We’ve had lots of coverage here Sunday and Monday about Donald Trump’s pre-taped interview on Kristen Welker’s debut as host of NBC’s “Meet the Press” in which the former president repeatedly lied without really being fact-checked on-air.
But there was another pre-taped interview that aired later Sunday that has received barely any coverage here: on the season premiere of CBS’ “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley interviewed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv ahead of this week’s visit to the United States.
Zelenskyy is expected to address the U.N. General Assembly meeting of world leaders on Tuesday afternoon after President Joe Biden speaks there in the morning. A year ago, Zelenskyy was allowed to address the General Assembly by video.
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If, as expected, the U.N. Security Council holds a special meeting on Ukraine, it could lead to “a moment of high drama” should Zelenskyy and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov both attend the session, Canada’s U.N. Ambassador Bob Rae said.
On Thursday, Zelenskyy is scheduled to visit Biden at the White House as well as meet with key members of Congress from both parties. The visit comes at a critical time when Trump’s House GOP supporters are expressing opposition to Biden’s request to provide as much as $21 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
Zelenskyy is expected to press Biden to provide long-range ATACMS missiles to Ukraine. In the “60 Minutes” interview, Zelenskyy said Ukraine tended to get what it asks for from the Biden administration, but generally six months too late, explaining ”If Ukraine had enough of these modern systems, we would have already restored the territorial integrity of Ukraine. We would have already done that. These systems exist.”
(A transcript of the “60 Minutes” interview can be found here.)
Last week, Trump, the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, told the conservative Pray Vote Stand summit in a gaffe-strewn speech that the “cognitively impaired” Biden would lead the country into World War II if he was reelected because of his policy toward Russia.
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In the “60 Minutes” interview, taped last Thursday, Zelenskyy declared that Ukrainians are dying every day to prevent World War III:
“We're defending the values of the whole world. And these are Ukrainian people who are paying the highest price. We are truly fighting for our freedom, we are dying we are not fiction, we are not a book. We are fighting for real with a nuclear state that threatens to destroy the world.”
And he expressed gratitude for the billions of dollars the U.S. has contributed to the war effort, but emphasized that the U.S. is “not supporting only Ukraine alone.”
“If Ukraine falls, Putin will surely go further. What will the United States of America do when Putin reaches the Baltic states? When he reaches the Polish border? He will. This is a lot of money. We have a lot of gratitude. What else must Ukraine do for everyone to measure our huge gratitude? We are dying in this war. Look, if Ukraine falls, what will happen in ten years? Just think about it. If [the Russians] reach Poland, what's next? A Third World War?
“The whole world [has to] decide whether we want to stop Putin, or whether we want to start the beginning of a world war. We can't change Putin. Russian society has [lost] the respect of the world. They elected him, and re-elected him and raised a second Hitler. They did this. We cannot go back in time. But we can stop it here.”
Now contrast that with what Trump had to say in his “Meet the Press” interview when the former president said he appreciated recent praise from Putin. On the campaign trail, Trump has said that if elected he could talk with Putin and Zelenskyy and end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours.
Last week, speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum,” Putin claimed that Trump was the victim of political “persecution,” which “shows the rottenness of the American political system.” Putin added: “We hear that Mr. Trump says that he will solve pressing problems in a few days, including the Ukrainian crisis. Well, this cannot but bring happiness. This is good.”
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On “Meet the Press,” Trump said "I like that he (Putin) said that. Because that means what I’m saying is right. I would get him into a room. I’d get Zelenskyy into a room. Then I’d bring them together. And I’d have a deal worked out."
But Trump didn’t provide any details on how he would end the war, and avoided any explanation of whether his plan would involve Ukraine making territorial concessions to Russia.
“He is waiting for the United States to become less stable. He thinks that's going to happen during the U.S. election. He will be looking for instability in Europe and the United States of America. He will use the risk of using nuclear weapons to fuel that [instability]. He will keep on threatening.”
And if Trump thinks Ukraine is ready to make territorial sacrifices to Russia, he is dead wrong. Zelenskyy said too many Ukrainians have lost their lives and continue to risk their lives for the country to give up any territory to the occupiers.
The “60 Minutes” report concluded with Zelenskyy referencing a medal-awarding ceremony that Pelley had witnessed during his visit to Kyiv:
“Today you … saw me awarding people [medals]. [Well] today is a day like that. A week ago, I gave awards to parents [of soldiers who have been killed]. There were 24 families of the dead. There was a woman. She was with three children. There were parents, very old. They could barely walk and they had had only one son. One of the women was pregnant. She arrived holding a baby in her arms. And she was pregnant. And that baby will never see… what should I tell them? That all of them died so that we could say, `It's okay, [Russia] you can take it all.’ It's a difficult job. You understand me, right? Giving awards to people whose faces show their whole world has collapsed. And all I can give them, all I can give them—is victory.”