How Much Damage Will Trump’s Scandal Do to Zelensky in Ukraine?

How Much Damage Will Trump’s Scandal Do to Zelensky in Ukraine?
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, New York, Sept. 25, 2019 (AP photo by Richard Drew).

It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for Ukraine’s president. The content of Volodymyr Zelensky’s now-infamous July 25th call with U.S. President Donald Trump will doubtless be picked over ad nauseum as the impeachment inquiry against Trump gets underway in Congress. Nor is history likely to forget how the release of a partial, reconstructed transcript of a single phone call between Trump and Zelensky triggered a constitutional crisis in the world’s most powerful country.

Zelensky’s obsequious tone, his cloying requests to Trump for Javelin anti-tank missiles and his disparaging remarks about Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, have severely damaged Zelensky’s political credibility at a time when he needs it most. The comedian who was elected president in April will likely have to work overtime to convince Ukrainians, as well as allies in Europe and Washington, that he is in thrall to no one and is prepared to defend what is arguably the most fragile democracy on the European continent.

It will be a lot tougher for Zelensky, though, since everybody in Washington suddenly seems to be looking for a new angle on how to exploit Ukraine’s rampant corruption. Trump has said openly and repeatedly that he wants Ukrainian authorities to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of his leading challengers for reelection. Trump said as much this week and so did Trump’s personal lawyer, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani. By his own admission, Giuliani declared on CNN last week that he pressed Ukrainian authorities to investigate the appointment of Biden’s son Hunter to the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma Holdings.

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