At Center Of US Scandal, Ukraine's Leader Speaks At The UN

Associated Press
September 25, 2019 - 6:10 am

FILE - In this file photo taken on Sept. 1, 2019, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, left, shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, in Warsaw, Poland. Zelenskiy, the comedian elected Ukraine’s leader in April, took office pledging to focus on ending the deadly separatist fighting in the country’s east, fomented by Russia. But now, barely 100 days in power, he finds himself at the center of a political furor involving the United States, Ukraine’s friend and backer. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek, File)

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The man at the center of America's latest political storm was kicking off the second day of speeches Wednesday at this year's gathering of world leaders.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's first-ever address before the world body comes a mere few hours after a formal U.S. House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump was launched — a development that was sparked partly by a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy.

At issue is whether Trump abused his presidential powers and sought help from Ukraine to undermine Democratic foe Joe Biden and help his own re-election.

In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine, prompting speculation that he was holding up the money as leverage for information on the Bidens.

Trump has denied that charge but acknowledged he blocked the funds has acknowledged pressing Zelenskiy to investigate Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. The call happened days after Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine.

Democrats, who control the House leadership, say they need to know whether Trump abused his office to seek a foreign government's help in trying to dig up dirt on an opponent. Trump has denied that the funds were blocked as leverage for information on the Bidens and says he did nothing wrong, calling the matter a "witch hunt."

In a TV interview over the weekend, Ukraine's foreign minister denied Zelenskiy was pressured to investigate Hunter Biden. Zelenskiy's office, however, has declined to comment on the reports.

The United States has been one of Ukraine's most steadfast allies, giving millions of dollars in aid, since a pro-Western government took power in Kyiv in 2014. That same year, Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula and threw its weight behind separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Zelenskiy, a popular 41-year-old comedian with no political experience, unseated incumbent Petro Poroshenko in elections this spring in the nation of 45 million. Zelenskiy campaigned on promises to fight corruption and engage Russia in order to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. It has killed more than 13,000 people and displaced 1 million.

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