Ukraine’s actor turned president may have been used to spotlight but revelations involving a phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump has shone a light on his inexperience, which could result in Ukraine being played as a political football.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was urged by Trump in a July 25 phone call to investigate Democrat front-runner Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was tied to a company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch.
But the conversation came after the Trump administration delayed releasing $400 million of U.S. military funds to Ukraine, which is dependent on foreign military aid for deterring Russia since it annexed Crimea in 2014.
That call is at the core of a Democrat launched impeachment inquiry into Trump as the U.S. heads into the 2020 elections.
Zelensky “should worry, as we don’t know how the Ukrainian topic can be used during the presidential campaign, how manipulative it can be, how will it spoil the Ukrainian image as it will be associated with a problem, not opportunities,” said Hanna Shelest, editor of the Ukraine Analytica journal.
Another issue is how the Democrats would take Zelensky’s words and if U.S. Congress will still have as much support for Ukraine.
But Zelensky has so far appeared cool-headed. In the first formal meeting between Trump and Zelensky on September 18, the Ukrainian president said: “Nobody pushed me” and that he did not want “to be involved (in) democratic open elections of (the) USA.”
Though it could be too late for the president whose victory this May was unexpected. Zelensky, who played the role of a president in a TV series before becoming Ukraine’s real life leader, gained popularity on his platform to fight corruption. But critics doubted his ability because of his inexperience.
The latest saga is a case in point and Zelensky has found out the hard way that not all his conversations are private.
Another lesson he and Trump could learn from is how much aid Europe actually gives to Ukraine.
In the call with the U.S. president, Zelensky agreed “1000%” with Trump that the U.S. does more for Ukraine than the EU. He also said France and Germany were “not working as much as they should work for Ukraine.”
But the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), said EU institutions in 2016-2017 gave more than double the average amount of aid to Ukraine than the U.S., the measurement did not even count contributions from individual member states.
The conversation “doesn’t give Zelensky a lot of goodwill with the EU, where he needs friends,” said Paul Ivan, a senior policy analyst at the European Policy Centre think tank. But he added he does not expect EU leaders to “react emotionally.”
However, the call could have an indirect effect on trust-building with France and Germany, said Alyona Getmanchuk, director of the Kiev-based think tank New Europe Center.
“His words about lack of support could be used against Ukraine… because Ukraine would be positioned as an ungrateful partner,” she said.
Adding, the revelations play into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hands.
“Putin”s strategy toward Ukraine has been the same for many years—to destabilize Ukraine inside and to discredit Ukraine globally.
“This story fits perfectly into his strategy. He is more than anybody interested in collapsing Western coalition in support for Ukraine,” Getmanchuk said.