Along with the transcript of the two leaders’ famous July 25 call showing no “quid pro quo” imposed by President Trump, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s repeated public denials of any such arrangement continue to undermine the Democrats’ impeachment efforts. In an interview published by Time magazine on Monday, Zelensky — even while expressing some frustration with Trump and his administration — further drove the nail in the coffin of those hoping he would somehow change his tune on “no quid pro quo.”
In a loaded question, Time reporters tried to get Zelensky to offer something incriminating about Trump’s decision to delay U.S. security aid to Ukraine. “When did you first sense that there was a connection between Trump’s decision to block military aid to Ukraine this summer and the two investigations that Trump and his allies were asking for?” a Time reporter asked. “Can you clarify this issue of the quid pro quo?”
But, as he’s done consistently, Zelensky rejected any talk of the potential corruption investigations being linked to the U.S. military aid.
“Look, I never talked to the President from the position of a quid pro quo,” said the Ukrainian president. “That’s not my thing. … 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’s “not about a quid pro quo” comment came after Time’s reporters asked impeachment-themed questions that hit on tensions between the Trump administration and Ukraine.
“[I]n the context of the impeachment inquiry, [Ambassador Kurt] Volker has left his post, as have other officials who supported Ukraine within the Trump Administration. In that context, how do you see the U.S. role in the peace process? How has it changed in the last few months, and how do you see it going forward?” Time asked.
“First off, I would never want Ukraine to be a piece on the map, on the chess board of big global players, so that someone could toss us around, use us as cover, as part of some bargain …” said Zelensky. “As for the United States, I would really want — and we feel this, it’s true — for them to help us, to understand us, to see that we are a player in our own right, that they cannot make deals about us with anyone behind our backs. Of course they help us, and I’m not just talking about technical help, military aid, financial aid. These are important things, very important things, especially right now, when we are in such a difficult position.”
“The United States of America is a signal, for the world, for everyone,” he continued. “When America says, for instance, that Ukraine is a corrupt country, that is the hardest of signals. It might seem like an easy thing to say, that combination of words: Ukraine is a corrupt country. Just to say it and that’s it. But it doesn’t end there. Everyone hears that signal. Investments, banks, stakeholders, companies, American, European, companies that have international capital in Ukraine, it’s a signal to them that says, ‘Be careful, don’t invest.’ Or, ‘Get out of there.’ This is a hard signal. For me it’s very important for the United States, with all they can do for us, for them really to understand that we are a different country, that we are different people. It’s not that those things don’t exist. They do. All branches of government were corrupted over many years, and we are working to clean that up. But that signal from them is very important.”
Time then made a point of bringing up Trump recently describing Ukraine as “corrupt,” asking, “Do you have a plan for changing his mind?”
“I don’t need to change his mind,” said Zelensky. “During my meeting with him, I said that I don’t want our country to have this image. For that, all he has to do is come and have a look at what’s happening, how we live, what kinds of people we are. I had the sense that he heard me. I had that sense. At least during the meeting, he said, ‘Yes, I see, you’re young, you’re new, and so on.’”
The Democrats’ impeachment inquiry was sparked by a whistleblower complaint based on second-hand knowledge of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky. Though Democrats have alleged that a quid pro quo was imposed by Trump, the transcript released by the administration, along with the complaint, revealed no such arrangement.
“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that,” Trump told Zelensky during the famous call. “So whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”