Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pushed back on President Donald Trump repeatedly referring to his country as corrupt in defending his decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine.
The roughly $400 million in military aid was frozen under hazy circumstances, and Trump has offered an inconsistent series of defenses as to why amid the impeachment inquiry.
Zelensky also rejected the notion there was a quid pro quo linking the security assistance to investigations into Trump's political rivals.
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In a new interview with Time and three European outlets, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky rejected one of President Donald Trump's central talking points in defending his decision to withhold millions in military aid from Kiev.
Trump has offered an inconsistent series of defenses as to why he froze the roughly $400 million in security assistance, fluctuating between alleged concerns over corruption to misleading claims that European countries haven't done much to support Ukraine.
Zelensky pushed back on Trump pointing to corruption in justifying the hold on military aid, particularly as Ukraine contends with an ongoing conflict against pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region.
But he also once again rejected the notion that there was a quid pro quo conditioning the aid on the launch of investigations into Trump's political rivals. House investigators in the impeachment inquiry have zeroed in on the issue of whether this matter amounted to a quid pro quo or bribery.
"Look, I never talked to the President from the position of a quid pro quo. That's not my thing," Zelensky said. "I don't want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand. We're at war."
"If you're our strategic partner, then you can't go blocking anything for us. I think that's just about fairness. It's not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying," Zelensky went on to say.
'The US is a signal, for the world, for everyone'
In the interview, the Ukrainian leader said Trump is stigmatizing his country and hurting its image on the global stage by labeling it as corrupt. He emphasized that the US has a lot of clout in the world, and that Ukraine relied on it heavily amid the ongoing conflict with Russia. The Ukraine conflict began in 2014 and has led to roughly 13,000 deaths and displaced roughly 1.5 million people.
"The US is a signal, for the world, for everyone. When America says, for instance, that Ukraine is a corrupt country, that is the hardest of signals," Zelensky said. "For me it's very important for the US with all they can do for us, for them really to understand that we are a different country, that we are different people."
Trump downplayed the significance of Zelensky's comments in a misleading tweet on Monday morning: "Breaking News: The President of Ukraine has just again announced that President Trump has done nothing wrong with respect to Ukraine and our interactions or calls. If the Radical Left Democrats were sane, which they are not, it would be case over!"
The president's assertion that he withheld military aid due to corruption has been contradicted in testimony from impeachment witnesses, who've said Trump made the security assistance contingent on Zelensky publicly announcing the launch of investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and a bogus conspiracy theory linked to the 2016 election.
'I don't trust anyone at all'
AP Photo/Evan Vucci
During a July 25 phone call that's at the center of a whistleblower complaint that catalyzed the impeachment inquiry, Trump urged Zelensky to launch these investigations. After Zelensky mentioned US military assistance to Ukraine, Trump said he would like Zelensky to "do us a favor" before mentioning the investigations.
Zelensky has on more than one occasion rejected that he was pressured by Trump, but there are reasons to be skeptical of this given Ukraine's deep reliance on the US.
Impeachment witnesses, congressional lawmakers, and Ukraine experts have said Zelensky would never admit to feeling pressured or extorted because of Ukraine's culture and his need to keep the US on his side. One witness testified that Zelensky planned to announce the investigations on CNN, but pulled back on this plan after the security assistance was released on September 11.
Later this month, Zelensky will head to Paris to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and discuss the war that's raging on in the Donbas.
The comedian-turned-politician, who has been in office for less than a year, has tempered his expectations for these talks.
"I don't trust anyone at all. I'll tell you honestly. Politics is not an exact science," Zelensky said. "Everybody just has their interests."
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