Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko, however, said at a news conference in Austria on Thursday that there were no plans for a one-on-one meeting.
“We are planning a Normandy Format summit,” he said, referring to stalled four-way talks involving France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.
Two days earlier, former Kazakh leader Nursultan Nazarbayev said at a conference in Nur-Sultan that a Zelensky-Putin meeting could be held in Kazakhstan, but the Kremlin responded cautiously to his outreach, warning that “meeting for the sake of meeting would serve little purpose.”
President Trump is among those who appear to favor such a meeting, telling Zelensky when he met him in New York in September that he hoped the Ukrainian leader and Putin could “get together.”
Ukraine has lived under the shadow of its larger neighbor since the fall of the Soviet Union. After a popular uprising in 2014 sent the corrupt and Kremlin-friendly Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych into exile, Moscow supported separatists in Ukraine’s eastern regions, including Donbas, resulting in a brutal civil war that has killed more than 13,000 people.
The United States had been a key ally of Kyiv during this conflict, but it had not been an equal partnership. At the impeachment hearings Wednesday, lawmakers and diplomats discussed the Trump administration’s move to delay about $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, which Democrats allege was done to force Kyiv to investigate Joe Biden, a political rival of Trump’s, and his son Hunter Biden.
Acting ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, two experts on Ukraine, were repeatedly asked to give their thoughts on the “endemic” corruption in the nation.
Speaking in Austria, Prystaiko said his government had not been told there was a link between the delay in U.S. military aid and investigations allegedly desired by Trump.
“I have never seen a direct link between investigations and security assistance. Yes, investigations were mentioned, you know, in a presidential conversation. But there was no clear connection between these events,” the minister said, according to Interfax Ukraine.
In an interview with BBC Ukrainian on Thursday, Prystaiko said Ukraine doesn’t play a key role in the impeachment inquiry and as such avoids commenting on it.
“The worst thing we can do is become a bargaining chip,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are such a chip now.”
Some Ukrainian political figures have warned that the impeachment hearings only increase the need for rapprochement with Russia. Billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, a powerful ally of Zelensky, told the New York Times this week he had backed away from his previous opposition to Moscow.
“They’re stronger anyway. We have to improve our relations,” Kolomoisky said. “People want peace, a good life; they don’t want to be at war. And you are forcing us to be at war, and not even giving us the money for it.”
Zelensky, a comedy star who swept to power this year on an anti-corruption platform, has spoken about ending the war in Ukraine’s east. In one sign of a possible detente, the two sides swapped prisoners in September.
But attempts to find a new way to deal with Russia have led to protests in Ukraine, with many arguing one plan favored by the Ukrainian leader — the “Steinmeier Formula,” which calls for elections in separatist-held territories — amounted to a capitulation to Russia.
The Kremlin has repeatedly put off the Normandy Format talks and demanded more concessions from Ukraine. Prystaiko told BBC Ukrainian that he hoped the four-way negotiations, stalled since 2016, could be resumed before the end of the year.
But the extent of Ukrainian government skepticism about Moscow was also spelled out Wednesday in a Facebook post by Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodniuk, who said financial and economic relations with Russia were impossible and Ukraine needed to integrate with NATO.
“Since 2014, I’ve understood that the name of the enemy consists of six letters — Russia,” Zahorodniuk wrote.