, the president cited the situation in Zakarpattia region, where he had earlier appointed Oleksiy Petrov head of the Regional State Administration.
"I appointed a governor, who is a former SBU security service senior official because any other governor would have either been bought by local elites, or other elites, who deal with coffee trade or whatever. They are bought or intimidated, and back in the day, some of them could even be killed and buried. That's why I appointed one of the former senior SBU officials, someone they're afraid of, someone local major smugglers try to avoid," said Zelensky.
As the president noted, once appointed, Petrov carried out a raid against smugglers who "have for 20 years been paying customs officers 500 bucks and crossed in and out," and they said in response that "you will have nothing tomorrow: no food, textiles, no coffee – nothing." However, according to Zelensky, of the dozens of smugglers' cars stuck at the border, only five belonged to "conspirators", while the rest realized that they would not be allowed to pass anymore.
"And this is happening at all customs points. It's power check – who beats whom and whether we 're able to withstand pressure. It's Sanzhary first, then Zakarpattia, then Chernivtsi, and then Odesa... And smuggling is everywhere. This is the way it is. We pulled the National Guard and troops to Zakarpattia. Have you seen van drivers twisting National Guards' hands, threatening to overpower them? That's what happened in Zakarpattia," he added.
As UNIAN reported earlier, at an extraordinary meeting on April 24, the Cabinet fired chief customs and tax officials – Maksym Nefyodov and Serhiy Verlanov – and a number of their deputies.
After that, Minister of Finance of Ukraine Serhiy Marchenko announced the "reboot" of the State Customs Service and the State Tax Service amid what he claimed was the "loss of confidence" in former chief officers.