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Zelensky’s increasingly blunt comments about Trump

The relationship between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been one of intrigue and consequence from the start. What began with then-President Trump’s attempts to leverage Zelensky for political gain over Joe Biden in the 2020 election — the thing Trump was initially impeached for — has more recently involved candidate Trump’s efforts to kill two attempts at funding Ukraine’s defense against Russia’s invasion.

Through much of it, Zelensky has been mostly diplomatic toward the former and potentially future president who, regardless of the 2024 election results, holds considerable sway over the survival of Zelensky’s country.

But increasingly, Zelensky has apparently decided that diplomacy involves putting pressure on and, in some cases, directly criticizing Trump.

In a CNN interview that aired Monday, Zelensky was asked about Trump declining to say last year whether he was on Ukraine’s or Russia’s side. He repeatedly entertained the idea that Trump might effectively be on Russia’s side.

“Putin killed all the values which we defend today,” Zelensky said, adding: “That’s why I can’t understand how Donald Trump can be on the side of Putin. So, for me, it’s something unbelievable.”

Zelensky didn’t seem to be actually accusing Trump of being on Putin’s side — the interview was in English and the language barrier seems to loom here — but he repeatedly held it out as the potential practical extent of Trump’s posture.

“So if Donald Trump doesn’t know whom he will support, Ukraine or Russia, I think that he will have challenges with his society, because to support Russia, it means be against Americans,” Zelensky said.

Zelensky downplayed Trump’s recent comments, when he said he would advise Russia to do “whatever the hell they want” to NATO countries who don’t meet spending targets. Zelensky said this was “just words.” But he also suggested that Trump doesn’t know what he’s talking about when he says he could quickly end the Russia-Ukraine war.

“He can’t solve it with Putin and with Russia, because we will never be ready to give our territory just for the stopping of the war, give them sort of a sense of our country,” Zelensky said. “I think he doesn’t really understand that Putin will not stop. … He wants to occupy us totally. That’s why I think that Donald Trump doesn’t know Putin.”

Zelensky added: “He never fought with Putin. American army never fought with the army of Russia. Never.”

The comments build on a series of blunt comments from Zelensky since last summer:

In July, he suggested Trump’s claim to being able to end the war in 24 hours was fanciful. He noted the conflict between the countries had been roiling for some time. “It looks as if Donald Trump had already these 24 hours once in his time. … He had that time at his disposal, but he must have had some other priorities.”In November, Zelensky again dinged the 24 hours claim, saying, “If he can come here, I will need 24 minutes … to explain [to] President Trump that he can’t manage this war” in that time frame.And last month, Zelensky called Trump’s 24 hours claim “very dangerous.” He suggested Trump might try to unilaterally make decisions about a resolution without Ukraine’s input, saying it “makes me really quite stressed.” He added: “Because even if his idea [for ending the war] — that no one has heard yet — doesn’t work for us, for our people, he will do anything to implement his idea anyway. And this worries me a little.”

The new comments come as Congress has struggled mightily to come up with a deal that would fund Ukraine — something about half of House Republicans have balked at but Congress has overwhelmingly voted in favor of — and as Trump has loomed over that process.

First came a bipartisan deal that coupled Ukraine funding with border security — and Republicans abruptly backed off the deal in the face of Trump’s opposition.

Now Trump’s opposition to a stand-alone foreign-aid package that includes Ukraine funding could kill that effort, too. Despite the bill getting 70 votes in the Senate, Trump has opposed it, and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) has balked at giving it a vote even as it would almost definitely pass. (A sign of how Trump’s opposition there matters: Longtime Russia hawk and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham cited Trump’s opposition in casting a shocking vote against the bill.)

Zelensky has in the past treated Trump gently, including kind of vouching for him in the matter of the phone call that touched off Trump’s first impeachment. He’s done so despite Trump’s often soft approach to Russia.

The comments are particularly notable given Trump hasn’t expressly ruled out new Ukraine funding; he’s instead pitched the idea of a loan.

But we’re now at a moment in which Trump’s posture toward Ukraine funding could effectively bring it to an end. So you could understand why there might suddenly be more urgency behind Zelensky’s public commentary about him.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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