A senior Ukrainian official who resigned last week from her post claims the government knew the U.S. froze military aid to the country by the end of July, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.
Olena Zerkal, who, until her resignation, was Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, said she had received a cable from Washington toward the end of July informing the country that a military aid package was being put on hold. Zerkal said the cable definitely arrived in the week before July 30, but was not sure of the exact date.
“We had this information,” Zerkal told the Times. “It was definitely mentioned there were some issues.”
Zerkal also said Ukrainian officials, including Andriy Yermak, a top aide to president Voldymyr Zelensky, told her to remain silent regarding the aid freeze because the officials did not want to embarrass Trump.
Yermak’s “main message to me was to keep silent, to not comment without permission,” Zerkal said.
On July 25, President Trump spoke with Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky by phone and urged Zelensky to investigate corruption allegations against political rival Joe Biden as well as allegations of Ukrainian election meddling. The military aid package was put on hold before that conversation.
House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into President Trump due to suspicions he withheld military aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, who he may face in the 2020 elections. Trump has asserted that there could not have been a “quid pro quo” of aid for investigations because Ukraine did not know there was an aid freeze until after his conversation with Zelensky.
“Republicans & others must remember, the Ukrainian President and Foreign Minister both said that there was no pressure placed on them whatsoever,” Trump wrote on Twitter on November 17. “Also, they didn’t even know the money wasn’t paid, and got the money with no conditions.”
During the Intelligence Committee hearings last week, House Republicans continued to emphasize the impossibility of a quid pro quo given Ukraine’s lack of awareness of the hold on military aid, citing public statements made by top Ukrainian officials. But Laura K. Cooper, a U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, undercut the claim by testifying that Ukraine was made aware of the aid freeze by July 25.
Ukraine has been at war with Russian separatists in the east of the country since 2014, and is dependent on aid from the U.S. to shore up its military.