Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has promised a $1 million reward to the country’s scientists if they manage to develop a coronavirus vaccine, his spokeswoman said Monday.
The ex-Soviet country with a population of around 42 million has confirmed 3,102 cases of COVID-19 and 93 people have died.
The president “believes a million dollars is a good incentive,” his spokeswoman Yuliya Mendel said in a statement sent to AFP, with the aim being to develop a vaccine that would “save hundreds of thousands of lives.”
Zelensky “really wants Ukrainian scientists to work more actively towards developing medicines that will help the whole world,” Mendel said.
She added that Zelensky’s request to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 was sent to the Ukraine’s Academy of Sciences last month.
On Monday the World Health Organization highlighted the importance of developing a COVID-19 vaccine, saying it was needed to fully halt transmission of the disease which has led to over 100,000 deaths worldwide since it was first identified in China late last year.
The Ukraine president’s spokeswoman did not make clear how the million-dollar reward would be financed in a country whose economy has been drained by a long-running conflict with Russian-backed separatists and is reliant on international aid.
“So far we are not talking about a specific source for the money,” she said.
Ukraine acted swiftly to close schools, universities and public spaces to stem the spread of the virus. It has also shut down metro systems in three cities.
Kiev on Monday accused Tehran of knowing from the start that an Iranian missile had downed a Ukrainian airliner last month after leaked recordings emerged from Iranian air traffic control.
The recordings, aired on Ukraine’s 1+1 TV channel on Sunday, feature a conversation between an air traffic controller and the pilot of another plane at the time the Ukrainian airliner was hit on January 8, killing all 176 people on board.
The pilot can be heard describing “the light of a missile” on its route and then an explosion.
Iran initially denied Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 had been brought down by one of its missiles.
It later admitted that two missiles were fired at the plane by air defences on high alert, hours after Iranian armed forces fired ballistic missiles at US troops stationed in Iraq.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said after the release of the recording that it “proves that the Iranian side knew from the start that our plane was hit by a missile.
“Everything is audible there,” Zelensky told 1+1. “Everything is recorded.”
The audio clip features the pilot of an Aseman Airlines flight from Iran’s southern city of Shiraz to Tehran communicating with air traffic control in the Iranian capital.
“There is a series of lights on our route, like a missile. Is there something?” the pilot is heard asking.
“What is the light like?” the controller asks.
“It’s the light of a missile,” the pilot replies.
The control tower then tries to contact the Ukrainian airliner, but unsuccessfully.
After a few minutes, the pilot says: “There was an explosion. We saw a very bright light here.”
It was unclear how the channel obtained the recording, though officials denied it had come from the Ukrainian authorities.
“This is a journalistic investigation. You need to ask them where they got this recording,” Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council, told AFP.
In his first nine months as Ukrainian president, former comedian Volodymyr Zelensky has found himself at the center of major international crises, including the US impeachment investigation and Iran’s downing of a passenger jet.
Yet so far Zelensky has sailed through relatively unscathed, avoiding any major gaffes, political analysts said.
The 41-year-old played a president in a popular TV sitcom before sweeping to power in elections last April on promises to “smash the old corrupt system” and end the separatist war in the east.
But many had voiced concerns about how someone without political experience could lead a country fighting a war with Russia-backed separatists while also dealing with widespread poverty and corruption.
“Fears of his inexperience turned out to be exaggerated,” said Oleksiy Melnyk, a foreign policy analyst at the Razumkov Center in Kiev.
Polls show most Ukrainians are satisfied with Zelensky’s performance.
His approval rating reached 62 percent in December after his first face-to-face meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
When it comes to international relations, the political novice has been constantly in the spotlight.
Just a few months into his first term, Zelensky found himself plunged into the impeachment scandal that threatens to take down US President Donald Trump.
Trump is accused of pressuring Zelensky to investigate political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s dealings in Ukraine, making this a quid pro quo for military aid and a White House meeting. An impeachment trial is currently underway in the US Senate.
The Ukrainian leader has sought to distance himself from the scandal, stressing it is an internal affair for the United States.
For Kiev it is vital to maintain support from both major US political parties, the Republicans and the Democrats since Washington has been Kiev’s key ally in its long-running fight with Moscow.
December’s summit with Putin in Paris was the next major test for Zelensky.
Many Ukrainians feared Russia’s strongman would overwhelm the former showman, but he managed to restart peace talks that had been frozen for three years and agree on a prisoner exchange.
“Zelensky is a fast learner,” said David Stulik, senior analyst in the European Values Centre for Security Policy and former European Union diplomat in Kiev.
“With each international meeting he has acted more and more confidently,” Stulik said while adding Zelensky should have been “more insistent and even assertive” at the negotiations with Russia and the West.
Slow to blame Iran
Other analysts have also pointed to some flaws in Zelensky’s tenure as president so far.
When a Ukrainian airliner crashed in Iran in early January, killing all 176 people on board, Kiev’s reaction was rather muted.
As Ottawa and London openly stated that Iranian forces had accidentally shot the plane down with a missile, Ukraine was slow to pin the blame on Tehran, which ultimately admitted guilt.
Zelensky has faced criticism for what some see as a passive stance compared to other leaders.
“During the crisis, the political leader of Ukraine was (Canadian Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau,” analyst Mykola Davydiuk said ironically.
Yet Kiev argued that its circumspect approach meant Iran granted it access to the wreckage and the crash site to shed light on the tragedy.
Serious rifts emerged in Zelensky’s team last week with Prime Minister Oleksiy Goncharuk offering to resign after a leaked recording emerged where he questioned the president’s grasp of economics.
Zelensky seemingly smoothed over the situation, giving his PM a “second chance” and demanding an investigation into the leak.
Lacking ‘clear vision’
Such successful management of ad hoc crises does not, however, give much indication of whether Zelensky will be able to transform the country in the way he has promised.
Ukrainians want him to enact crucial reforms to root out corruption, reform the justice system and revive the economy of one of the poorest countries in Europe.
“It’s too bad he doesn’t use his great popularity to do something really big,” said Davydiuk.
A key reform promoted by Zelensky is allowing the sale of farmland from 2020 — a move that is hotly anticipated by investors but feared by many farmers.
For months the process of the bill’s adoption has dragged on with more and more amendments submitted and growing protests.
“We are in a zone of great risks,” said Oleksandr Sushko, executive director of the International Renaissance Foundation, which promotes the development of civil society.
He cited the fact that the president’s team consists mainly of his former showbusiness colleagues who lack experience in solving political problems.
Zelensky has got bogged down in constant crises and the presidential routine wrote Ukrainian news site Ukrainska Pravda.
In its view, he has “failed to formulate a clear vision of the country he wants to build”.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was due to speak on the phone with Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on Saturday after Tehran admitted downing a Ukrainian airliner, officials said.
Zelensky scheduled a “telephone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani for 5 pm (1500 GMT),” Zelensky’s presidential press office said in a statement.
Tehran admitted Saturday that it accidentally downed the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) plane, killing all 176 people on board on Wednesday, shortly after launching missiles at bases hosting US forces in Iraq.
Rouhani said that Tehran “deeply regrets this disastrous mistake”.
Tehran has now provided Ukrainian experts with enough data including “all the photos, videos, and other materials” to show the probe into the downing of the passenger jet “will be carried out objectively and promptly,” Zelensky’s office said.
Zelensky earlier Saturday demanded that Iran provide “total access” to the full inquiry for Ukrainian aviation experts and security officials sent to investigate the crash on the president’s request.
He also called for Tehran to punish those responsible for the accidental downing, pay compensation and apologise.
Iran’s downing of the plane comes after a Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014 with the loss of 296 people on board.
Investigators say a Russian-made BUK missile fired by pro-Russian separatists was to blame and the trial of four people over the crash is due to start in the Netherlands in March.
Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in the plane’s downing.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday said he expected a major prisoner exchange between Kiev and Russia-backed separatists on Sunday, amid efforts to settle the Ukraine conflict, Europe’s only active war.
“There should be an exchange tomorrow. We are waiting for this. The verification of all people is not yet complete,” Zelensky told journalists, in comments quoted by his press-service.
Russian TV was set Wednesday to start airing a popular comedy series starring Ukraine’s actor-turned-president Volodymyr Zelensky as new efforts were underway to de-escalate a conflict in east Ukraine.
The Russian premiere of “Servant of the People”, to screen on the entertainment channel TNT, comes two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Zelensky met in Paris for their first face-to-face talks.
Zelensky, 41, is a former comedian and TV actor who shot to fame in ex-Soviet Ukraine after portraying a schoolteacher in “Servant of the People” who becomes president when his expletive-laden tirade goes viral.
In April, the celebrity secured a shock election win after capitalising on Ukrainians’ despair over mainstream politics, war with Kremlin-backed separatists, poverty and corruption.
He also named his party after the show.
The series premiered in Ukraine in 2015, becoming one of the most popular TV shows in the war-scarred country.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday Putin was unlikely to watch the show.
“He does not have time,” he told reporters.
TNT — owned by Gazprom Media, the media arm of Russian gas giant Gazprom — said the TV series offered a satirical look at modern politics and ties between people and authorities in Ukraine.
In the show, Zelensky’s Russian-speaking character, president Vasyl Goloborodko, roots out corruption, takes on powerful oligarchs and lifts the country’s economy out of the doldrums.
In a statement released on the eve of the Russian premiere, the channel however said “Servant of the People” was a “utopia that had nothing to do with Zelensky’s Ukraine”.
According to Gazprom Media, 38.5 million Russians watch TNT every week.
The show has previously been available to Russians on a local video streaming service.
President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday that Ukraine “will do nothing” in connection with the impeachment probe against Donald Trump over allegations the US president tried to force Kiev to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.
“As the president of Ukraine, I won’t interfere with events in other countries, unlike some others may try,” Zelensky told AFP as he met the Ukrainian diaspora in the Latvian capital Riga. “We, as Ukraine, will do nothing,” he said.
The White House on Wednesday released a transcript of US President Donald Trump’s July 25 telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Allegations that Trump pushed Zelensky to investigate Trump’s political rival Joe Biden led the Democrats to launch a formal impeachment inquiry.
Biden’s son was involved with a controversial Ukraine businessman, but has not been prosecuted in Ukraine or been accused of any wrongdoing.
Here are the main extracts of the transcript, which is not verbatim:
‘Whatever you can do’
“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the (US) Attorney General would be great.
“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it… It sounds horrible to me.”
Giuliani ‘knows what is happening’
“Mr. Giuliani (Trump’s personal lawyer) is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General.
“Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.”
US ‘very, very good to Ukraine’
“The United States has been very, very good to Ukraine. I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine.”
‘Do us a favor’
After Zelenksy raises the prospect of buying US military hardware, Trump pivots to ask about a hack of Democratic emails that helped trigger the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 US elections:
“I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”
“I would like you to get to the bottom of it… Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.”
White House welcome
“Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call. Give us a date and we’ll work that out.”
Zelensky says will ‘drain the swamp’
In his replies, Ukraine’s president said that Trump was “a great teacher,” and — using one of Trump’s favorite phrases — that he would “drain the swamp” in Ukraine by bringing in fresh politicians.
Zelensky also took the chance to mention he booked into a Trump hotel on his last visit to the United States.
“I stayed in New York near Central Park and I stayed at the Trump Tower,” he said.
Ukraine’s president has joked that the only person who can pressure him is his six-year-old son, amid a growing scandal over whether US leader Donald Trump leaned on Kiev to investigate a political rival.
“Nobody can pressure me because I am the president of an independent country,” Volodymyr Zelensky told the Russian news channel Rossiya 24 from New York.
“The only person who can put pressure on me is my son, who is six years old,” added the leader, who was a popular comedian before his surprise election to the presidency earlier this year.
Zelensky and Trump are due to meet for the first time Wednesday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
US Democrats have launched a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump, accusing him of abuse of power over a reported attempt to pressure Zelensky into opening a corruption probe into ex-vice president Joe Biden, the leading Democrat presidential contender.
The investigation — the first step in a possible impeachment process — allegedly would have focused on Biden’s son Hunter and his work for a Ukrainian company while his father was President Barack Obama’s deputy.
Trump has admitted discussing Biden with Zelensky, but denied reports he threatened to suspend military aid in the case of refusal.
Washington has been a key partner for Kiev in its conflict with Russia, which broke out in 2014 when Moscow annexed Crimea and supported separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Along with other Western countries, the US has imposed sanctions against Moscow and helped Kiev politically and financially.
Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky stepped into his new role as Ukrainian president with his inauguration on Monday, launching a new era for the country.
A month after scoring a landslide election victory against incumbent Petro Poroshenko, the 41-year-old became Ukraine’s youngest post-Soviet president.
In a ceremony in parliament, he placed his hand on a copy of the constitution and the Bible and pledged to “protect the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine.”
He used his inaugural speech to announce that he is dissolving parliament, after wrangling with lawmakers in the lower house, in order to call early parliamentary elections, which had originally been scheduled for October.
“People must come to power who will serve the public,” Zelensky said.
Critics had questioned whether Zelensky would be able to govern without a parliamentary majority. Even setting a date for his inauguration took weeks of negotiations with hostile lawmakers, whom Zelensky exasperatedly called “petty crooks”.
He also vowed that his first task was to bring a ceasefire in the conflict with Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine that has so far caused some 13,000 deaths.
“We didn’t start this war but it is up to us to end it,” he said.
The separatist authorities have indicated that they could be ready to negotiate with Zelensky.
Dressed in a dark suit and tie, the president took a non-traditional route to his inauguration — walking on foot from his home nearby, after saying he wanted a less pompous ceremony.
In a sign of his more informal style, he exchanged high fives with supporters waiting outside and took selfies with them.
So far little is known about his precise policies after a campaign that capitalised on public disillusionment with the political establishment and promised to “break the system”.
Uniquely for a first-time president, Zelensky had played the inauguration scene before — for laughs. He starred as a history teacher who was unexpectedly elected president in a television comedy series, “Servant of the People”.
Just a few months ago, the idea that Zelensky would be inaugurated for real seemed equally unlikely.
When the actor and comedian announced his candidacy on December 31, few took it seriously, but after an unprecedented campaign largely waged through social media, he won more than 73 percent in the second round on April 21, trouncing Poroshenko.
Poroshenko led Ukraine for five years, overseeing the fallout over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the armed conflict in the country’s east.
While Poroshenko averted complete collapse and launched a series of key reforms he was widely criticised for failing to improve Ukrainians’ living standards or effectively fight all-pervasive corruption.
‘Country needs changes’
Zelensky has vowed to continue the country’s pro-Western course but beyond that his programme is still sketchy and his team largely unknown. His critics question how he will deal with the enormous challenges of the separatist conflict and ongoing economic problems.
The leader of one of the self-proclaimed separatist republics in Ukraine’s industrial Donbass region, Denis Pushilin, on Friday told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that he was “ready for dialogue” with the new authorities in Kiev, “naturally taking into account the interests of Donbass”.
Nevertheless, he condemned what he called “destructive” statements by Zelensky’s team and accused Kiev of “blocking the peace process” which has long stalled.
Ukraine’s allies have given Zelensky a warm welcome, but one Ukrainian site specialising in international affairs, Evropeyska Pravda, suggested this was a “hug strategy” to ensure he continued to pursue a rapprochement with the West.
The new president will immediately have to deal with a number of sensitive international issues, giving him a foretaste of the challenges lying ahead.
Three days after Zelensky’s election, the Kremlin announced it was easing procedures for those living in the eastern separatist regions to gain Russian citizenship. Many observers in Kiev saw this as Moscow issuing a challenge to Zelensky and he strongly condemned the move.
In a sign of possible tensions between Kiev and Washington, Ukraine’s key ally against Moscow, US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani this month cancelled a visit to Kiev, saying Zelensky is “surrounded by people who are enemies of the (US) president.”
The febrile political situation prompted one pro-Western lawmaker, Serguiy Vysotsky, to warn Zelensky that the inauguration “isn’t the end of your adventures — it’s just the beginning”.
Ukraine’s parliament voted on Thursday to hold the inauguration of newly elected president Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday after he wrangled with lawmakers over the date.
Zelensky had wanted to hold the inauguration on Sunday, but those plans were controversial because that is a day of mourning for victims of Stalin-era repressions in the former-Soviet country.
The 41-year-old comedy actor, whose only previous experience in politics was playing the president in a television series, crushed the incumbent Petro Poroshenko in a runoff vote on April 21, in which he took 73.2 percent of the vote.
He repeatedly accused MPs of deliberately postponing the inauguration. But they defeated him and voted in favour of holding it on Monday, with 315 backing the date and two opposing.
The long and rancorous wrangling over the date suggest that Zelensky may struggle to impose his will over a parliament in which he does not command a majority despite his decisive victory in the presidential poll.
Following the vote, Zelensky on Facebook slammed the lawmakers as “petty crooks.”
His advisor Dmytro Razumkov told Ukrainian news agency Interfax that some lawmakers voted for a Monday inauguration “simply in order not to support the proposal of the country’s president.”
But pro-Western MP Serguiy Vysotsky wrote on Facebook that “the language of ultimatums is not politics,” accusing Zelensky of behaving “like a child who wants everything to go the way he wants.”
Zelensky’s team has suggested that the lawmakers’ decision to delay the inauguration could affect the president’s ability to call snap elections to take advantage of his current popularity instead of waiting until October.
Zelensky has promised to eradicate Ukraine’s widespread corruption and end the war with Russia-backed separatists in the east of the country, accusing the outgoing president of doing nothing to improve living standards and reduce poverty.
Yet beyond continuing Ukraine’s pro-Western course, his programme remains unclear and his team largely unknown, raising questions over how he will run a country battling pro-Russian separatists in the east and an unprecedented crisis in relations with Moscow as well economic woes.