Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky is shrewdly telling Donald Trump to put his action where his mouth is. Trump and the White House have been insisting that the quid pro quo Trump demanded of Zelensky in the phone call that has led to the House impeachment investigation was really all about encouraging the country to fight corruption in order to receive U.S. assistance. That assistance is critical for Zelensky to leverage against his biggest threat, Vladimir Putin.
In an interview with Time and three European publications, Zelensky explained that he needs U.S. support in upcoming peace talks with Putin, though his expectations are low. His concern is that allies and would-be allies will point to Trump’s charges of corruption in Ukraine to deny the country assistance: “When America says, for instance, that Ukraine is a corrupt country, that is the hardest of signals.” While he denied again that he and Trump discussed the withholding of aid contingent on his announcing an investigation of the Bidens or Ukraine’s fictitious interference in the 2016 election (what else can he do, needing the U.S.?), he criticized the freeze on aid. “If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us,” he said. “I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo.”
So what’s he doing about it? Fighting corruption, starting with officials linked to Rudy Giuliani’s pressure campaign. He plans to kick more than 500 prosecutors out of government by the end of the year, and one of the first to go is Kostiantyn Kulyk. Kulyk is one of the key officials who worked with Giuliani, and, according to his former associates who spoke with The Washington Post, wrote a seven-page memo of cooked-up dirt that was passed on to Giuliani. Zelensky’s new prosecutor general, Ruslan Ryaboshapka, who he told Trump in July is “100 percent my person,” is also reviewing previous investigations into the owner of Burisma, the natural gas company that employed Hunter Biden.
Zelensky’s anticorruption effort seems to be not just a ploy to get Western aid, one senior Western diplomat told the Post, but also a real desire to answer income inequality and advance his country. “Zelensky told me, ‘It’s morally wrong for people to be dying and for all this wealth to be around,'” the diplomat said. “It’s the first time in all these years I’ve heard an official really talk that way. To be so genuinely appalled.”