Putin smiles as Ukraine gets entangled in U.S. scandal, but sees no wrongdoing by Trump

Mr. Putin has other reasons to feel content with the unfolding political dramas in Kyiv and Washington, said Tatiana Stanovaya, head of the political analysis firm R.Politik and a specialist on the Kremlin.

Not least of these is the downfall of Kurt Volker, the State Department’s special envoy for Ukraine, who has long been vilified by the Kremlin.

“For the Kremlin, Volker was a thorn in the side,” said Ms. Stanovaya. “He seemed less like a moderator than a participant in the conflict on the side of Poroshenko.”

“The European Union would be within its rights to take offense [at Mr. Zelensky’s words],” Denis Denisov, the head of the Moscow-based Institute for Peace Initiatives and Conflict Studies, told Russian media. “This can be compared to someone discussing relatives behind their backs. No one likes this, and it will almost certainly reflect on the personal dynamics between the leaders of the countries.”

But Mr. Zelensky’s problems aren’t all good news for the Kremlin. Ms. Stanovaya said Mr. Putin will now be concerned that the transcripts of his conversations with Mr. Trump, a possible target for Democratic lawmakers in the upcoming impeachment inquiry, could also be published.

Mr. Putin has held 11 phone calls with Mr. Trump since he entered the White House. The two leaders have met in person several times, often with only a translator present. The Kremlin insisted last week that Moscow would have to give its permission for the transcripts of the conversations to be released.

Putin feels psychological discomfort about the fact that one day his conversations [with Mr. Trump] could be published,” said Ms. Stanovaya. “If you are always thinking that everything you say could be made public, then you are limited in your opportunities to influence your counterpart.”



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