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Zelenskiy: No Knowledge of Frozen Military Aid During Trump Phone Call

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at his October 10, 2019 "press marathon" in Kyiv with alternating groups of journalists
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at his October 10, 2019 "press marathon" in Kyiv with alternating groups of journalists

Faced with snowballing questions about Ukraine’s ties with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration and its plans for withdrawing troops from the Donbas conflict zone, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy staged an aptly named “press marathon” in Kyiv on October 10.

Starting in the morning, Zelenskiy conducted short Q&As with alternating groups of seven to 10 journalists inside the Kyiv Food Market, a range of eateries housed in the city’s former Arsenal military factory. The president’s press service stated that the discussions could last anywhere from six to 13 hours.

Current Time provided live coverage (in Russian only) of the event.

These are some of the main need-to-knows from Zelenskiy’s initial remarks:

On President Trump Blocking Ukrainian Military Aid:

•“They blocked it before we had the conversation [on July 25], but we didn’t talk about this in the conversation.

I mean that I didn’t even know [that the aid had been blocked]. That is, I later talked with the defense minister [Stepan Poltorak] and he said that we have problems, they’ve blocked our money. When I talked with Trump, this issue wasn’t even there. This issue came up when the defense minister told me that we have problems.”

• "[A]t the meeting with the U.S. vice president [in Poland on September 1], I raised this issue and we talked … we expected a decision from the U.S. … And after our meeting, the U.S. unblocked [the aid] and, you know, plus $140 million in assistance. So, there was no blackmail there. Because this was not a subject of our conversation in general."

• "We have many diplomatic ties and if we have to resolve that question, about the security of our country, we’ll use all of our possibilities.”

• ”The telephone conversation with Trump could not in any way impact U.S.-Ukraine relations. It influenced only one thing: our personal meeting with the president of the U.S. It was important to me to meet with him and to push him [to come] to Ukraine. And as for the financial aid, you know how they relate to this in the U.S. This is taxpayers’ money. It’s sacred.”

• ”There was no blackmail by Trump during our conversation. And as for the allocation of aid, nothing about the topic of the Burisma company.”

[President Trump urged Zelenskiy to reopen an investigation into wrongdoing at the company, where Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the former U.S. vice president, was a board member from 2014 to 2019. Democrats have opened an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump withheld congressionally approved aid to Ukraine to force Kyiv to investigate both Bidens’ activities in the country.]

On Relations With The U.S.:

• ”Our strategic cooperation with the U.S. … we should strengthen our relations. We’re working on a Trump visit to Ukraine. This is, for us, a very important image issue. And a sign of the fact that the U.S. supports what’s going on in Ukraine.”

•[On a potential Trump visit:] “It’s like [during] the times of various emperors, when they changed their clothes and came to the people, and saw how the people live, and I wanted that this person, a strategic partner of Ukraine, changed his clothes into [those of] an ordinary person and saw how Ukrainians live. But I’m speaking figuratively.”

• ”We’re not the service personnel of U.S. politicians. And we will not support any American politician. And it will be a big mistake on the part of any American politician to drag the president of Ukraine into any of their own affairs.”

• ”In no way do I want to interfere in the U.S. elections, in an independent country. Elect your president yourselves! And, in the future, don’t influence elections in independent Ukraine.”

On Peace In Donbas:

[On October 1, Ukraine signed an agreement with Russia-backed Donbas separatists for local elections and a timetable for a troop withdrawal by both sides, part of an earlier proposal, known as the Steinmeier Formula, for facilitating full-scale peace talks between Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France under the so-called Normandy format.]

• ”If I will see, will feel, that there won’t be a dialogue within the Normandy Format, I’ll say this openly. And if things will come down to the fact that we will not be able to control either the border or the elections, we’ll never again return to this question and won’t go this way.”

• "A discussion within the framework of the Normandy Format is for me yet another possibility to return to a discussion of the Crimea question.”

• ”There won’t be any withdrawal of troops in Donbas so long as various people from various sides are firing" weapons.

• ”If we look into the question of the introduction of peacekeepers, then I see them on the border between Ukraine and Russia.”

• [On October 6 protests in Kyiv against Ukraine's agreement with Donbas separatists] ”We didn’t communicate enough with Ukrainians about the Steinmeier Formula. We didn’t explain everything to them enough.”

• ”We want to end the war. And the former [Ukrainian] government did not have this desire. We’re ready to talk in any format: by phone, via the Normandy Format, whatever suits.”

On Relations With Russia:

• ”My meeting with Putin should take place so that the war [in Donbas] will end. But for now, [a meeting] is not being discussed.”

• ”We have the possibility to speak with, to dialogue with Russia. In Russia, a lot of people knew me [as a TV comedian] before I became a politician. And what used to be said in Russia about Ukraine, that there’re fascists here who want to ban the Russian language, all that doesn’t work with me!”

[President Zelenskiy is a native Russian speaker.]

On Another Prisoner Exchange With Russia:

• ”Russia declares to us that there won’t be an exchange of prisoners without the Normandy Format negotiations. On our side, we’re ready for an exchange. We have our people who were arrested in Crimea. We have our people, Ukrainians, on the territory of the [de facto] Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic and there’s the most complicated question: We have information that our people [Ukrainian citizens] are there [as prisoners], but the other side doesn’t officially confirm this.”