Ukrainians worry Putin winner in Washington’s latest scandal

Ukrainians worry Putin winner in Washington’s latest scandal
Copyright 2019 CNN

The Ukraine scandal engulfing the Trump administration may be the talk of Washington. In Kiev, it’s cause for alarm.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arrived in New York on Monday to take part in the United Nations General Assembly. But his debut on the world stage has already been overshadowed by questions about a July 25 conversation with US President Donald Trump.

In the latest development, two senior administration officials said Trump requested a hold on millions in military aid to Ukraine roughly one week before a call in which Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son.

Trump tweeted Tuesday he has “authorized the release tomorrow of the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript” of his phone call with Zelensky, and said there was “no pressure, unlike Joe Biden and his son, NO quid pro quo!”

Leave aside for a moment whether that was ever likely to happen: Andriy Yermak, an aide to Zelensky, said in an interview published Monday that Ukraine would not open or close investigations “on command.”

Many Ukrainians are concerned the US political drama benefits their powerful neighbor, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In an interview with CNN, former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said that the scandal surrounding the telephone conversation is undermining Ukraine’s fight against Russia, which occupied and annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has backed separatists in the country’s east.

Klimkin said the scandal will undermine Kiev and play into the hands of Putin.

Asked to guess what the Kremlin is likely thinking about the Trump phone scandal, Klimkin said: “They are definitely (thinking), ‘Open the champagne.’ For them it is the best way to drive a wedge in (the) unique — and I really mean unique — bipartisan support for Ukraine. (The) United States for the past five years has been the most important ally, not only in the sense of military aid, not only in the sense of pressure and sanctions but fundamentally leading the international community, so now the Russians should be crazy happy about it.”

Klimkin told CNN he has no direct knowledge of what was discussed in the Trump phone call. He has not seen a transcript or been briefed on the call despite holding the position of foreign minister at the time, because he had submitted his resignation before the call.

But many Ukrainians are learning about what it means to be pulled into a US domestic political drama.

On CNN, journalist and former Ukrainian government official Serhiy Leshchenko appeared on “Cuomo Prime Time” to counter a false allegation by Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani said a Ukrainian court had found Leshchenko guilty of producing a phony affidavit given to US officials to intervene in American elections.

On Twitter, Leshchenko said he appeared on the show to “confront disinformation statements of Rudy Giuliani about me and Ukraine,” adding: “We are looking for bipartisan support of Ukraine to make … Europe (a) safer place.”

Daria Kaleniuk, an anti-corruption activist in Ukraine, made a similar point. The main beneficiary of the scandal, she argued on Twitter, was Russia.

“Both Ukraine and the US are (losing),” she wrote on Twitter.

The discussion about Ukraine’s future, many Ukrainians fear, is being drowned out by the noise surrounding that unusual call in July.

CNN’s Matthew Chance and Zahra Ullah in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.