Dec 2, 2019

Ukraine's Zelensky says Trump should not have blocked aid: "We're at war"

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. Photo: STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In a wide-ranging interview with TIME magazine and other European publications, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky publicly pushed back on President Trump for withholding military aid this summer while the country was in the midst of a war with Russia.

Why it matters: The question of whether Trump froze aid in order to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into his domestic rivals is now at the heart of the impeachment inquiry. Zelensky denied that he ever spoke with Trump about the aid "from the position of a quid pro quo," but criticized the U.S. for its treatment of Ukraine and frequent labeling of the country as corrupt.

Highlights

On whether Trump wanted to exchange aid for investigating the Bidens

"Look, I never talked to the President from the position of a quid pro quo. That’s not my thing. … I don’t want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand. We’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying."

On how the U.S. can help Ukraine amid peace talks with Russia

"As for the United States, I would really want – and we feel this, it’s true – for them to help us, to understand us, to see that we are a player in our own right, that they cannot make deals about us with anyone behind our backs."
"When America says, for instance, that Ukraine is a corrupt country, that is the hardest of signals. ... Everyone hears that signal. Investments, banks, stakeholders, companies, American, European, companies that have international capital in Ukraine, it’s a signal to them that says, ‘Be careful, don’t invest.’ Or, ‘Get out of there.’ This is a hard signal."
"America, first of all, has its direct relations with Russia. To influence Russia, to make everyone see that this [war] is a big tragedy, and that it must end, I think that Mr. Trump can speak directly, and I think they do talk about these things."

On Trump saying Ukraine is a corrupt country

"I don’t need to change his mind. During my meeting with him, I said that I don’t want our country to have this image. For that, all he has to do is come and have a look at what’s happening, how we live, what kinds of people we are. I had the sense that he heard me. I had that sense. At least during the meeting, he said, ‘Yes, I see, you’re young, you’re new, and so on."

Reality check: Trump on Monday falsely tweeted that Zelensky declared during the interview that "President Trump has done nothing wrong with respect to Ukraine and our interactions or calls."

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Dave Lawler: The Trump-Ukraine drama has been viewed in the U.S. mostly through a domestic political lens. But it has major implications for Zelensky, who took office promising to fight corruption and end the war with Russia.

  • The U.S. is easily Ukraine’s most important ally, and Zelensky is clearly concerned that the political firestorm is influencing how his country is perceived not only in Washington, but around the world.

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