The scandal over the phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has cast a shadow over relations between Washington and Kiev, at a time when American support is vital for Ukraine’s new administration.
The affair may play right into the hands of Russia, which is still backing seperatist militias in the east of the country in their war against Kiev. Russian involvement in Ukraine—the annexation of Crimea and support for the militias occupying the Donbas region—has severely damaged Moscow’s relations with the U.S. and its Western allies.
Any hint of dispute between those in the pro-Ukraine coalition will be welcomed by President Vladimir Putin, as will any suggestion that the U.S. democratic system is corrupt or weak. But thus far, the Russian government has been relatively quiet on the brewing scandal.
Nonetheless, government spokespeople have commented, mostly noting that the turmoil is unprecedented and deriding the impeachment investigation as farcical.
The White House has now released a memo detailing parts of the call between Trump and Zelensky, showing that the president asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate allegations of corruption against former vice president and 2020 candidate Joe Biden linked to his work in Ukraine in 2016.
Discussing the issue, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was careful not to say too much. However, he did note that the release of the memo “is uncommon in interstate diplomatic practise. At least, uncommon until now.”
Officials have warned that releasing details of the conversation could undermine relationships with other leaders, who will now worry that their words may one day be released to the public.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova was less diplomatic. Known for often inflammatory remarks—particularly those related to the U.S.—Zakharova accused the Democratic Party of undermining U.S. credibility by opening an impeachment investigation into Trump.
“Is it the U.S. Democrats’ job to turn their country into the laughingstock of the world?” she asked on Facebook. “That’s exactly what Mrs. Pelosi has done with Congress, the White House and other government agencies.”
Zakharova also joked that Russia would be very happy to see any sensitive information the White House saw fit to release. “The show must go on: Release the transcripts of conversations with NATO partners, with each other. The publication of speeches at closed CIA, FBI and Pentagon meetings seems highly valuable. Bring it all out!”
Senator Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Russian senate’s foreign affairs committee, said the edited transcript was “remarkably empty.” Kosachev has already suggested that the impeachment investigation is part of the Democratic 2020 strategy and will not be based on “substance.”
Writing on Facebook, Kosachev said the conversation between Trump and Zelensky was “anti-Russian [and] dirty.” Regardless, he claimed that “only Americans obsessed with the upcoming elections could probably extract something from it for their own purposes.”
“It’s humiliating for Ukraine,” he added. “It’s typical for the U.S.”
Fellow senator Alexei Pushkov described the Democratic reaction as “hysteria.” Pushkov added that the scandal “is not only an escalation of passions needed to start impeachment but also a way to divert focus from Biden—who really pressured the Ukrainian authorities in defense of his son’s business.”
The allegations against Biden and his son Hunter have been debunked. In May, Ukraine’s top prosecutor said there was no evidence of any wrongdoing by the Bidens. Trump’s supporters have continued to push the allegations regardless.