Biden meets Ukraine leader amid tensions over Russia


US foreign policy updates

Joe Biden sought to reassure Ukraine of America’s “ironclad” commitment to its sovereignty and opposition to “Russian aggression” at a White House meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday.

The meeting between Biden and Zelensky follows tensions between Washington and Kyiv that have surfaced in recent months over the US approach to Russia, with Ukrainian officials concerned the Biden administration’s attitude towards Moscow has been too lenient.

They have been wary of Biden’s decision to hold a summit with Vladimir Putin in June in Geneva as well as a deal in July with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to end America’s dispute over the Nordstream 2 pipeline delivering Russian gas to Germany.

But Biden and his top officials sought to ease the worries in Kyiv about America’s resolve to protect Ukraine before the meeting.

In brief remarks ahead of the meeting, Biden said he wanted “a Europe whole, free and at peace”, opposed “Russian aggression” and hoped to visit the country again.

Zelensky said the US was its “strategic partner and supporter of our sovereignty, and our territorial integrity”. He added the talks with Biden would include a discussion of the conflict in the Donbas region and “Ukrainian Crimea occupied by the Russian Federation, as well as security in the Black Sea, and security in the Azov Sea region”.

In a tweet earlier in the day, the US president wrote that the meeting would “reaffirm America’s commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and Euro-Atlantic aspirations”.

Ahead of the meeting, Biden administration officials pushed back against any suggestion that the relationship with Ukraine had been downgraded or neglected.

One said: “President Zelensky and Ukraine have gotten as much, if not more, attention from this administration than any other European country. In terms of visits to the Oval Office, we had Chancellor Merkel here several weeks ago.

“But otherwise, President Zelensky is the second European leader that is going to be having a meeting in the Oval Office.”

Fears in Kyiv about America’s determination to shield Ukraine from any new Russian aggression could escalate in light of the non-interventionist policy doctrine that Biden described in a speech about the US pullout from Afghanistan on Tuesday, which rejected large-scale American military interventions and nation-building efforts.

But US administration officials said that during Wednesday’s meeting Biden would announce a new $60m security assistance package for Ukraine, and the Pentagon would be signing “a strategic defence framework” to tackle co-operation on security in the Black Sea, cyber security and intelligence sharing.

The meeting between Biden and Zelensky was pushed back by a day: the original August 31 date coincided with the deadline for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.

“Bringing two heads of state together is a complicated and fast-moving process. I don’t want to overly analyse the logistics here, other than to say that we want this meeting to receive the attention that it deserves,” the senior administration official said.