‘American democracy will work,’ visiting Ukraine minister says of impeachment

OTTAWA — The rules of American democracy will ultimately settle the Trump impeachment question, and Ukraine will be watching closely — but will keep its political distance at all costs, a senior Ukrainian official says.

“We are most interested in having a good relationship with Washington … It’s vitally necessary for our security. We are for stronger co-operation, but not for stronger interference,” Vasyl Bodnar, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, said in an interview Thursday after arriving in Ottawa for a weekend conference hosted by major Ukrainian Canadian diaspora groups.

“We understand that everything is dependent on the rules,” he said. “I guess American democracy will work properly to settle this problem without Ukrainian interference.”

Bodnar addressed head-on how the new Ukrainian government has been thrust into the international spotlight after a White House whistleblower’s complaint about the July 25 telephone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ignited the American impeachment crisis.

Bodnar’s overarching message: Ukraine wants no part of the drama and doesn’t want to be seen to be interfering; but at the same time, the United States is a vital ally in Ukraine’s ongoing war with Russia, and their bilateral relationship must be preserved at all costs.

That whistleblower complaint set off the impeachment drama now unfolding in the House of Representatives. It is hearing testimony that Trump told Zelensky he would withhold military aid to Ukraine unless he promised publicly to investigate his Democratic political rival, former vice-president Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

The whistleblower and other U.S. officials have accused Trump of using the power of his office to “to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”

It is illegal to seek or receive foreign help in U.S. elections. Trump says he did nothing wrong.

The Washington impeachment saga has proven awkward for Zelensky, a former television actor who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform that won overwhelming approval from Ukraine voters earlier this year.

The country has been invaded by Russia on its eastern flank and is struggling against the pull of the Kremlin as it tries to engage with the West. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in 2014 and fomented a pro-Kremlin insurgency in the country’s east that has left thousands of people dead.

Bodnar was adamant that the current circumstances haven’t diminished Ukraine in its fight with Russia.

“The United States is supporting Ukraine. That’s vital,” he said. “We are still strong and not harmed by all this situation with regard to this impeachment process.”

Bodnar said his country is closely monitoring the situation because it needs “strong support from the United States.”

Ukraine affairs have always had Canadian domestic political implications because the 1.3 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent represent one of the country’s most influential diaspora communities — a constituency well represented in downtown Ottawa this weekend as part of a multi-day policy convention hosted by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress.

Bodnar lauded the strong support Ukraine has received from Canada, which includes a free trade deal, military and police training, and help building strong democratic institutions to battle corruption. He also said the first shipment of Canadian sniper rifles is expected soon, but he had no other details on that.

This past summer, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, who comes from Ukraine lineage, also hosted Zelensky and 800 other international participants at the Ukraine Reform conference in Toronto. The goal of the conference was to help strengthen Ukraine’s democratic institutions, which have been plagued in the past by corruption, and to help the country stand strong against Russia.

Zelensky was forced to dodge questions from reporters about the impeachment drama earlier this week at an economic conference near the front lines of the conflict with Russia in eastern Ukraine.

In an interview earlier this week, Bruce Heyman, who served as U.S. ambassador to Canada during the Barack Obama presidency, said the impeachment saga in his country shouldn’t undermine the efforts of countries such as Canada to foster democracy in Ukraine.

“What it’s doing is undermining the role of the United States in liberal democracy in the world,” Heyman said.

On Thursday, the Democrat-controlled House approved its package of ground rules for their impeachment inquiry of Trump by a 232-196 margin. Every Republican and two renegade Democrats stood opposed.

It was the first vote in Congress that could push the impeachment fight into next year.

“We had to establish a dialogue between two leaders. We have done it,” said Bodnar. “The whole world is in turmoil, and it changes. We also passed through changes. We have a new administration, a new president. What will happen with the States, it’s their internal affairs.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2019.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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