Impeachment proceedings are the talk of the town in Washington, but in Kyiv they have other things to worry about. While U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland gave testimony to lawmakers on Wednesday about President Trump's alleged pressure campaign on Ukraine, Ukrainian news outlets focused elsewhere.
Midway through Sondland's testimony, the lead story for one publication was the return of some navy boats that had been seized by Russia. Another ran a story on the suspicious meat used in sausages. And the top story for another outlet was about President Volodymyr Zelensky's personal superstitions about shaving, according to The Washington Post (WP).
Of course, Ukrainians are not ignorant of the impeachment drama. But the hearings have made one thing obvious: Despite the dropping of Ukrainian names, the references to Ukrainian gas companies and the recurrent descriptions of corruption in the country as "endemic," this scandal isn't really about Ukraine. It's a battle about American politics and American corruption. And for Ukrainian officials, the best thing may be to stand back and avoid the crossfire.
That may not be so easy. Speaking to BBC Ukrainian last week, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko admitted that his country's involvement in such a partisan battle could end up hindering Ukraine. "The worst thing we can do is become a bargaining chip," he said. "Unfortunately, we are such a chip now."
"I think everybody in Ukraine is so tired about Burisma," Zelensky told reporters on Tuesday, rolling his eyes as a CNN correspondent tried to press him on an oil company that appointed former vice president Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden to its board. "We have our own country. We have our independence, we have our problems and questions. That's it," he added.
The most pressing problem for Ukraine is not in Washington, but Donbas. In the country's east, Russia-backed forces have fought against government forces for five years with bloody trench warfare – a result of the fact that neither side uses air power – and the loss of an estimated 13,000 lives.
The two problems are intertwined, however. Russia has supplied the forces it controls with considerable firepower, leaving the Ukrainians to rely on U.S. and European partners to level the playing field. Night vision, radar detection and drones have been supplied by the United States.
"It's helped us significantly," Ukrainian Col. Yevhen Bondar told The Washington Post's Sergey Morgunov during a recent visit to the front lines.
Though Zelensky and others said they had no knowledge of a "quid pro quo," testimony in Washington has suggested that American support for Ukraine was conditional. Trump is alleged to have ordered a hold on $400 million in military aid in return for the Ukrainian president announcing an investigation into Burisma.
The aid went through after news of the hold leaked. But the pressure on Ukraine, as well as the unflattering scrutiny of the country that has come out through impeachment hearings, has led some to publicly consider how close their alliance to the United States actually is.
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