For years, the US led the charge for Ukraine to clean up its own corruption. The former Soviet republic has struggled with elected officials who were more than happy to help friendly oligarchs and use their power to punish domestic political rivals.
But now, an American president was urging Zelensky to wade back into the muck of corruption.
“The idea that once you’re in power, legal institutions are yours to use to remain in power is very familiar to Ukrainian politics,” said Jordan Gans-Morse, a Northwestern University professor who was recently a Fulbright Scholar in Ukraine. “The only strange part is that the US president is playing a role that is typically played by a powerful person in Ukraine. That’s the irony.”
Rule of Law
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the US, European leaders and the International Monetary Fund have pressed Ukraine to make its judiciary truly independent as a prerequisite for much-needed aid. That effort ramped up considerably after the 2014 Ukrainian revolution cast out the country’s Russian-backed government and brought in Western-minded leaders. Trump is now accused of withholding aid because Zelensky would not launch politically charged criminal investigations.
“President Zelenskyy has articulated a very clear commitment to reforms,” Volker said. “There are so many areas to look at, but one of the most important is rule of law and judiciary.”
“Heard from White House — assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington,” Volker wrote.
Zelensky and his team felt the heat in Kiev. According to texts from Ambassador Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, Zelensky tried hard to navigate Trump’s requests and wanted to avoid portraying his country as “an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics.”
There is no indication that the Justice Department ever received or granted that request.
“If there was a legitimate law enforcement matter to pursue, there is actually a legal attaché at our embassy whose whole job for being posted overseas is to pursue an investigation that the United States would like to see the Ukrainians take up,” said Brett Bruen, a 12-year foreign service officer who worked in the Obama administration. “That person was not part of this process.”
‘About-face of US policy’
And Pelosi has ratcheted things up with Trump directly, telling him that “all roads seem to lead to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin” during an intense White House meeting last week.
“Not only is this an about-face of US policy, but it also plays directly into Russia’s hand,” Bruen said. “Russia uses this corruption to manipulate events in Ukraine. Their argument all along was that the US is no better than they are. And President Trump has essentially proven them right.”