Ukraine president: No blackmail in conversation with Trump
Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he only learned after their phone call that the US had blocked hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has said there was “no blackmail” in the phone call with US President Donald Trump that helped spark an impeachment inquiry.
Mr Zelenskiy said he only learned after their July 25 phone call that the US had blocked hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine.
“We didn’t speak about this” during the July call, Mr Zelenskiy said, saying the military aid was not the “theme” of the conversation.
He spoke during an unusual, all-day “media marathon” in a Kiev food court amid growing questions about his actions as president.
Mr Trump asked Mr Zelenskiy during the call to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, according to a rough White House transcript.
Congressional Democrats believe Mr Trump was holding up the aid to use as leverage to pressure Ukraine and advance his domestic political interests ahead of next year’s US presidential election.
Mr Trump said the military aid was frozen because of concerns about corruption in Ukraine, but the move prompted congressional outcry and the money was released in September.
The July call is central to the impeachment inquiry, and embarrassed Mr Zelenskiy because it showed him as eager to please Mr Trump and critical of European partners.
Mr Zelenskiy said he “didn’t even check” whether the Ukrainian transcript of the call is the same as that of the White House, but added: “I think they match.”
He said the call “wasn’t linked to weapons or the story with (Ukrainian gas company) Burisma,” where Mr Biden’s son Hunter served on the board.
Asked what Ukraine did to persuade the US to release the aid, Mr Zelenskiy said: “We have many diplomatic contacts. And in case we need to find a solution to questions of this level, questions about our country’s security, we use all our powerful possibilities.
He added “I don’t want to interfere in any way in the elections” in the US.
The Ukrainian president said he thought the call would lead to an in-person meeting with Mr Trump, and wanted the American leader to come to Ukraine.
Mr Zelenskiy said the “key question” for him was to try to persuade the White House to “change its rhetoric” about Ukraine as a corrupt and untrustworthy country.
He said he had “several calls” with Mr Trump, but bristled at repeated questions about their relationship.
“We are an independent country, we have relations with many countries,” not just the US, he said.
Mr Zelenskiy is notably trying to end a five-year conflict with Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, and is treading carefully to ensure continued support from the US while trying to make peace with powerful neighbour Russia.
In the July call, Mr Trump sought help on two fronts.
The first involves Mr Trump’s claims that Ukraine allied with the Democrats in a plot to derail his 2016 presidential campaign.
No evidence of such a plot has emerged.
At the same time, Mr Trump is also pushing Ukraine to investigate any potential wrongdoing by Mr Biden and his son Hunter.
Mr Trump has said the US has an “absolute right” to ask foreign leaders to investigate corruption cases, though no-one has produced evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the Bidens.