Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke about his distrust of foreign leaders and criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for his waning support of Ukraine, in a sprawling interview with Time and European media published Monday.
The interview marks Zelensky’s most vehement and high-profile defense of Ukraine since the U.S. House of Representatives began an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s efforts to force Ukraine to open investigations into his political rivals.
“If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us,” Zelensky said at one point. “I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo.”
Trump’s intention to exchange military aid earmarked for Ukraine for dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden is at the heart of the House’s impeachment inquiry, along with efforts by Trump and White House officials to spread a conspiracy theory about Ukraine ― not Russia ― interfering in the 2016 election.
The conspiracy theory about election meddling by Ukraine has been dispelled by the U.S. Intelligence Community and, more recently, during congressional testimony by the Trump administration’s former top Russia expert, Dr. Fiona Hill. But Trump’s allies in Congress and conservative media have continued to spread the discredited theory. On Sunday, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) befuddled “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd when he regurgitated anti-Ukrainian talking points widely acknowledged as pro-Russian misinformation.
In the Time interview, Zelensky told reporters how these conspiracy theories harm Ukraine:
The United States of America 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. 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.
Trump has repeatedly said his efforts to extort Ukraine were meant to root out government misconduct in the country, which ousted its former leader, President Petro Poroshenko, for corruption. Billing himself as a reformer, Zelensky succeeded Poroshenko on an anti-corruption platform, and he told Time he has nothing to prove to Trump.
“I don’t need to change his mind,” Zelensky said. “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.”
Zelensky also discussed Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia’s encroachment into Ukrainian territory and what he described as a decline in global support for Ukrainian independence.
Asked whether he trusts Putin to conduct peace talks with Ukraine in good faith, Zelensky said: “I don’t trust anyone at all.” He added: “I don’t know these people. I can’t understand what dough they’re made of. That’s why I think nobody can have any trust. Everybody just has their interests.”
Read the full interview here.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified Sen. John Kennedy as “Joe Kennedy.”