September 25, 2022

On August 9, Voice of America journalist Mikhail Komadovsky asked President of the United States Donald Trump whether he plans to invite President Vladimir Zelensky to the White House and how he would advise him to communicate with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

The US President’s response was eyebrow-raising enough: “He’s going to make a deal with President Putin. And he will be invited to the White House. He is a reasonable guy. He wants to see peace in Ukraine. I think he’ll be coming very soon.”

The sensation was that a few hours earlier, United States Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor said that a possibility of a Zelensky-Trump meeting in Warsaw and New York is only being worked out. It was clear that it was about a symbolic act, a brief meeting and a succinct conversation on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly session and arrangements timed to the 80th anniversary of the World War II outbreak.

And suddenly the American President himself says Zelensky’s visit will take place soon and pays him generous compliments. Why would he? We certainly need to take heed that Trump said not a single negative word about Russia and welcomed an early settlement. All of this sustains the hypothesis that he wants to get along with Moscow, but I do not think that this was the President’s number-one motivation. For Trump, the main thing is his re-election next year, as well as his key alleged rival, Joe Biden. And his compliments to the President of Ukraine seem to testify to his having enlisted cooperation of the new Kiev authorities in this regard.

Here it is appropriate to recall the conversation between Trump and Zelensky of July 25. The press service of the President of Ukraine reported that the US leader offered his congratulations to the former on the victory of the Servant of the People party at the parliamentary elections and expressed conviction that the new Ukrainian government proves able to quickly improve the image of Ukraine and to complete the investigation into corruption cases that hampered cooperation between Ukraine and the United States.

It is clear that the above phrase about the image and corruption cases restraining bilateral relations is a broad hint at both Kiev’s help in the 2016 struggle of the Democratic Party with Trump, which resulted in the Manafort case, and the dark Ukraine business of former US Vice President and Trump’s likely opponent Joe Biden.

But the most interesting thing is that the entire text with its transparent hints is a product of the Ukrainian President’s press service. After all, it is the only source of information in this respect, as the conversation between the two presidents has been mentioned neither on the White House website nor on Donald Trump’s Twitter. As press services traditionally provide a summary of the conversation, if both parties report on it, their messages are never identical, because each focuses on the facts considered the most fascinating to it.

In other words, it’s not just that Trump took interest in the part Hunter Biden, the son of his rival, had in the Burisma gas producing company and the role of the last Kiev administration and the Soros grant-eaters in digging up dirt while fighting against his election campaign in 2016, but that the Zelensky press service has actually voiced this. But they could have erased the hints and just report that “the US President stressed the importance of combating corruption.”

The presence of such a hint could be explained by the unsophistication of the Ukrainian President’s press service, but an explanation of this kind is out of place after Trump’s statement about his imminent meeting with Zelensky. Compliments to the President of Ukraine are a likely consequence of his willingness to help Trump in the issue key for him.

Yes, a week before the Kiev inauguration, The Washington Post reported Zelensky surroundings afraid to be involved in the internal American conflict, as well as that he was surrounded by people who were enemies of Trump. The last phrase is an expression by attorney to the American President and former mayor of the New York City Rudolf Giuliani in justification of his planned trip to Kiev. He did not mention any names, but there could be only one person behind the transparent hint – Deputy of the eighth Verkhovna Rada convocation Serhiy Leshchenko, who was first to make a point of Manafort’s getting money from the Party of Regions. Leshchenko did really support Zelensky and attended events arranged by him, but all of this was before the inauguration.

Zelensky team set a course for a criminal prosecution of former President Petro Poroshenko. And there is an opinion among the Kiev experts that it is through the imprisonment of old team representatives that the new President will try to ensure his ratings, because succeeding here appears incomparably easier than in economy or in the Donbass region. However, with the patrons Poroshenko has in the West, the victory may be hollow. And those patrons will stand up for the ex-President even notwithstanding such skeletons in the closet as Poroshenko’s role in digging up Trump’s dirt in 2016 and the role of Yuri Lutsenko (№1 on list to the PPB in the 2014 elections), his political appointee to the post of Prosecutor General, as regards the termination of the Prosecutor’s Office’s interest in Burisma. And if probing into those “skeletons”, one can expect a favorable attitude of the White House.

But that’s not all of Zelensky’s motivation to support Trump. In exchange for such assistance one can ensure patronage in matters important. For instance, the presence of those close to Igor Kolomoyskyi in the establishment. I am primarily referring to Head of the Office of the President of Ukraine (the former Presidential Administration) Andriy Bohdan. Let me remind you that in May Giuliani hurled forth his rage upon Kolomoyskyi as a “criminal oligarch”.

However, the Ukrainian media have published leaked information that Trump refuses to meet with Zelensky while Bohdan heads the administration. But the compliments of the American President to the President of Ukraine obviously disavow such a rumor. By the way, it is quite possible that pressure on Zelensky through Kolomoyskyi has originally been a lever to persuade him to cooperate in the Biden case and other things Trump is concerned with.

Yes, getting involved in domestic political games of the United States is risky for Zelensky, because there is no guarantee that the White House will not be occupied by the Democrats in 2021. But it’s a long way off, and the situation is far from being easy under pressure coming from Washington. In addition, assistance to Trump in matters essential to him will obviously be delivered through the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, with its leadership going to change after a new Rada convocation starts its work. And Zelensky will get an opportunity to say that the Prosecutor’s Office is an independent agency free from presidential interference.

Alexander Ponomarenko, political scientist


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