U.S. President Donald Trump will meet with his Ukrainian counterpart for the first time on September 25 amid a scandal over a July phone call that has sparked a formal impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives.
While the two plan to discuss energy cooperation, trade, and China on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly, all eyes will be on any comments they make concerning the phone call, which Democrats say was a "betrayal of his [Trump's] oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections."
The furor has put Zelenskiy, a political novice with barely 100 days in power, in a difficult position given Ukraine's heavy dependence on U.S. support that has helped to prop up its economy, implement anti-corruption reforms, and fight a war against Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donbas region that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.
Just ahead of the meeting in New York, Zelenskiy tried to make light of the situation, saying in an interview broadcast by Russia-24 on September 25 that nobody could put pressure on him except his 6-year-old son.
"Nobody can put pressure on me because I am the president of an independent state," Zelenskiy said. "The only one person by the way who can put pressure on me...is my son, who is 6 years old."
During his speech before the General Assembly, Zelenskiy assailed Russia’s aggression against his country, but he did not mention the controversy over the telephone call with Trump.
The scandal was sparked by a report that Trump had asked Zelenskiy during the call to dig up damaging information about the Ukraine work of Hunter Biden, the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
That phone call that is now at the heart of a major political battle in Washington and the subject of an intelligence community whistle-blower complaint that prompted the move to open impeachment proceedings.
"The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a televised address on September 24. "Therefore, today I'm announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry."
Trump has acknowledged that he discussed the Bidens during the call, but he has strongly denied pressuring Zelenskiy, a 41-year-old comedian-turned-politician.
On September 24, however, Trump confirmed he told staff to freeze almost $400 million in aid to Ukraine just ahead of the call.
There is no evidence that Joe Biden, one of the top candidates for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in the 2020 election, did anything illegal related to Ukraine.