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Zelensky at the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Ukraine's president, political neophyte Volodymyr Zelensky, appears out of his depth after just 4 months in office, as his relations with President Trump have put him front and center in a political scandal rocking the U.S. and rippling across the globe.

Why it matters: Given the deep challenges facing Ukraine and Zelensky, Ukraine can hardly afford strained relations with the U.S. and European partners. Weakened Western ties would complicate efforts around democratic progress, economic growth and national security — particularly in pushing back against the malign influence of Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Where it stands: Until this week's release of a transcript of his July 25 call with Trump, Zelensky had received largely positive marks from the West for advancing democracy and taking steps toward a peace settlement in Donbas, including a prisoner swap with Moscow that brought home 35 Ukrainians.

  • In return, the U.S., Europe and other partners have pledged continued support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in its efforts to rebuff Russia, tackle corruption and carry out needed reforms.

Background: Zelensky and his Servant of the People political party were handed the keys to the country by a frustrated Ukrainian electorate in the April 2019 elections and have since ridden an unprecedented wave of popularity.

  • Zelensky's mandate is to provide new leadership to tackle corruption, end the conflict in eastern Ukraine and advance Ukraine’s EU and NATO integration efforts.

What to watch: Ukraine has enjoyed bipartisan support in Washington, and diplomatic support and assistance will likely continue, albeit with a more circumspect approach. Zelensky is similarly expected to follow through on his commitment not to be involved in U.S. elections and to carry out proposed reforms.

  • In Europe, Zelensky will have to redouble his diplomatic efforts and outreach to allies stung by his comments in the transcript, particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has led efforts to sustain Ukraine-related sanctions on Russia.
  • He will especially hope to count on Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron, also singled out in the call, at next month's meeting of the Normandy Four — Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France — to discuss resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Jonathan Katz is a senior fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Go deeper

U.S. ambassador to Russia will return home briefly: State Department

John Sullivan, U.S. Ambassador to Russia, during a briefing in Moscow in 2015. Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS via Getty Images

The State Department said Monday that the U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, will now be returning to the United States this week before returning to Moscow "in the coming weeks."

Why this matters: The statement, from a State Department spokesperson, comes just hours after Axios reported that Sullivan had indicated he intended to stand his ground and stay in Russia after the Kremlin “advised” him to return home to talk with his team.

Scoop: Leaked Ukraine memo reveals scope of Russia's aggression

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits a military exposition in Sevastopol, Crimea, in Jan. 2020. Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Russia has been holding last-minute military exercises near commercial shipping lanes in the Black Sea that threaten to strangle Ukraine's economy, according to an internal document from Ukraine's ministry of defense reviewed by Axios.

Why it matters: With the eyes of the world on the massive buildup of troops in eastern Ukraine, the leaked memo shows Russian forces escalating their presence on all sides of the Ukrainian border.

Elon Musk: Autopilot feature wasn't enabled in fatal Texas crash

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Monday that "data logs recovered so far" show the car's Autopilot feature was not enabled — and it did not have access to "full self-driving mode" — in the deadly crash in Texas involving the company's electric vehicle.

Background: Local investigators said they believed the car was operating without anyone in the driver's seat. At the time of death, one man was in the passenger seat, while another was in the rear seat, KPRC 2 reports.