September 24, 2019 / 7:40 AM / 2 months ago

Kiev needs U.S. support, Ukraine's leader says before Trump meeting

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s president said he expects a “meaningful, substantive” meeting with Donald Trump this week and, hoping there will soon be new peace talks on east Ukraine, reiterated Kiev’s need for U.S. support.

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Zelenskiy gestures during a news conference in Berlin, Germany, June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

In comments released by his office on Tuesday, Volodymyr Zelenskiy did not refer to allegations that the U.S. president pressured him to open a corruption investigation into Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son in exchange for U.S. military aid.

A U.S. whistleblower has lodged a complaint about the contents of a telephone conversation between Trump and Zelenskiy on July 25, leading to calls from some Democrats that Trump be impeached for trying to enlist a foreign power to smear a domestic opponent.

Trump and Zelenskiy’s team have denied the U.S. president applied pressure on the Ukrainian leader during the phone call. Biden, whose son Hunter worked for a company drilling for gas in Ukraine, said on Saturday he had never spoken to his son about his business dealings in Ukraine.

Zelenskiy’s meeting this week with Trump, during a trip to the United States for the U.N. General Assembly, will be his first with the U.S. president since Zelenskiy became Ukraine’s leader in May.

“I think we will have a meaningful, substantive meeting,” Zelenskiy was quoted as saying. His office gave no other details.

A comedian and, like Trump, a television star with no prior political experience when he took office, Zelenskiy won a landslide election victory in April promising voters an end to the conflict with Russian-backed forces in east Ukraine.

BALANCING ACT

Zelenskiy cannot risk relations with either side of the political divide in Washington, whose bipartisan support Ukraine counts on for aid and diplomatic cover against Russia following Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea peninsula in 2014.

Ukraine also wants Moscow to hand Crimea back, a demand that has fallen on deaf ears in Russia.

“It is very important to make friends with Trump, to be liked by Trump, but not to get drawn into this inter-party conflict,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, an analyst with Kiev-based think tank Penta.

Zelenskiy also said he hoped the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany would meet in the next few weeks to discuss the five-year-old conflict in east Ukraine that has killed 13,000 people.

“We want to leave this meeting with certain results on specific terms of ending the war and returning our territories,” Zelenskiy said.

He hopes to build on the momentum gained when Russia and Ukraine swapped dozens of prisoners this month in a landmark exchange that brought Western praise and hopes for a thaw in relations.

Editing by Timothy Heritage

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