Europe

Trump call could embarrass Ukraine's president

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky holds up a bullet while addressing the UN General Assembly on 25 September Image copyright EPA
Image caption President Zelensky held up a bullet in his address to the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, to highlight "Russian aggression against Ukraine"

Most of the content of the Trump-Zelensky July phone call on the US side had already been reported, but for Ukrainians the details offer a glimpse into how their new president operates in the real world.

A year ago Volodymyr Zelensky was a comedian and an actor who starred as a fictional Ukrainian president in a hit television series. Many people assumed he'd take the straight-talking, principled style from TV to the office with him. It was seen as a big factor in his election win.

The memo of the phone call, detailing President Trump's requests that he speak to Mr Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, shows a very different side.

There were frequent, embarrassing displays of flattery directed at President Trump. This is now considered standard practice among world leaders looking to curry favour with the White House, but if President Zelensky was still a comedian, he'd be using this material.

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Media captionTrump: 'It was going to be the call from hell. It turned out to be a nothing call'

At one point Ukraine's president told Mr Trump he had modelled his election win on him, that he too wanted to "drain the swamp" and cringingly said how much he enjoyed talking on the phone to him.

When Mr Trump said that he had heard that the previous prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, was "very good and he was shut down and that's really unfair", Mr Zelensky accepted it.

In fact Mr Shokin was widely seen, both by international donors and activists in Ukraine as an awful prosecutor general and an obstacle to fighting corruption.

Then Mr Trump rubbished the former US ambassador to Ukraine calling her "the woman" and "bad news". Mr Zelensky said he agreed with him "100 percent". Most reformers in Ukraine consider Marie Yovanovitch to have been an ally and a friend.

Then there was the surprise.

It had previously been assumed that President Zelensky had politely declined Mr Trump's request to launch a new investigation into the Ukrainian company that Joe Biden's son Hunter worked for.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hunter Biden and Joe Biden in 2016

To most it seemed a smart decision. Despite the best efforts of Mr Giuliani, no evidence has been put forward to support the claims of President Trump that the former US vice president intervened in 2015 to help his son's company.

Many thought the absence of a Biden-related investigation was the reason US-Ukraine relations went into the deep freeze this summer. Defence funding and a trip to the White House had after all been put on hold.

In fact the phone call shows that President Zelensky appeared to roll over and agree to start an investigation.

"We will be very serious about the case," he told Mr Trump before agreeing to talk to Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr.

Whether this subsequent phone call happened - and indeed what happened to the promised investigation - is not clear.

Perhaps one of President's Zelensky's advisers had a firm word.

Until now Mr Zelensky's image has been carefully curated through social media and carefully planned appearances. His many supporters will be hoping that this revealing call was just another act.

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