Ehhh, what does Volodymyr Zelensky know about it anyway? More than either side of the impeachment divide would find comfortable, certainly. In a joint interview with Time Magazine and a trio of European publications, the president of Ukraine declares that he was never involved in a quid pro quo with Donald Trump, but it’s not quite the vindication Trump claimed when read in full context. Allahpundit noted this last night in his post about the War Between The Conways, but it’s worth exploring on its own.
Zelensky gets asked the question directly:
When did you first sense that there was a connection between Trump’s decision to block military aid to Ukraine this summer and the two investigations that Trump and his allies were asking for? Can you clarify this issue of the quid pro quo?
Look, I never talked to the President from the position of a quid pro quo. That’s not my thing. … I don’t want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand. We’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us. I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo. It just goes without saying.
Trump RT’d a favorable analysis from Republican congressman Mark Green of Tennessee this morning to highlight Zelensky’s comments:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2019
Well, it’s true … as far as it goes. Zelensky isn’t quite absolving Trump of having ulterior motives in withholding the aid with this statement. All he’s saying is that Zelensky himself wasn’t participating in any quid pro quo negotiations. That’s objectively true in the released transcripts of the Zelensky-Trump calls, and there isn’t any direct evidence of any other kind of direct demands made by Trump to Zelensky either. That isn’t the same thing as saying Trump never made aid conditional on investigations of the Bidens in other ways, but Zelensky is saying he never participated in any such discussion or negotiation on those terms.
That’s not nothing either, though. Zelensky’s saying that he never understood there to be any overt linkage between the aid interruption and the Biden investigations, which would undermine the House Democrats’ quid pro quo argument. You can’t extort an outcome if the victim never gets informed of the threat, after all, even if this could be classified as extortion at all.
The rest of the interview covers much more serious ground for Ukraine. Zelensky has other issues with Trump, especially with Trump’s declaration that Ukraine is nothing more than just another corruptocracy:
The United States of America is a signal, for the world, for everyone. When America says, for instance, that Ukraine is a corrupt country, that is the hardest of signals. It might seem like an easy thing to say, that combination of words: Ukraine is a corrupt country. Just to say it and that’s it. But it doesn’t end there. Everyone hears that signal. Investments, banks, stakeholders, companies, American, European, companies that have international capital in Ukraine, it’s a signal to them that says, ‘Be careful, don’t invest.’ Or, ‘Get out of there.’ This is a hard signal. For me it’s very important for the United States, with all they can do for us, for them really to understand that we are a different country, that we are different people. It’s not that those things don’t exist. They do. All branches of government were corrupted over many years, and we are working to clean that up. But that signal from them is very important.
All of this is a sideshow for Zelensky, however, The interview makes clear that Zelensky is much more worried about the US and its relationship with Russia than either the Javelin anti-tank missiles or corruption probes. Zelensky wants Trump to push Putin into a complete cease-fire and retreat from eastern Ukraine and Crimea as a way to end the low-level war that has existed for almost six years. He despairs of any meaningful help from Germany and France, thanks to their commercial ties to the Putin regime (especially with Germany’s insistence on continuing with Nord Stream 2), and sees the United States as Ukraine’s only hope of regaining its full sovereignty:
I want European leaders to settle on a different result when it comes to Nord Stream, and take different steps. I don’t know what else I can say about North Stream 2. We don’t have influence over the Europeans’ decision. We don’t have it, and that’s it. I don’t have any leverage. I can only count on the strong support that I see on this question from the United States of America.
Seen from that angle, Trump’s all Zelensky has between him and the Russian army. He’s not going to toss that away to score a cheap point on Trump for treating his country like a banana republic of little value, even if he’s open to complaining about being treated like a backwater corruptocracy. Zelensky’s a man walking a tightrope without a net, where quids and quos are meaningless afterthoughts. To Zelensky, the why of the aid blockage matters little — what matters is that it happened at all, whatever the reason. Now that the aid and money are flowing now, that’s all that matters to the embattled Ukraine president. Everything else is a luxury.