Ukraine's Zelenskyy remains cautious to address potential Trump return

Ukraine’s allies cannot and should not wait until the US election in November to take action to repel Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged on Tuesday (9 July).

Speaking four months before the presidential vote, Zelenskyy addressed an audience of key US Republican lawmakers at the party-affiliated Ronald Reagan Institute in Washington.

Zelenskyy’s choice of venue was by many seen as a sign of Kyiv’s effort to reach out to as many Republicans as possible ahead of the polls.

Those in attendance included US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, top Republican Senator on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul, and Michael Turner on the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

McCaul and Turner were amongst those Republicans that vocally supported more US aid to Ukraine amid the domestic deadlock over support earlier this year.

“Let’s be – candid and frank – now everyone is waiting for November (…) And truly speaking – [Russia’s President Vladimir] Putin awaits November too, but [is doing so by] killing and destroying to get ready,” Zelenskyy said.

“It’s time to step out of the shadows to make strong decisions to act and not wait for November or any other months to descend,” Zelenskyy said.

His speech can also be seen as attempt to downplay the fallout of a potential Trump victory for Ukraine.

“I hope that if the people of America will elect [former] President Trump, I hope that his policy with Ukraine will not change,” Zelenskyy told the audience.

Otherwise, “the world will lose a lot of countries” that “count on America,” he added.

The Ukrainian president stressed he had good conversations with Trump when he was previously in office and added he was optimistic this would repeat should he return to the White House.

Zelenskyy, however, acknowledged that these positive interactions took place before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Since then, the former US leader had vocally claimed he could end the war on his first day in office and repeatedly threatened to cut aid to Ukraine as well as exit NATO should European allies fail to meet defence spending targets.

“I hope that the United States will never go out from NATO,” Zelenskyy said.

Asked about Russia’s preference of Biden or Trump, Zelenskyy remained cautious, saying that while Biden and Trump “are very different (…) they are supportive of democracy”.

“And that’s why I think Putin will hate both of them,” Zelenskyy said.

In the same vein, Ukrainian officials, both publicly and privately, over the past months had made attempts to stay neutral and clear of getting involved in US domestic politics.

Ukraine’s Western allies have, meanwhile, made attempts to “Trump-proof” continued financial and military aid in different international fora, from G7 to NATO, regardless of who wins the race for the White House.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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