Ukrainian President Thanks Trump for Releasing Delayed Anti-Russian Military Aid: 'I Like This Kind of Relationship'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has thanked President Donald Trump's administration for releasing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of aid, earmarked to help Ukrainian forces in the ongoing conflict against Russian-backed forces in the east of the country.

Last month, the White House delayed $250 million in funding, citing concerns that the money was not being spent in the U.S.'s best interests. The move raised concern among U.S. and Ukrainian allies that Trump might be softening his support for the government in Kiev, given his repeated overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But on Thursday, it was announced that the funds would be released, plus—Zelensky said—an additional $140 million. The White House was pressured to release the funds by bipartisan lawmakers on the Hill, who warned it was vital in helping fend off the threat of further Russian aggression.

Speaking at the Yalta European Strategy annual meeting—organized by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation—Zelensky told the audience that the release of the funding showed that the Ukrainian-U.S. relationship is "moving in the right direction."

Though made to wait for the money, Zelensky added that the additional $140 million was a welcome boon to both the Ukrainian military and Kiev's relationship with the White House. "I like this kind of relationship," the former comedian joked, calling it a "very good economic model."

Zelensky also thanked the U.S. for its continued support for Ukraine's "sovereignty and territorial integrity." The president said he hoped to travel to the U.S. to visit the White House soon, noting he had spoken with Trump over the phone several times.

During his speech and a subsequent question and answer session with Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Zelensky vowed to continue the fight to reclaim the territory annexed by Russia in 2014 and the land occupied by pro-Moscow militias ever since.

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: We must bring our territories back," he told the audience, adding that Ukrainian soldiers must be able to return home "as victors."

However, Zelensky stressed that diplomacy is the best way to achieve this goal. "I have repeatedly said that diplomacy is the only way to achieve this, and its powerful and effective weapon is sanctions," he explained. Sanctions are, he said, "the most important weapon."

The president said he had come under pressure from other nations to lift sanctions on people noting the economic benefits it could have. "You lose money, sorry, we lose people," he replied. "Unless we restore peace, the sanctions should stay," he continued.

Nonetheless, the president—whose new party swept a snap parliamentary election in July to solidify his power—acknowledged how difficult it would be to regain control of Crimea, the strategically valuable peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

Haass suggested that Ukraine was implementing a soft power strategy over the Crimea question, seeking to present residents there with a more attractive pro-European liberal Ukrainian society to undermine the Russian nationalism favored by the Kremlin.

But Zelensky refused to be drawn on the sensitive issue, wary that his words would be twisted. Instead, he simply said his team have several ideas of how to restore Ukraine's pre-war borders. "We will be fighting to bring the Crimea back," he said, "and not only in words."

A recent prisoner swap between Ukraine and Russia has raised hopes that a new round of diplomacy could make progress to ending the fighting, in which some 13,000 people have been killed, 30,000 wounded and forced almost 1.5 million people from their homes.

Zelensky said he hoped this is the case, and suggested the Normandy Format group —Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France—could meet again before the end of September. "There is no reason to procrastinate," he said. "Every day, people are dying."

Volodymyr Zelensky, DOnald Trump, Ukraine, Russia, funding
This file photo shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during talks at Poland's Presidential Palace on August 31, 2019 in Warsaw, Poland. Sean Gallup/Getty Images/Getty