Ukrainian President finally receives his visit to the Oval Office

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By Aamer Madhani, Lynn Berry and Eric Tucker | Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden used his first meeting with a foreign leader since the end of the war in Afghanistan to send a message on Wednesday that the United States – freed from its “eternal war” – is determined to become a more ally. reliable for their friends, in this case Ukraine.

Biden hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for a long-awaited Oval Office meeting and tried to reassure him that his administration remains squarely behind the Eastern European nation.

Biden did not mention Afghanistan during his brief appearance with Zelenskyy on camera.

But he stressed his concerns about Russian aggression in the region. Biden, in advocating for an end to the war in Afghanistan, has repeatedly said its shutdown would allow the United States to focus more on combating the malicious acts of Russian and Chinese adversaries.

“The United States remains firmly committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression and Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” Biden said.

The Ukrainian leader, who had found himself trapped in Donald Trump’s first impeachment, arrived at the White House seeking Biden for increased military aid and support for his country’s candidacy for membership. NATO.

The meeting was postponed for two days as Biden and his national security team were consumed by the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan. The pullout, which ended on Monday, left many Afghans who had worked with the Americans and their allies and now fear the Taliban regime. This led to criticism that the United States was less than a reliable international partner, which Biden was eager to counter.

The optics of the moment have not gone unnoticed by the President of Ukraine, who seeks to strengthen his country’s relations with the United States

“At a difficult time for the world and the United States… you still found time for us and we really appreciate it,” Zelenskyy said.

Ahead of the session, the Biden administration said it was committing up to $ 60 million in new military aid to Ukraine. The administration said in a notification to Congress that aid to Ukraine was needed due to a “significant increase in Russian military activity along its border” and due to mortar attacks, ceasefire violations and other provocations.

Zelenskyy thanked Biden for the help.

“The war in Donbass is in its eighth year and we have lost 15,000 people,” Zelenskyy said of the conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the industrial center of eastern Ukraine.

In their private talks, Zelenskyy and Biden discussed Washington’s decision not to block construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would bring Russian natural gas directly to Germany, bypassing Ukraine. The pipeline is fiercely opposed by Ukraine and Poland as well as by Republicans and Democrats in Congress, with Zelenskyy describing it as a powerful geopolitical weapon for Russia.

The White House also announced that Ukraine has agreed to join a secure line of communication through the National Center for Nuclear Risk Reduction, which serves to minimize the risk of armed conflict. The center includes 50 international partners.

Zelenskyy, a television actor new to politics, took office in May 2019 concerned with strengthening his country’s relations with the United States. Instead, he almost immediately found himself under pressure from Trump’s envoys and soon from Trump himself, who, in the phone call that led to his first impeachment, asked Zelenskyy to “us. to be of service “.

In that now famous July 2019 call, Trump asked Zelenskyy to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Trump’s envoy to the European Union Gordon Sondland later told impeachment investigators that Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani had explicitly called for a “quid pro quo” in which a visit to the Oval Office would be contingent on Zelenskyy’s announcement of the politically charged investigation Trump wanted.

“Was there a ‘quid pro quo? “? Sondland asked. “To the White House call and White House meeting requested, the answer is yes.”

Besides the coveted White House invitation, Sondland also said he understood Trump was withholding nearly $ 400 million in military aid until Ukraine announced the investigation.

Claims that Trump withheld military aid approved by Congress while seeking help from Ukraine for his re-election campaign formed the basis of the first impeachment case against him. Trump was acquitted by the Senate. The Oval Office meeting with Zelenskyy never happened.

Along with Biden, Zelenskyy now has a president with a long history of involvement in Ukraine, who has supported his determination to break free from Russia, consolidate his young democracy and be better received in the Western club.

As vice president, Biden was the Obama administration’s contact person for Ukraine and lobbied for tougher anti-corruption measures. He once bragged about having succeeded in sacking Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, who had blocked some corruption investigations. Trump then twisted that by insisting, mistakenly, that Biden did it to protect his son and the energy company he was on the board of directors of.

Zelenskyy is the last Ukrainian president to pledge to fight systemic corruption and then fight once in power. Biden administration officials wanted reassurance that Zelenskyy remained committed to pursuing various reforms.

To this end, a joint statement issued at the end of Wednesday’s meeting stressed the need for Ukraine to act quickly to select a new prosecutor specializing in the fight against corruption and to adopt legislation enshrining the authority of the head of the country’s National Anti-Corruption Office and the process of choosing the successor of that agency.

Zelenskyy sought greater economic and military assistance from Washington. And he said he wanted a clear statement from Biden on whether he supported Ukraine’s possible NATO membership. NATO members are wary given the latent conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

The $ 60 million security package will include more Javelin anti-tank missiles, which Kiev considers essential to defend against the Russian-backed separatists who have passed through eastern Ukraine. The United States has globally committed over $ 400 million in military aid this year.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not say on Wednesday whether Biden would support Ukraine’s NATO aspirations. She noted that this was not a decision the United States could take on its own and said the United States supported Ukraine’s efforts to reform its defense sector and take other necessary steps to maintain itself. get on the path to NATO membership.

Nord Stream 2, the pipeline under construction under the Baltic Sea, is the most important tension issue in the relationship. Allowing Russia to bypass Ukraine could potentially deprive Ukraine of the billions of dollars in transit fees it now earns for pumping Russian gas to Europe.

While the United States is also opposing the new pipeline, fearing it would give Russia too much power over European energy supplies, Biden agreed in July not to penalize the German company overseeing the project.

The joint statement said the United States will work to secure Ukraine’s gas supply. The two countries also agreed to improve the corporate governance of Ukrainian state-owned energy companies and to attract the foreign investment necessary for Ukraine to become energy independent.

Associated Press editors Josh Boak in Washington and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed reporting.


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