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View From Ukraine On Impeachment

Dec 5, 2019
Originally published on December 5, 2019 9:48 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So where in the world is Rudy Giuliani? Well, it turns out President Trump's personal attorney has reportedly surfaced in, of all places, Ukraine. Giuliani's trip comes as Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is trying to disentangle himself from the U.S. impeachment drama, but it appears that his approval ratings have begun to fall. Let's talk about all this with NPR's Moscow correspondent Lucian Kim, who is in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Good morning, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: OK. So this week, here in the U.S., the House Judiciary Committee began hearings that could lead to a vote on whether to impeach President Trump. What does this story feel like as it's playing out in Ukraine?

KIM: I think there's a one-word answer to that question - exasperation. President Zelenskiy won a landslide last spring. This was based on Ukrainian's frustration with the five-year conflict with Russia, with corruption, with a lack of economic opportunity. But the one thing that Zelenskiy didn't expect was that Ukraine's friendship with the U.S. would be called into question. He really expected the U.S. to have Ukraine's back here. Just yesterday, at a press conference, he reiterated that he wants to focus on Ukraine's problems and stay out of the impeachment scandal.

I asked a political commentator here named Ivan Yakovina how we should understand Zelenskiy's position.

IVAN YAKOVINA: Zelenskiy has to keep up smiling face, although he understands perfectly well that Trump hates Ukraine and loves Russia. But still, his - as a responsible leader of his own country, he has to be nice with the United States because it's the biggest and the strongest country in the world, and he doesn't want to have any additional problems with America.

KIM: So in other words, Zelenskiy is in a much weaker position compared to the American president, and he isn't - certainly isn't going to do anything to rock the boat additionally.

GREENE: And I mentioned his poll numbers are starting to fall. I mean, he was enormously popular when he came in, right?

KIM: That's right. I mean, he - just a couple of months ago, he was still at about 70%, and he's seen those poll numbers drop to just about 50%. He's under enormous pressure right now to deliver on those things, I mentioned, on a peace with Russia and on bread-and-butter economic issues. So that's what he really wants to focus on.

Next week, he's having his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and going into that, Zelenskiy, again, was expecting much more backing from the U.S. The huge worry here in Kyiv is that this whole impeachment issue could cause Ukraine to lose bipartisan support in Congress. That's really the biggest worry here.

GREENE: Which could be even a long-term problem, I mean, no matter what happens in the presidential election in the United States. I got to ask you about Rudy Giuliani. I mean, this is Trump's personal lawyer, such a key figure in the whole impeachment saga. I just think about - I mean, The New York Times comes out with this report that he's in Kyiv - probably not the thing that Zelenskiy wants when he's trying to disentangle himself from the whole impeachment affair. What is this visit about?

KIM: Well, we don't know a whole lot about it. Journalists have been looking for him. But we're just learning right now that an independent Ukrainian lawmaker here in Kyiv says he's met with Giuliani. He posted a couple of photos on Facebook. He said they met to discuss alleged misuse of U.S. taxpayer money here in Ukraine and that he wants to start an anti-corruption initiative together with Giuliani. He says he's reaching out to U.S. lawmakers, including Lindsey Graham and Devin Nunes, as well as the White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

But again, you know, from the point of view of the Ukraine government, as you mentioned, this Giuliani visit is highly unwelcome because, again, it brings an American political scandal to Ukraine, where there's a new government really doing its best to turn a new page.

GREENE: NPR's Lucian Kim in Kyiv. Thanks, Lucian.

KIM: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.