Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy listens during a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City, New York, U.S., September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy listens during a bilateral meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sept. 25, 2019.

This story originated in VOA’s Ukrainian Service. Peter Cobus and Valeria Jegisman contributed reporting from Washington. Some information is from AP.

LONDON — Ukrainian diplomats are scrambling to contain damage posed to their nation’s relations with Europe following the unexpected public release of remarks by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in his July 25 phone call with President Donald Trump.

The White House on Wednesday released a summary of the conversation as part of effort to exonerate Trump, whom Democrats are attempting to impeach over a whistleblower’s claim that Trump urged Zelenskiy to investigate Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden over a high-paying job his son Hunter Biden had with a Ukrainian gas company.

Upon reading the summary, Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, Ukraine’s former ambassador to the European Union, posted a statement on Twitter calling Zelenskiy’s words an example of how one politically motivated and obsequious phrase can “negate years of hard work building personal trust and partnerships with Berlin, Paris, and the EU.”

FILE - German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attend the welcome ceremony in Berlin, Germany, June 18, 2019.

He was referring to Zelenskiy’s response to a remark by Trump, who had criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders for failing to provide Ukraine with adequate financial support for its fight against Russian-backed separatists.

“Yes, you are absolutely right, not just 100%, but 1,000%,” Zelenskiy agreed.

“I talked to Angela Merkel and met her,” Zelenskiy added. “I also met and talked to [French President Emmanuel] Macron and told them that they were not doing enough about sanctions. They do not impose sanctions. They are not acting as they should for Ukraine. “

Yelisieiev, who represented Ukraine in Brussels from 2010 to 2015, before serving as diplomatic adviser to former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, wrote that “Berlin — and, first and foremost, Merkel personally — along with Paris, have played a key role in the sustenance of a powerful EU economy and targeted sanctions against Russia.”

Impending Normandy Format peace negotiations to end Ukraine’s war with Russia, which directly involve the leaders of Ukraine, France, Germany and Russia, Yelisieiev wrote, will be “a moment of truth and a test for EU unity and solidarity with Ukraine.”

British political scientist James Sherr, who now works at the Estonian Institute for International Policy, called Zelenskiy’s references to his German and French counterparts “harmful,” and “especially unfair, in this case, to Germany.”

FILE - U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles are displayed in Tripoli, Libya, after being captured from the self-styled Libyan National Army, June 29, 2019.

A tough spot

Some observers, however, say top officials in Berlin, Brussels and Paris may be understanding of the unusually difficult circumstances Zelenskiy faced during the July 25 phone call.

According to a summary of the conversation, when Zelenskiy expressed interest in buying Javelin anti-tank missiles from the United States with funding from an annually allocated U.S. military aid package, Trump said, “I would like you to do us a favor though,” before asking Zelenskiy to investigate whether Biden, when he was vice president, had shut down a probe into the Ukrainian company his son worked for.

Trump did not explicitly link a probe of Biden with the U.S. aid package. He had, however, ordered that the aid be placed on hold a week before the phone call, according to page 9 of the unclassified version of Thursday’s Whistleblower Complaint.

“President Zelenskiy has been put in a very difficult position,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst. “It seems like there is interest on the part of one party or one individual for Zelenskiy to investigate another political figure. That seems to be something that our president is pushing in order for there to be improvement in U.S.-Ukraine relations and the provision of assistance.

“On the other side, if Mr. Zelenskiy were to move in that direction, he would undoubtedly have a problem with the Democrats,” Herbst added. “So it would be much better if the partisan fights here were not involving Ukraine. Ukraine was not asked to play a role.”

Another former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Stephen Pifer, said Zelenskiy is under pressure to “prevent Ukraine from becoming a political football in the 2020 American election, because that could undermine bipartisan support for Ukraine.”

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and U.S. President Donald Trump face reporters during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Sept. 25, 2019.

“It was interesting watching the press conference after the meeting in New York,” he told VOA’s Russian Service, referring to Trump’s meeting with Zelenskiy at this week’s United Nations General Assembly. “It seemed to me that President Zelenskiy was probably aware of this, because he walked a very fine line and he maintained a very neutral position about how far he was going to get into or get pulled into American politics. I think he needs to maintain that course. Otherwise, it could undo this broad political support there is in the United States for Ukraine.”

European response

In response to Trump’s allegations that EU members states have failed to provide Ukraine with adequate military aid and other forms of financial support, EU representatives pointed to official figures documenting their contributions.

In statement to the Poynter Institute’s Politifact web site, EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic called the bloc’s financial support for Ukraine “the largest support package in the history of the European Union,” including more than $2.1 billion in grants, nearly $54 million to monitor the truce in Ukraine’s war-torn east, and roughly $3.8 billion in loans to develop and rebuild Ukraine’s banking, agriculture, and transit sectors.

According to the figures compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), since 2014, Germany has been the third largest donor to Ukraine after the European Union as a whole and the United States.

According to Germany’s foreign ministry, Berlin has footed roughly $1.3 billion in bilateral financial aid to Ukraine, including $595 million in development, $120 million in humanitarian aid, $546 million in loans, and an estimated $27 million in truce monitoring.

Germany’s foreign ministry has also allocated an additional $218 million to Ukraine via EU aid packages.

The United States says it has provided $1.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. That assistance has expanded since Trump took office, including weaponry like Javelin missiles.

According to the Associated Press, the State Department has prepared $141 million in funding, of which roughly $115 million will support systems and equipment contained in the Pentagon aid package, along with $10 million for equipment and training directed at maritime security, and $16.5 million for maritime security in the Black Sea.