Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Thursday was no "blackmail" in the phone call with US President Donald Trump who helped trigger an impeachment investigation.
Zelenskiy is trying to save his reputation and distance himself from the US political drama. In a "media marathon" that took place all day in a food court in Kiev, he belittled the suggestions that Trump forced him to investigate his rival Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for military aid to help Ukraine to fight separatists supported by Russia.
Responding to questions from the Associated Press, Zelenskiy said he learned only after their July 25 phone call that the United States had blocked hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid in Ukraine.
"We didn't talk about it" during the July call, Zelenskiy said.
"It wasn't blackmail."
Trump asked Zelenskiy during a call to "examine" Biden and his son, according to a rough transcript of the White House. The Democrats of Congress believe that Trump was withholding military aid to be used as leverage to put pressure on the Ukraine and advance its internal political interests before next year's US presidential election.
The July appeal is crucial to the impeachment investigation and embarrassed Zelenskiy because he showed him eager to please Trump and criticize the European partners he needs to support the economy Ukrainian and end the conflict with Russia.
He said he "didn't even check" if the Ukrainian transcript of the July call is the same as that of the White House, but he says "I think they match".
Trump later said that military aid was frozen due to concerns over corruption in Ukraine, but the move sparked congressional protests and money was released in September.
But Zelenskiy said the call "was not related to weapons or to history with Burisma" [the Ukrainian gas company], "where Biden's son, Hunter, was on board.
"I don't want to interfere" in the election, says Zelenskiy
When asked what the Ukraine did to convince the United States to release aid, Zelenskiy said: "We have many diplomatic contacts. And in case we find a solution to questions of this level, questions about the security of the our country, we use all our powerful possibilities ". It has not elaborated.
"I don't want to interfere in the election in any way" in the United States, he said. Zelenskiy appears to be playing in both US political camps to ensure that Ukraine has continued to support, regardless of who will win next year's presidential election.
Zelenskiy said he thought the call would lead to a meeting in person with Trump and he wanted the American leader to come to Ukraine. Zelenskiy said that the "key question" for him was to try to convince the White House to "change its rhetoric" about the Ukraine as a corrupt and unreliable country.
He said he wanted to meet Trump in person, but that there were no "conditions" set for such a meeting.
He said he had "several calls" with Trump, but was irritated by the repeated questions about their relationship. "We are an independent country, we have relations with many countries", not just the United States, he said.
Television and film comedian, Zelenskiy overwhelmingly won the presidency in April with promises to fight corruption and end the five-year conflict with Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. He is walking carefully to ensure continued US support as he tries to make peace with his powerful neighbor Russia.
Most questions about Thursday's unusual media event concerned the Russian conflict or the economic problems of Ukraine.
In the July call, Trump sought help on two fronts. The first concerns Trump's claims that the Ukraine has allied itself with the Democrats in a plot to derail its 2016 presidential campaign. No evidence of such a plot has emerged.
At the same time, Trump is also pushing the Ukraine to investigate any potential illicit by the Bidens. Trump said the United States has the "absolute right" to ask foreign leaders to investigate corruption cases, although no one has produced evidence of criminal charges by the former US Vice President or his son.
Zelenskiy also joked about Trump's letters on Twitter, saying he does not expect a change in relations between the US and Ukraine in the future, "but if it is, we'll find out on Twitter."