A former deputy foreign minister said in a new interview that Ukraine was aware of a U.S. freeze in military aid as early as July, marking the first public acknowledgement from an official in Kyiv that the country knew about President Trump’s move to withhold the assistance.
“We had this information. It was definitely mentioned there were some issues,” Olena Zerkal told The New York Times in a report published Tuesday.
House investigators are probing allegations that Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid in an effort to persuade Ukraine to announce politically beneficial investigations. Trump and Republican lawmakers have questioned the accusations, claiming that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky couldn’t have felt pressured because he wasn’t aware of a freeze in security aid.
Zerkal’s account is matched by Laura Cooper, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russia and Ukraine who testified before the House Intelligence Committee in November. In her testimony, Cooper said that her staff received emails on July 25 in which the State Department said the Ukrainian Embassy and House Foreign Affairs Committee were “asking about security assistance.”
July 25 is the same day that Trump asked Zelensky to do him a “favor” and investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who is running for president, and a conspiracy theory related to the 2016 election.
Zerkal told the Times that she became aware of the hold in military aid on July 30 after reading a diplomatic cable from Ukrainian officials in Washington. The cable described the freeze on aid and asked for a meeting with a senior aide to Zelensky to address it. Zerkal said she could not confirm the exact date of when the cable was sent.
She noted that the Ukrainian presidential administration was also a recipient of the message.
She also added that Zelensky’s administration tried to prevent any potentially harmful information from surfacing as the impeachment inquiry intensified. Zerkal told the Times that the Ukrainian government blocked her from taking a trip to Washington in October out of concern that she might discuss issues related to the impeachment hearings.
“They worried about this,” she said. “They said, ‘This is not the time for you to travel to D.C.’”
Zerkal resigned from her position last week in a protest against Ukraine’s back channel diplomacy with the Trump administration and Russia, the Times reported.
Her account — as well as Cooper’s — indicates that senior Ukrainian officials were aware of a hold in military aid as some of Trump’s aides pushed Zelensky’s administration to make a public announcement about investigations into Trump’s political rivals.
Zelensky has insisted that he faced no pressure from Trump in his talks with the White House this summer. He told Time magazine on Monday that he never talked to the president “from the position of quid pro quo.”
But he also made critical remarks about the freeze in aid, stating, “We’re at war.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.