WASHINGTON — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview Monday that he didn’t speak with President Donald Trump “from the position of a quid pro quo” last summer. Zelensky says, “That’s not my thing. … I don’t want us to look like beggars.”
Trump later claimed Zelensky had said Trump had done nothing wrong. But Zelensky didn’t go that far.
The Ukrainian leader spoke to Time ahead of the first round of expected peace talks with Russia Dec. 9 in Paris — the two countries have been embroiled in war along the Ukraine border for the past five years.
Zelensky, a former comedian turned politician, has been in office for barely six months and his conversations with Trump are the topic of intense scrutiny in the U.S., with their July 25 phone call at the center of the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
Zelensky was asked whether there was a connection between Trump’s decision to block military assistance to Ukraine and the two investigations he asked Zelensky to do. One was on possible meddling by Ukraine in the 2016 elections, the other was about the family of Democratic rival, Joe Biden.
“Look I never talked to the president from the position of a quid pro quo,” Zelensky said. “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.”
Trump later told reporters as he departed Monday for London for the NATO summit that Zelensky’s comments should be “case closed,” mischaracterizing the interview by saying that Zelensky had come out and said “very strongly that President Trump did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Zelensky also said when leaders like Trump call his country corrupt, it sends a concerning message.
“Everyone hears that signal,” he said. “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.’”
When asked whether he had any trust in Russian President Vladimir Putin going into the peace talks next week, he said: “I don’t trust anyone at all.”
“Politics is not an exact science,” Zelensky said.