In a CNN interview, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday strongly rejected US President Donald Trump’s claim that Ukraine is corrupt. He also said he is ready for another phone call with Trump and open to visiting the White House.
Zelensky spoke wtih CNN’s Christiane Amanpour at the Munich Security Conference in his first one-on-one interview since the end of Trump’s impeachment trial. A July 25 telephone call between the two men, which Trump repeatedly called “perfect,” was at the heart of the impeachment probe. The Senate acquitted Trump earlier this month, finding the President not guilty of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Amanpour quoted a Fox News interview from November in which Trump claimed that Ukraine is known as the third-most corrupt country in the world. In response, Zelensky pushed back and said Kiev fights corruption every day.
“That’s not true. When I had a meeting with President Trump and he said that in previous years (Ukraine) was such a corrupt country, I told him very honestly and I was very open with him. I told him that we fight with corruption. We fight each day,” Zelensky told Amanpour during the town hall interview.
“Please, please stop saying that Ukraine is a corrupt country, because from now, it’s not true. We want to change this image,” he added.
‘Now I am very popular in the USA’
Pressed by Amanpour on how the impeachment proceedings had affected relations between Washington and Kiev, Zelensky asserted Ukraine now has a “very good relationship with the US,” and thanked Trump for his support.
“I want to thank the President, and the USA, and ordinary American people for supporting Ukraine, especially now when we have war. Thank you for your help… We feel it, we feel it with our hearts, with our body,” Zelensky said.
The groundwork for the third impeachment of a US president began in September. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry after an anonymous whistleblower alleged Trump sought re-election help from Zelensky in a July 2019 phone call.
The House alleged a months-long effort by Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into the President’s political rivals while Trump withheld $400 million in US security aid and a White House meeting. The House impeached Trump on two articles in December, backed by all but two Democrats.
Zelensky quipped that he always wanted to be popular in the US. “In my previous profession, when I was a producer, scriptwriter and actor, I wanted to get an Oscar, I wanted to be popular in the USA… Now I am very popular in the USA,” Zelensky told Amanpour.
“If this way will help Ukraine, I am ready for the next call with Mr. Trump,” he added.
Zelensky also addressed the ongoing conflict with Russia, emphasizing that hostility from the Kremlin has repercussions outside his country.
“If there is no Ukrainian strong army, there will be no Ukraine, and that will be the case when everyone will understand… it’s not the war in Ukraine, it’s the war in Europe,” Zelensky told Amanpour.
“We are defending our country, our land. We are not attacking anyone, because that is immoral. It is not up to date. It is not civilized,” he added.
Zelensky said Kiev does not wish to see any escalation in a conflict that has cost thousands of Ukrainian lives.
“When you understand the price of each dialogue – how much it costs, not in time, but in people’s lives. How many meetings took place in the Minsk format, in the Normandy format? How many meetings were there over the last six years? It’s not in time you can measure. We measure it in the destinies of the people,” Zelensky said.
“I will be candid by saying Europe wants it… The main thing is that Russia wants it. Honestly, Russia should want it, to give our territory, our land back to us,” he continued, adding that he believes it is possible to secure a ceasefire agreement with Russia.
“I have my internal feeling, and it’s not only a feeling, but it is based on the steps that we are taking, that we will be able to secure this ceasefire and ensure the return of our territories. I don’t know how much time we will need for that,” Zelensky told Amanpour.
Saturday’s interview was part of an event at the MSC, an annual conference in Germany, and two US senators were in attendance.
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy and his Republican counterpart Ron Johnson also traveled to Kiev earlier in the week, emphasizing continued bipartisan support for Ukraine.
“We all are confident that President Zelensky does not want to be involved in US politics, and we hope that any pressure (that) existed in the past to do so is over,” Murphy said following a meeting with the Ukrainian President, reported Reuters.
“We want to put this impeachment question behind us, and we want to be moving together, Republicans and Democrats, in supporting Ukraine.”
Amanpour also will have an exclusive interview with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi later on Saturday.