Biden meets Zelensky and commits to helping Ukraine confront Russian aggression

US administration urges Ukraine enact anti-corruption reforms as it pushes to join Nato

President Joe Biden on Wednesday reassured his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky of the US commitment to Ukraine's "sovereignty and territorial integrity" despite disagreements over the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and Kiev’s potential Nato membership.

As he welcomed Mr Zelensky at the White House for the first time, Mr Biden promised US assistance.

"The United States remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression," he said. He stressed the need to preserve Europe as a "whole, free and at peace".

The meeting was postponed for two days due to the situation in Afghanistan and is the first between the two leaders since Mr Biden took office in January.

Senior US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, have visited Kiev in recent months and are also meeting Mr Zelensky this week.

Mr Biden told the Ukrainian president that he hopes to visit his country in the near future.

The administration is touting the visit as a further indication of its commitment “to Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and Euro-Atlantic aspirations".

It is also promising deliverables in terms of aid and bilateral agreements that will be made during the Biden-Zelensky meeting.

The meeting “will deliver some very tangible outcomes, including announcements on our strategic partnership as well as new agreements on security, energy and climate co-operation,” a senior US official told reporters this week.

The Biden administration has already notified Congress of a new $60 million security assistance package for Ukraine, which includes additional Javelin anti-armour systems and other defensive lethal and non-lethal capabilities, the White House said.

This brings total US aid to Ukraine to $2.5 billion since 2014 and more than $400m since Mr Biden took office.

Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and Mr Zelensky signed on Tuesday a strategic defence framework that could lead to an increasing US presence in the Black Sea, more cyber and intelligence sharing, and support for Ukraine as it faces continuing Russian aggression.

Another deliverable will be the relaunch of the Strategic Partnership Commission. The commission was created in 2008 but has not met since 2018.

Mr Blinken is expected to meet his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in coming weeks to approve a new charter for the commission, the US official said.

But the White House will also press the Ukrainian government on enacting anti-corruption reforms “in line with Euro-Atlantic principles”.

These reforms are seen by Biden officials to be crucial to supporting Kiev’s membership in Nato.

“The action around [Ukraine’s Nato membership] is the need for the government of Ukraine to continue implementing the deep, comprehensive and timely reforms that are laid out in its Annual National Programme,” the US official said.

Alexander Vershbow, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Transatlantic Security Initiative and Eurasia Centre, saw the chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal as adding pressure to the Biden administration to bolster its global standing against Russia through Ukraine.

“With the United States struggling to cope with the debacle in Afghanistan and with US allies now questioning America’s readiness to uphold its commitments, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin may be tempted to exploit this opportunity and stage a new provocation in Ukraine,” Mr Vershbow explained.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and sent thousands of troops and equipment to the Ukrainian border when Mr Biden came into office.

Mr Biden also reassured Ukraine on the US position towards the Nord Stream 2, the Russian gas pipeline to Europe. The White House has refrained from imposing sanctions over the project and is allowing Germany to work with Moscow to complete the deal.

Ukraine declared its opposition to the deal between the US and Germany in June but is now seeking assurances about its future as a transit country after the construction of the pipeline, Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko said this month.

Updated: September 2nd 2021, 5:50 AM
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