Biden to tell Zelenskiy US will counter Russian expansion
President Joe Biden will seek to reassure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that the US is committed to countering Russian expansion in the region as the leaders meet for the first time on Wednesday at the White House.
The two plan to discuss Ukraine’s national security as it relates to Russia and ways the US can provide assistance, according to a senior Biden administration official. They will also discuss the Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts.
Zelenskiy has had a complicated relationship with the US. A phone call with former President Donald Trump became central to his first impeachment after a whistle-blower complained that Trump held up military aid to pressure Zelinskiy to investigate Biden’s son. Trump defended the call as “perfect.”
The meeting with Biden comes amid tensions over Nordstream 2 after the US all but abandoned its years-long campaign to halt the construction of the undersea pipeline that would transport natural gas from Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine. Zelenskiy called the project Biden’s “loss.”
Zelenskiy is seeking more clarity on how Western allies will ensure the former Soviet state’s security, especially as its current gas deal with Russia expires in 2024 and Nordstream 2 threatens its vital revenue as a transit country. His concern is that Ukraine could suffer if the Biden makes concessions to win cooperation from Russian President Vladimir Putin on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation and China.
Following the meeting, Biden is expected to announce a new $60 million (€50 million) security assistance package for Ukraine, the official said. Already this year, the US has committed to spending $400 million (€338 million) on security assistance for the country. Biden will also announce his intention to send an additional $12.8 million (€10 million) in Covid-19-related aid.
Zelenskiy arrived in Washington on Monday and on Tuesday met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other cabinet officials to discuss energy, climate and security issues, according to the Biden administration. Austin signed a defense framework with Ukraine designed to help the country counter Russian aggression and expand cooperation over sharing intelligence and other matters.
Wednesday’s talks between Biden and Zelenskiy is their first in-person person meeting, though the two presidents spoke by phone in April and June.
Zelenskiy has said he wanted the U.S. to be more involved in peace talks to end the seven-year military conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region with pro-Russian separatists.
Biden helped ease tensions earlier this year in a summit with Putin after Russia had stationed tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, saying they were military drills. But the situation has deteriorated in Donbas since March, and Russia plans more drills together with Belarus -- which borders Ukraine on the north -- later this month.
Biden visited Kyiv several times as vice president and was deeply involved in the nation’s reform efforts, fueling hopes in Kyiv that his administration would take an aggressive stance toward defending Ukraine’s sovereignty.
The U.S. already supplies Ukraine with military hardware to help it fight Kremlin-backed forces in the conflict in its easternmost regions. Zelenskiy plans to discuss additional naval assistance with the US -- which has provided some patrol boats -- after the country lost several ships following Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
Zelenskiy is also seeking NATO’s membership action plan, saying it is the only viable way to have protection from Russia. Biden said in June that Ukraine had to crack down further on corruption and meet other unspecified criteria before it can be considered for NATO membership.
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