“Biden detailed the new announcement in a midday telephone call with Zelensky that lasted for about an hour.”
In response, President Zelensky tweeted: “Continued constant dialogue with @POTUS. Assessed Russian war crimes. Discussed additional package of defensive and possible macro-financial aid. Agreed to enhance sanctions.”
The Biden-Zelensky conversation drew on Biden’s 33 years in the Senate, including two terms chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He knew Zelensky and Ukraine well.
On July 25, 2019, a very different phone call took place, also between an American president and President Zelensky. It lasted 30 minutes. We know what was said because a brave whistleblower laid bare then-President Donald Trump’s communication in an “Urgent Concern” memo.
“In the course of my official duties,” the whistleblower began, “I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” That foreign country was clearly identified in the transcript: Ukraine.
Trump desperately wanted dirt to use against Joe Biden. Trump informed Zelensky that he was making an end-run around our own State Department. Former U.S. Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch — “that woman” Trump called her — was “bad news.” Going forward, he told Zelensky, U.S.-Ukraine relations were to be handled by Rudy Giuliani.
And then, in an evil and concealed unilateral action that will live in infamy, Trump imposed a halt in military aid shipments to Ukraine. Zelensky knew that the Russian bear was licking its paws, and breathing hard down Zelensky’s neck. Zelensky bravely held firm and refused to call the false-narrative press conference that Trump had demanded.
Has America in its nearly-250-year history ever seen anything approaching that treachery? Accordingly, on Dec. 18, 2019, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives.
Had the Senate held firm to its constitutional duties, Trump would have been convicted unanimously and removed from office. But 47 of 48 Republican senators, from moderates such as Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski to hard-right members Ted Cruz and Ron Johnson, rallied around Trump and cast “not guilty” votes.
Trump’s history of admiration of Vladimir Putin is a long one. The relationship goes back to the 2013 Miss Universe contest in Moscow, where Trump declared of Putin, “I do have a relationship with him,” adding that Russia’s strongman had “done a very brilliant job.”
Trump accepted Russia’s help in his 2016 election campaign, later employing outrageous denial in the infamous Helsinki summit: “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be,” he declared of the bot-powered social media-dominating Russian election interference.
Trump was also willing to overlook Putin’s killing of dissident journalists with his ‘we kill people too’ brush-off response to a query about Putin’s brutality.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine did nothing to deter Trump’s admiration. One day after Russian troops began their march into eastern Ukraine, Trump took to talk radio to declare the invasion a stroke of “genius” — “there was a television screen … Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine. Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful.”
We cannot remedy the precedent-setting Senate vote that broke the guardrails against presidents seeking foreign involvement in U.S. elections. We can’t blunt the impact of the 2019 interruption of U.S. military aid to Ukraine. What we can do is put pressure on the current Congress to hold fast to President Biden’s pro-Ukraine, anti-Russia foreign policy. Emails and phone calls to the members of Congress on this are essential.
There are sacrifices we must make to aid our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. The price of gasoline in Wisconsin has nudged at times above $4 a gallon; in Illinois and other states, paying $5 a gallon is not unusual. As we make these sacrifices, we need to focus on the brutal hardships and deaths being endured daily in and around Kyiv, and in Mariupol.
The four years of America’s foreign policy being pro-Putin and anti-Ukraine have ended. America now stands shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine. As Putin continues to pummel Ukraine, we must assure that Biden’s pledge to President Zelensky is carried out, not undermined.
There is no place for partisan politics when the lives of the proud and resilient people of Ukraine are at stake.
Ron Malzer is a freelance writer who lives in La Crosse.