Ukrainian president felt ‘no blackmail’ in Trump phone call

Volodymyr Zelenskiy says US aid to Kiev was not tied to action on the Bidens

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks with journalists at Kiev Food Market. Photograph: Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy speaks with journalists at Kiev Food Market. Photograph: Sergey Dolzhenko/EPA

 

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy has insisted there was “no blackmail” by Donald Trump during the phone call that has triggered an impeachment inquiry into the US president.

US Democrats launched the investigation after a whistleblower said Mr Trump used a July 25th conversation with Mr Zelenskiy to urge him to investigate the activity in Ukraine of Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden, the ex-US vice-president and the leading Democratic candidate for the 2020 US presidential election.

A White House memo of the call showed that Mr Trump asked Mr Zelenskiy to “do us a favour” and “look into” whether Joe Biden pressured Ukraine during his time as US vice-president to sack its then chief prosecutor, to stop him investigating the Burisma gas firm where Hunter Biden was a director.

“There was no blackmail ... We are not servants. We are an independent country,” Mr Zelenskiy said on Thursday during a marathon question-and-answer session with reporters at a food court in Kiev.

He also denied that Mr Trump had linked Ukraine’s assistance in investigating the Bidens with payment of about $400 million in US aid that the White House froze during the summer before later paying to Kiev.

“We didn’t speak about this,” 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, when asked how Kiev secured delivery of the aid.

Swift response

Mr Zelenskiy’s comments prompted a swift response from Mr Trump, who says the impeachment inquiry is a partisan and illegal attempt by the Democrats to oust him while shielding Mr Biden from scrutiny.

“The President of the Ukraine just stated again, in the strongest of language, that President Trump applied no pressure and did absolutely nothing wrong,” he posted on Twitter.

“He used the strongest language possible. That should end this Democrat Scam, but it won’t, because the Dems & Media are FIXED!”

Anti-corruption experts in Ukraine dismiss the claims about Mr Biden and Burisma.

They say that when Mr Biden threatened to withhold US funds from Kiev in 2016 unless it fired then prosecutor general Viktor Shokin, the investigation into Burisma – which did not relate to Hunter Biden’s time at the company – had already been shelved, and that Mr Shokin was blocking key cases and crucial reform.

Mr Zelenskiy said Kiev had not received any information from the US that would help it investigate the Burisma case or unsubstantiated claims by Mr Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, that Ukrainians meddled in the 2016 presidential US election.

“Ukrainians should investigate it themselves, probably there are grounds for that, but first of all it is our issue. It is very important for us so that in future we never interfere in elections of any country,” the Ukrainian leader said.

“We cannot and will not support any [US] candidate ... If every day you will drag Ukraine and the Ukrainian president into this process, then it will be a big, big mistake for the US, for Ukraine and for our relations.”