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Ukraine's Zelenskiy: Another Trump sycophant

Johann Bernd Kommentarbild App
Bernd Johann
September 26, 2019

US President Donald Trump urged his Ukrainian counterpart to dig up dirt on his political rival — a move that may lead to Trump's impeachment. But President Zelenskiy's fawning is just as scandalous, says Bernd Johann.

New York UN Generalversammlung Zelenskij Trump
Image: picture-alliance/AP Images/E. Vucci

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's party is called Servant of the People — and quite aptly so, as Zelenskiy and his party have vowed to work hard for the people. But, judging by the recently released memo of a phone call between US President Donald Trump and Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian leader is also readily at the service of his US counterpart.

Zelenskiy's flattery and sycophancy toward the US president were clearly aimed at securing US-Ukrainian cooperation at any cost. The memo illustrating the confidential conversation between both leaders on July 25 is quite revealing.

The notes were published after Trump came under intense domestic pressure to do so. Now, the world can read how Trump urged his Ukrainian counterpart to dig up dirt on one of his biggest political rivals at home in the run-up to the 2020 presidential elections: Democrat Senator and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Zelenskiy says what Trump wants to hear

And how did Zelenskiy respond? He said exactly what Trump wanted to hear, complimenting him and even referring to him as a "great teacher." Zelenskiy readily agreed to Trump's wishes. At that moment, Zelenskiy — the Servant of the People — became the Servant of Donald Trump.

Granted, politics is always about competing interests. But in his conversation with Trump, Zelenskiy hardly stood up for his country's priorities. Instead, he seemed fixed on appeasing the American leader. He neither asked Trump for US investments in his war-torn country, nor for the backing of his comprehensive reform agenda that he has promised Ukrainians.

Bernd Johann Opinion picture
Bernd Johann is head of DW's Ukrainian service

Time for gossip

The Ukrainian president praised military aid for his own country and sanctions against Russia. But he never brought up the possibility of the US backing a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis, even though many Ukrainians would welcome exactly that. Zelenskiy also failed to mention how he wants to end the war in Ukraine's Donbass region — one of his biggest campaign pledges — for which US support could prove useful. 

None of this really mattered to Zelenskiy when he finally got the opportunity to speak with Trump on the phone. After all, he has not yet visited the White House and only briefly met Trump at the recent UN general assembly. But both leaders seem to agree that the US plays such an important role for Ukraine — whereas the EU supposedly pretends to do so. The duo carried on, sharing insults on German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

It was only after these remarks that Trump repeatedly and vehemently requested his Ukrainian counterpart dig up compromising information on Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden, who was reportedly involved in controversial Ukrainian energy deals.

USA Joe Biden mit seinem Sohn Hunter in Peking
Joe Biden (right) with his son Hunter BidenImage: Getty Images/AFP/A. Wong

Two presidents and an impeachment inquiry

Trump did not bring up the widespread corruption and nepotism in Ukraine. He was only interested in Biden's son, explicitly requesting an investigation into his conduct. Hunter Biden was on the board of a shadowy energy firm in Ukraine during President Poroshenko's tenure. Trump then suggested his personal lawyer assist the investigation, rather than the US judiciary. And it is known that, prior to the phone call, US aid to Ukraine was temporarily halted — though neither president spoke about this on the phone. 

Nonetheless, the suspicion is that Trump put pressure on a foreign leader to secure an advantage. A foreign leader, for that matter, who played along because he couldn't say no — or didn't want to. Ukraine, after all, is dependent on the US. So no wonder how Democrats now want to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump.

It is not without irony that thanks to Zelenskiy, whose party has now made it possible to impeach presidents in Ukraine, US President Donald Trump may now face impeachment himself.

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