Biden reassures Ukraine leader, allies
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden used his first meeting with a foreign leader since ending the war in Afghanistan to send the message Wednesday that the United States – unburdened of its “forever war” – is determined to become a more reliable ally to its friends, in this case Ukraine.
Biden played host to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for a longsought Oval Office meeting and tried to reassure him that his administration remains behind the Eastern European nation.
Biden didn't mention Afghanistan in his brief appearance with Zelenskyy before cameras.
But Biden highlighted his concerns about Russian aggression in the region. Biden, in making his case to end the war in Afghanistan, repeatedly said winding down the 20-year conflict would allow the U.S. to put greater focus on combating malevolent acts from adversaries Russia and China.
“The United States remains firmly committed to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression and for Ukraine's EuroAtlantic aspirations,” Biden said.
The Ukrainian leader, who was ensnarled in Donald Trump's first impeachment, arrived at the White House looking to Biden for increased military aid and backing for his country's bid for NATO membership.
The meeting was postponed two days while Biden and his national security team were consumed by the American military withdrawal from Afghanistan. The withdrawal, which concluded Monday, left behind many Afghans who had worked with the Americans and their allies and who now fear Taliban rule. This led to criticism that the U.S. was less than a reliable international partner, something Biden was eager to counter.
The optics of the moment did not go unnoticed by the Ukrainian president, who is looking to strengthen his country's relationship with the U.S.
“At a difficult time for the world and the United States ... still you found time for us and we're thankful for this indeed,” Zelenskyy said.
In advance of the sit-down, 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 the aid package for Ukraine was necessary because of a “major increase in Russian military activity along its border” and because of mortar attacks, cease-fire violations and other provocations.
Zelenskyy thanked Biden for the aid.
“The war in Donbas is in its eighth year, and we have lost 15,000 people,” Zelenskyy said in a reference to the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in Ukraine's industrial heartland.
In their private talks, Zelenskyy was expected to bring up Washington's decision not to block the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would carry Russian natural gas directly to Germany, bypassing Ukraine. The pipeline is vehemently opposed by Ukraine and Poland as well as both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, with Zelenskyy describing it as a powerful geopolitical weapon for Russia.