The Irish Times view on Ukraine: looking eastwards

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has more to worry about than an embarrassing telephone call with Donald Trump

US president Donald Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a meeting in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

US president Donald Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a meeting in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in September. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

 

Ukraine is now a near-constant presence in global headlines as the growing US impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump’s dealings with Kiev grabs countless column inches and broadcast minutes. While the world’s cameras follow hearings on Capitol Hill, however, most Ukrainians are not looking west to Washington but focusing on the war in their eastern Donbas region, and their own president’s bid to convince Russia to end it.

The grovelling revealed in the White House memo of Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s July 25th phone call with Trump would have been a domestic disaster for most other European leaders. But Ukrainians did not elect the former comedian as president this year for his political polish or adroit diplomacy, and they suspect any other leader of their poor and war-torn nation would have been just as keen to butter up the vainglorious Trump. Ukraine needs the US on its side, on almost any terms, in a five-year conflict with Russia that has claimed the lives of more than 13,000 people, displaced 1.6 million and ravaged the economy, and which Zelenskiy is determined to stop.

Zelenskiy needs the US administration to be unequivocally on his side as he enters the diplomatic fray with Russia

It is a sudden quickening of this peace effort that has grabbed Ukraine’s attention in recent weeks, as Zelenskiy has tried to blot out the noise from Washington and coax Moscow to the negotiating table. Kiev agreed this month on how to sequence elections in Donbas and grant some kind of special status to areas now held by Russian-led separatists, in what the Kremlin called a precondition for peace talks.

Government and separatist forces must also withdraw from sections of the front line before a summit between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany can take place. Thousands of Ukrainians have marched against any “capitulation” to Russia, however, and nationalist militia angrily reject any compromise with the Kremlin.

Zelenskiy has more to worry about than an embarrassing telephone call with Trump – and he needs a distracted US administration to be unequivocally on his side as he enters the diplomatic fray with Russia.

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