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What You Need To Know About Ukraine: On the World Class Podcast, Three Experts Weigh In

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Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks on the phone in the Oval Office. Photo: Alex Wong - Getty Images.

The situation between the United States and Ukraine is complex. Three experts on Ukraine recently joined the World Class podcast to break down what you need to know. What happened on the July 25 phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky? Who are Ukraine’s former prosecutors general and how have they impacted the current situation? And what really happened between former Vice President Joe Biden and Ukraine? We’ve got you covered.

On the Trump-Zelensky phone call:

“The majority of people in Ukraine were listening not to what the American president was saying, but what the Ukrainian president was replying. And frankly speaking, I think it was a very tough conversation for our president.” -Sasha Ustinova, Member of the Ukrainian Parliament

“If you look at the context of that July 25 phone call, there were two other things happening in the same time frame. First, about a week before [the call], President Trump had put about $391 million in military assistance on hold that had been authorized by Congress for Ukraine... The second thing is that President Trump had invited Zelensky to come to the United States back at the beginning of June, but they'd not yet set a date. Those are two big things for Zelensky, particularly at the beginning of his term in office.” - Steven Pifer, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine (1998-2000), and William J. Perry Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation

[Ready to dive deeper? Read Steven Pifer’s recent blog post for the Brookings Institution and Anna Grzymala-Busse’s “The Failure of Europe’s Mainstream Parties" in The Journal of Democracy]

On Ukraine’s former prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin:

“Shokin was clogging up the system such that corruption cases couldn’t go forward because they’d get stuck in a file in a drawer in his office. And so the sense was not only in the U.S. government, but also in the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, that Shokin had become a single point of failure. The notion of getting rid of Shokin didn’t emanate from Joe Biden.” -Colin Kahl, Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor from 2014-2017 and co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation

“Shokin was not trying to investigate corruption — he was trying to help a former corrupt state official, Mykola Zlochevsky, escape criminal prosecution. I was actually one of the people who organized demonstrations in front of the general prosecution office because everybody was so sick of Shokin, and so disappointed in him for helping former [corrupt] officials to get back into the country.” -Ustinova

The impact on both countries:

“I believe this is damaging to American diplomatic efforts with Ukraine because you have an embassy there that's trying to pursue American interests. We want Ukraine, for example, to help put pressure on Iran. We want Ukraine to do more on reform. And then you have Giuliani coming in with a very different agenda. Those two agendas are not consistent and send mixed signals to the Ukrainians.” -Pifer

“It's very much in the U.S. interest to advance anti-corruption efforts around the world because corruption is corrosive to stability and it's also something that our authoritarian adversaries exploit. It's definitely not in the U.S. national interests to use official offices to put pressure on foreign countries to investigate political opponents under the fig leaf of corruption. That's what the impeachment inquiry will decide, whether there was an abuse of power in this domain.” -Kahl

“Ukrainians know that Shokin and [former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy] Lutsenko are the bad guys in our country … And now we’re seeing that the United States president was misinformed in saying that [Shokin was doing a good job]. So of course it was disappointing, but I really hope that getting the facts out and the truth out will help people in both Ukraine and in the United States.” -Ustinova

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