Kyiv, Ukraine – Many politicians, public figures and average Ukrainians have been flattered and even proud that their ex-Soviet nation has become the focal point of a political maelstrom that has engulfed US President Donald Trump and may yet terminate his presidency.
Almost six years after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and the separatist uprising in the southeastern Donbass region that has claimed more than 13,000 lives and become Europe’s hottest armed conflict, many Ukrainians felt abandoned by the West. After all, pro-Western protesters won two “revolutions” in 2004 and 2014, overthrowing a pro-Russian president and enshrining Ukraine’s intention to join the European Union and NATO in their constitution.
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“We bled to stop Russia’s aggression, only to see how Germany makes gas deals with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Trump praises him,” Olena Zabuzhko, a real estate agent in Kyiv, told Al Jazeera. Her business was affected by the crippling economic crisis that followed the annexation and disruption of economic ties with Russia.
But Trump’s impeachment instils fear in her.
“We’re done. If Trump stays in power, he’ll hit us hard. If Democrats win, they will be against us, too, because we almost agreed to investigate [former US Vice President Joe] Biden’s son,” the-48 year-old Zabuzhko said.
But one former Ukrainian diplomat and government adviser with close ties to Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, adamantly opposes this viewpoint.
Andriy Telizhenko is now a conservative political consultant who helped Giuliani organise his brief trip to Kyiv in early December.
“There will be no political retaliation against Ukraine,” he told Al Jazeera. “Trump and the White House do want to work with Ukraine.”
The impeachment inquiry has made Ukraine politically “toxic” and imperilled both its fight against Russia and efforts to resuscitate its economy, some analysts say.
It is “the most expensive negative advertising for an individual nation in modern history”, Alexey Kushch of the Growford Institute think-tank told Al Jazeera.
“There is a plume of toxicity that has not just spread to the political elites in Kyiv, but also covered all of Ukraine,” he added.
House Democrats accuse Trump of pressuring Kyiv to investigate work done by Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, for Burisma, a natural gas company reportedly implicated in multiple corruption schemes. They say Trump froze $390 million in military aid to Ukraine as leverage, while Kyiv badly needed US arms, ammunition and military equipment to continue the trench warfare in Donbass.
The inquiry is centred on a July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Ukraine’s President Volodymir Zelenskyy, a former comedian and political novice whose anti-establishment platform helped him win the April 21 election with 73 percent of the vote, and subsequently gain near-absolute control over the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s lower house of Parliament, in a snap July election.
Although the Zelenskyy-appointed prosecutor-general Ruslan Ryaboshapka did not begin any investigations into Biden’s work for Burisma, Zelenskyy appears not to have objected to Trump’s alleged pressure, and has not criticised his reported demands in public.
Zelenskyy chooses Trump
“President Zelenskyy is trying to manoeuvre, but in the end, he chose a neutral, pro-Trump position,” Kyiv-based political analyst Mikhail Pogrebinsky told Al Jazeera.
Former Ukrainian prosecutor general Viktor Shokin claimed that Zelenskyy’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, fired him in 2016 – allegedly following demands made by Joe Biden. Shokin claimed Biden resisted his attempts to investigate Burisma, where Hunter Biden was working at the time.
For months, Zelenskyy’s team and many key government officials have rejected Western media requests to comment on the Trump investigation, choosing not to antagonise either Republicans or Democrats.
His government faces dire domestic problems such as heavy military spending, brain-drain and an unresolved “gas war” with Russia over the transit of natural gas to Europe.
To deliver on Zelenskyy’s largely populist election pledges, his government came up with a string of reforms that include privatisations and the lifting of a moratorium on farmland sales. Last year, Ukraine’s GDP per capita was about $3,000, while neighbouring Poland’s was five times higher.
And yet, the president’s biggest challenge may be dealing with the corruption that ranked Ukraine number 120 on the worldwide list of 180 nations reviewed by Transparency International, a graft watchdog.
“What Ukraine should do is to fight corruption,” Giuliani’s ally, Telizhenko, said. “That’s how we could get a better relationship not only with the United States, but with the West.”