'A pathetic sycophant in front of a more influential clown':  Ukrainians react to Trump-Zelensky call
Volodymyr Zelensky and Donald Trump (AFP)

Volodymyr Zelensky, a popular comedian until his shock election to the Ukrainian presidency this spring, is at the centre of a global scandal following a now notorious phone call with US leader Donald Trump.

In Kiev, opponents have lashed out against the "disaster" call but supporters say the transcript released this week showed Zelensky playing Trump to his own advantage.

During the conversation, Zelensky seemed to agree to Trump's request to probe his political rival Joe Biden -- which US Democrats have used to launch an impeachment process.

Zelensky also supported the US president's criticism of Kiev's European allies.

While Zelensky's critics say the transcript shows him to be inexperienced and weak in the face of a major power, analysts say the main political impact of the call will be felt in Washington rather than Kiev.

- 'Pathetic sycophant' -

Allies of former president Petro Poroshenko, who lost to Zelensky in an election in April, were quick to criticize the former entertainer.

"This is a disaster," Rostyslav Palvenko, an MP from Poroshenko's party, wrote on Facebook.

Another opposition MP, Volodymyr Ariev, said Zelensky "de-facto promising" Trump an investigation on his political rival risked trashing US bipartisan support for Kiev.

Many were alarmed by Zelensky's claim the Ukraine's next prosecutor would be "100 percent my person" and would be able to "look into" a case against Biden.

Opponents interpreted this as an ambition to control the judiciary.

The country's media and rights activists also criticized Zelensky for the language he used with the US leader.

"A pathetic sycophant in front of a more influential clown," activist Iryna Siedova wrote on Facebook.

- Agree '1000 percent' -

A high-ranking Ukrainian official speaking on condition of anonymity dismissed this criticism, saying the only part of the transcript "seriously problematic" for Zelensky were his comments on Kiev's EU allies.

After Trump told Zelensky that "Germany does almost nothing for you", Zelensky said he agreed with the US leader.

The comedian replied that he backed the US president "not only 100 percent, but actually 1,000 percent."

Along with Washington, France and Germany have been key supporters of Kiev as it fights a war in its east against Russian-backed separatists.

"How will we talk to France and Germany after this?" asked pro-Western ex-MP Victoria Voytsitska on Facebook.

Speaking in New York Thursday Zelensky said that he did not want to offend any of Kiev's allies but that "spoke the truth".

He explained that he was referring to the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline backed by Germany, which Kiev sees as a security threat.

The EU on Thursday defended the "unprecedented" backing it has given to Ukraine, with a spokesman calling it "the largest support package in the history of the EU."

- Lack of political experience -

Analysts said the phone call would have little domestic effect, while Zelensky's supporters said the ex-comedian managed to outsmart Trump.

"The story only has a foreign policy effect," said analyst Anatoliy Oktysyuk, even as it highlighted Zelensky's lack of political experience.

Ordinary Ukrainians said it was hard to tell whether the US leader pressured their president, and some believed it was Zelensky that was "playing" Trump.

"Zelensky knows what he's doing, he'll help Trump to keep his image and at the same time get something from him in exchange," Andriy, a biologist in his 30s, told AFP in central Kiev.

"I think Zelensky is clever and that's what he'll do."

Anatoly, a programmer, said it was important for the president to endear himself to Trump to secure support from Washington.

"But on the other hand he can lose support from other countries if he plays him too much," he said.