KIEV: Ukraine risks becoming collateral damage in a US political battle that has seen US Democrats call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment over allegations he pressured Kiev’s leadership into investigating a rival.
Analysts say the row could hit relations between Kiev and Washington, a key ally of Ukraine in its long-running fight against Russia-backed separatists in the east.
It could also overshadow Trump’s first meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the UN on Wednesday, and weaken Ukraine’s hand at a summit between Kiev, Moscow and others aimed at ending the conflict.
Trump stands accused of pressuring Kiev to investigate the Ukrainian business dealings of the son of Joe Biden, a potential rival in the 2020 presidential election, threatening to suspend military aid in the case of refusal.
The US president has acknowledged he spoke to Zelensky about Biden and his son Hunter, but denies pressuring the foreign leader.
Analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said the situation was fraught with risks for the Ukrainian leadership.
“Ukraine has chosen the right reaction — not to get involved and give minimal comment” in order to preserve the support from both Republicans and Democrats, Fesenko said.
The Ukrainian presidency has so far refrained from commenting but was “anxious” about the controversy, an informed source said.
Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko reacted cautiously last week: “I know what the conversation was about and I think there was no pressure.” In a tweet, Trump said there had only been a “nice” phone call with the recently elected Zelensky.
Alyona Getmanchuk, director of the New Europe Center in Kiev, said Ukraine had “already lost” by finding itself at the centre of a partisan issue in the States. “This scandal eclipses the entire bilateral agenda,” she said.
“Ukraine will probably not see anything good from the outgoing US administration before the end of Trump’s first term, nor is it sure to have a good start if Biden wins the election.”
Hunter Biden in Ukraine
From 2014 to 2019, Hunter Biden worked for the Ukrainian group Burisma, a major gas producer owned by a pro-Russian oligarch.
He served on the company’s supervisory board and various Ukrainian energy experts said he played no public role in the country.
Burisma was the target of an investigation led by the Ukrainian prosecutor general.
Joe Biden, who advocated reforms in Ukraine during his time as US vice-president under president Barack Obama, pushed for the prosecutor’s ouster due to his poor progress in fighting corruption.
Ukrainian media have suggested Hunter Biden’s position on the Burisma board might have been intended to protect the company from prosecution.
US newspapers this week reported Trump ordered hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine to be frozen days before he allegedly asked Zelensky to launch the investigation.
Zelensky “made it clear that he had neither the right nor the power to influence” justice during the call, influential Ukrainian website Evropeyska Pravda quoted sources as saying.
The website said there was no direct threat of withholding aid, according to the sources.
Protection from ‘punishment’
Washington has been a key partner for Kiev in its conflict with Russia, which broke out in 2014 when Moscow annexed Crimea and supported separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Nearly 13,000 people have died since the war erupted.
Along with other Western countries, the US imposed sanctions against Moscow and helped Kiev politically and financially.
Since 2014, the White House has sent more than $2 billion in aid to Ukraine.
The scandal comes ahead of a planned four-way summit between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France aimed at pushing the peace process forward. — AFP