Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy rejected any suggestions he was blackmailed by Donald Trump during a now infamous phone call in July that’s prompted an impeachment inquiry into the U.S. president.
Democrats say Trump tried to make almost $400 million of military assistance contingent on Ukraine opening an investigation into the son of Trump’s political rival Joe Biden, whose son did work in the former Soviet republic. Trump says there was no quid pro quo.
“There was no blackmail,” Zelenskiy told reporters at an all-day press event in Kyiv. “It wasn’t a subject of our talk.”
The controversy has put Zelenskiy in an awkward position. On one hand, Ukraine is reliant on U.S. and other foreign loans to rebuild its economy, while American military aid and diplomatic backing help it in its long-standing conflict with Russia. But on the other, it doesn’t want to be forced to take sides before next year’s U.S. election, which Trump could lose.
Zelenskiy said he wasn’t aware when he spoke by phone with Trump that the military aid at the center of the scandal had been frozen. He said he discussed the assistance at a later meeting in Warsaw with Vice President Mike Pence.
After that, the aid was unlocked following talks via diplomatic channels. It remains very important, despite progress toward peace in the war in eastern Ukraine, he said.
Trump alleges wrongdoing by Biden’s son during his sting as a board member at Ukraine’s Burisma Holdings. He claims Joe Biden sought the removal of the country’s top prosecutor to shut down a case into the energy company. The Bidens deny the accusations, for which Trump has provided no evidence.
Ukraine’s new chief prosecutor said last week that important cases opened before he took charge would be reviewed, though he couldn’t guarantee what the outcome would be.
Zelenskiy said Thursday that there’s no decision on a possible joint investigation into the Bidens. While he said he’s “not against” one, he said he didn’t want to interfere in the U.S. elections.
“I don’t want to meddle by any means in the elections of an independent country,” he said. “I won’t do it.”
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