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KYIV — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tells "Axios on HBO" that he was "shocked" by the pro-Trump mob storming the U.S. Capitol, saying he never imagined this could happen in America and that it harms U.S. efforts to promote democracy abroad.

Why it matters: Zelensky's comments show how the Jan. 6 riots have echoed beyond America's borders, unsettling allies and emerging democracies that look to the U.S. for security and inspiration.

  • In the interview, Zelensky also talks more openly than ever about his 2019 call with then-President Trump, which helped pave the way for Trump's first impeachment.
  • Zelensky is hoping to reset the U.S.-Ukraine relationship under the new administration and with President Biden — whom he has yet to meet.

The big picture: The spectacle of the siege on the Capitol left a deep impression on Zelensky and has caused him to rethink his assumptions about America. "I believe this was a strong blow to democracy of the United States," he said, speaking through an interpreter in an interview at his presidential office.

  • "We are used to believing that the United States has the ideal democratic institutions, where power is transferred calmly. ... In Ukraine, we lived through two revolutions ... we understood such things can happen in the world.
  • "But that it could happen in the United States? No one expected that ... I was very worried … I did not want you to have a coup.
  • "After something like this, I believe it would be very difficult for the world to see the United States as a symbol of democracy."

Between the lines: Zelensky finds himself in a difficult situation — caught between a hostile invader in Russia and allies in Europe and the U.S., which talks a good game when it comes to defending Ukraine but is often absent when it really counts.

  • The emptiness of American rhetoric was starkly revealed in 2014 when Russia invaded Ukraine, seizing Crimea and the eastern territories.
  • Then-President Obama spoke out forcefully against the invasion, as did his point person on Ukraine — then-Vice President Biden. But the Obama administration wouldn't send weapons to the Ukrainians to defend themselves against their invaders.

The backstory: In the years since, Zelensky has had to deal with other American betrayals. As a newly elected president in 2019, he hoped to have a productive relationship with Trump. But in their infamous early phone call, Trump wasn't interested in helping Ukraine.

  • Trump was fixated on bullying Zelensky into announcing an investigation into Hunter Biden, the son of his political rival. Trump briefly held up hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure Zelensky into announcing these investigations.
  • Trump ended up releasing the aid after members of Congress sounded alarms about his scheme, but after that, he never bothered himself with Ukraine again and gave Zelensky the cold shoulder.

Go deeper

19 mins ago - World

In photos: Global protests over Israeli–Palestinian conflict

A protest march in support of Palestinians near the Washington monument in Washington, D.C. on May 15. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Thousands of people rallied across the U.S. and the world Saturday following days of violence in Gaza and Israel that's killed at least 145 Palestinians, including 41 children, and eight Israelis, per AP.

The big picture: Most demonstrations were in support of Palestinians. There were tense scenes between pro-Israeli government protesters and pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Winnipeg, Canada, and Leipzig, Germany, but no arrests were made, CBS News and DW.com report.

Updated 8 hours ago - World

Biden in call with Netanyahu raises concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza

Photo: Ahmad Gharabli/Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

President Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday and raised concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza and the bombing of the building that housed AP and other media offices, according to Israeli officials.

The big picture: At least 140 Palestinians, including dozens of children, have been killed in Gaza since fighting between Israel and Hamas began Monday, according to Palestinian health officials. Nine people, including two children, have been killed by Hamas rockets in Israel.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

"Horrified": AP, Al Jazeera condemn Israel's bombing of their offices in Gaza

A ball of fire erupts from the Jalaa Tower as it is destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Associated Press and Al Jazeera on Saturday condemned the Israeli airstrike that destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza that housed their and other media offices.

What they're saying: The White House, meanwhile, said it had "communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility," according to press secretary Jen Psaki.