On Monday, TIME released an edited transcript of an wide-ranging interview Zelenskiy had with its reporters, as well as journalists from France’s Le Monde, Der Spiegel of Germany and Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza.
During the interview, Zelenskiy said he “never talked to the President from the position of a quid pro quo.”
“That’s not my thing. I don’t want us to look like beggars,” Zelenskiy said in the transcript. “But you have to understand. We’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us.
“I think that’s just about fairness. It’s not about a quid pro quo, It just goes without saying.”
The alleged quid pro quo is at the centre of the ongoing impeachment inquiry which has embroiled U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration.
The inquiry centres around whether Trump froze nearly US$400 million in military aid to pressure Ukraine to publicly announce separate investigations into interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as well as former vice-president and political rival Joe Biden’s son Hunter and his work on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Trump has vehemently denied the allegation, but has acknowledged that he did block the funds, which were later released.
The aid is vital to Ukraine, which is in the midst of an ongoing battle to regain the Crimean peninsula, which was illegally annexed by Russia in 2014.
In the interview, Zelenskiy told reporters that while Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker “tried hard” and had “a lot of success” in peace talks with Russia, Ukraine still requires support from the U.S.
He told reporters that America has “direct relations with Russia,” and moving forward, should “influence Russia,” to “make everyone see” that the war is a “big tragedy,” and that it must end.”
“I think that Mr. Trump can speak directly,” he said. “And I think they do talk about these things.”
Zelenskiy, however, said that he does not like it when Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk about Ukraine affairs without officials present to represent the country.
“First off, I would never want Ukraine to be a piece on the map, on the chess board of big global players, so that someone could toss us around, use us as cover, as part of some bargain,” he said.
“As for the United States, I would really want — and we feel this, it’s true — for them to help us, to understand us, to see that we are a player in our own right, that they cannot make deals about us with anyone behind our backs.
“Of course they help us, and I’m not just talking about technical help, military aid, financial aid. These are important things, very important things, especially right now, when we are in such a difficult position.”
But when asked whether he trusts Putin when it comes to peace talks, Zelenskiy says he doesn’t trust anyone “at all.”
“I don’t know these people. I can’t understand what dough they’re made of,” he said. “That’s why I think nobody can have any trust. Everybody just has their interests.”
Zelenskiy told reporters he does not expect that his first round of peace talks with Russia — scheduled to take place in Paris next week — will end the war.
During the interview, Zelenskiy also pushed back against Trump’s comments categorizing Ukraine as a corrupt, saying it is damaging to the country.
“When America says, for instance, that Ukraine is a corrupt country, that is the hardest of signals,” he said.
“Everyone hears that signal. Investments, banks, stakeholders, companies, American, European, companies that have international capital in Ukraine, it’s a signal to them that says, ‘Be careful, don’t invest.’ Or, ‘Get out of there.’
“This is a hard signal.”
He says he wants the U.S. to understand that Ukraine is now a “different country.”
Speaking to reporters before departing the White House for a NATO meeting in London on Monday, Trump once again called the impeachment inquiry a “hoax,” and said it should be “case over” following Zelenskiy’s comments.
“The Ukrainian president came out and said very strongly that President Trump did absolutely nothing wrong, that should be case over,” he said.