Prominent Ukrainians State Opinions on Trump-Zelenskyy Talk
26 September, 2019
The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy (L) shakes hands with the President of the U.S. Donald Trump in New York, United States on September 25. Office of the President of Ukraine

After the rough transcript of the July 25 conversation between the presidents of Ukraine and United States was published, one could hardly remain indifferent – especially with Donald Trump's impeachment being at stake.

We asked Ukrainian experts to comment on the substance of the conversation and its possible consequences.

READ MORE: What Trump’s New Scandal Means for Ukraine

Leonid Kravchuk, First President of Ukraine (1991-1994):

“When it comes to a talk between presidents of two countries, two factors must be taken into account. The first is with the president of what country the president of Ukraine communicates. It is one thing if it is country the size of Ukraine – like Poland or Bulgaria – and another if it is the United States. I'm not talking about presidents’ weight classes because the presidents are equal in their abilities, but the weight of the country has power and puts pressure on the president of Ukraine.

The second factor is who initiates the conversation. In this case, it was president Trump. The person who starts the conversation usually composes the context and topic of the conversation and places the emphasis. Therefore, the president of Ukraine cannot interrupt the president of another country and tell him, for example, 'this does not concern me.' That would be undiplomatic. As I understand from the transcript, the president of Ukraine listened attentively, without interrupting Trump.

President Trump made a request to Ukraine’s president to investigate the activities of [US Vice President Joe] Biden's son in Ukraine. If he said, 'I want you to ask the prosecutor to be either softer or tougher,' this would be a direct pressure. That would be unacceptable. There was no such thing. He simply said that he would like an objective investigation. This cannot be interpreted as an assignment.

What should not have been done in such a conversation is the assessment on prosecutor Shokin. I would consider it necessary for the President of Ukraine to say in one sentence: 'Shokin's issue is connected with President Yanukovych and this is a problem of the Ukrainian society'.

I do not think that the President of Ukraine can judge other leaders like the chancellor of Germany. Although, when talking directly on the phone, one can’t predict everything.

President Zelenskyy had the right to comment on ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. He made it delicately: he said she was committed to Petro Poroshenko. Probably he knows what he said.

In general, given the situation at the time of this conversation, the president of Ukraine looked fine. But I repeat, the tone of the conversation was set by the U.S. president.”

Mykola Kapitonenko, member of the expert board at the Parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee: 

“The conversation and emotions around it are largely overestimated. I see nothing that can serve as a reason for an impeachment of the United States president or for any substantial criticism of the Ukrainian president. It was a working conversation, a little bit emotional but that is the style of the American president. One can hardly speak to him in a different way.

The mentioning of Biden can hardly be called pressure. It’s for American lawyers to decide whether Donald Trump exceeded his power or actually committed a crime. In my view, there was no vivid pressure on his counterpart. So I don’t see anything criminal about the conversation.

I think Trump will still be involved in this. And it looks like all the way before the presidential elections in the U.S. this topic will be one of the measures in American internal political discourse. So Trump will have to re-address it over and over again.

I don’t think much will change in Ukraine’s relations with the U.S. In the worst scenario, Ukraine may lose support either from president Trump or the House of Representatives, or at least this support may be weakened in away. But I should say it’s not going to seriously impact the U.S. stance on Ukraine’s relations with Russia or on the conflict in the east of Ukraine.

With regards to the relationship with the EU, in particular France and Germany – which, according to many observers, seems to be the biggest negative connotation from this conversation – this would hardly be a reason for either Berlin or Paris to change their position in Normandy Format, for instance, or to put more pressure on Ukraine, or to side more closely with Russia. I don’t think they will allow emotions to dominate in this regard.

It is mostly negative and very risky that Ukraine has become a major topic in the internal political struggle in the U.S. I don’t see it as an opportunity, but as a risk which would be hard to escape. We will need very sophisticated political and diplomatic moves and personal decisions by the president and his team in order to minimize the risks. We can lose the image in issues like corruption and the effectiveness of reforms. That’s why I think it is still the best strategy to stay away as much as possible from this scandal.”

READ MORE: Declassified Whistleblower Complaint Reveals New Details of Trump's Alleged Pressure on Ukraine

Sergiy Korsunsky, director of the Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine:

“From my point of view, I see nothing very special or wrong in the transcript that was published. I’ve seen many transcripts and I’ve been listening to many discussions between heads of state, and this is a kind of normal discussion which may be a little bit more personal than somebody may expect. Talking to Trump is definitely a hard task for anyone. At the time of July 25, Zelenskyy had just been elected. I see that he was trying to build good relations with a person he was talking to.

If we carefully looked for other examples of talks between presidents, we could find much worse. I don’t see anything illegal in what Trump said. And nothing against the law was promised. Again, this is Trump, this is how he talks and behaves. 

I can tell that I witnessed how the head of state could ask for a favor for a certain company, for example, so that could be considered a direct request in favor of some businesses. They do it, this is how things happen.

I see no negative consequences for U.S.-Ukraine relations. I think that the discussion during the personal meeting of Zelenskyy and Trump was quite sincere and open. And it is very important that Zelenskyy said, 'we don’t want to be involved in your elections in 2020.'

We can’t say anything substantial about the consequences for Ukraine’s relations with European leaders because we don’t know the substance of the talks between Zelenskyy and [French President Emmanuel] Macron, and Zelenskyy and [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel in their personal meetings.”

Volodymyr Fesenko, director of the Kyiv-based Penta Center for Political Studies:

“The publication of the transcript of this conversation will certainly create some, far from critical, problems for president Zelenskyy. Certain political complications for President Zelenskyy may arise in further contacts with representatives of the U.S. Democratic Party and in collaboration with French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel. But it is rather a negative emotional background. The United States, as well as Merkel and Macron, will make allowances for the political inexperience of the new Ukrainian president and on his desire to please President Trump. However the nasty feeling, of course, remains.

This scandal will not significantly affect U.S.-Ukraine relations. The national interests of both countries require continued partnerships. Representatives of the U.S. Democratic Party may have a more critical attitude toward president Zelenskyy. But if a candidate from the U.S. Democratic Party wins the presidential election in 2020, the United States will work with President Zelenskyy. Trump was offended by [ex-]president Poroshenko, who sympathized with Hillary Clinton, but was still forced to help Ukraine in confronting Russia, because this was demanded by U.S.' national interests. Democrats will act in the same way. In addition, it should be borne in mind that, that although Zelenskyy complimented Trump in their telephone conversation, the criminal investigation against Biden’s son was never opened. Zelenskyy openly said in New York that it was not in our interests to interfere in the election campaign in the United States.

The main consequence of the publication of this transcript will be that Zelenskyy will become more careful and accurate in his communication with western leaders. For him, this whole story should be an instructive lesson.”

/By Vladyslav Kudryk