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Ukraine's president gets a White House meeting with Biden 2 years after Trump tried to manipulate him for political dirt

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© AP President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Washington. AP

  • Biden met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House Wednesday.
  • The US announced new security assistance to Ukraine and Biden reaffirmed support for Ukrainian sovereignty.
  • Zelensky pressed Biden on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and brought up Ukraine’s “economic revival.”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

US President Joe Biden met for the first time with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday and reaffirmed the US’s commitment to a sovereign Ukraine as it continues to battle Russian-backed separatists.

During the bilateral meeting, Zelensky offered condolences for recent casualties in Afghanistan amid the US’s troop withdrawal.

“We have the feeling for such losses,” Zelensky said, referring to the thousands of Ukrainian soldiers killed fighting Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

He also said through an interpreter that “the United States is our strategic partner and supporter of our sovereignty and our territorial integrity,” according to pool reports. And he thanked Biden for sending more than two million vaccines to Ukraine and ordering $60 million in new security assistance.

Biden, meanwhile, confirmed the US’s strong support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s aggression and said he wanted to see “a Europe whole, free and at peace.” He also said he wanted to talk about COVID-19 vaccine distribution and added that he wanted to visit Ukraine again, pool reports said.

The US president was also expected to encourage Zelensky to continue anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine, while Zelensky was expected to seek a Defense Security Cooperation Agreement in order to confront Russia’s mounting aggression both militarily and politically. The Ukrainian president also mentioned the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and brought up Ukraine’s “economic revival” in his introductory remarks.

In January, Biden denounced the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany as a “bad deal for Europe” and said his administration would review restrictions on the project that were included in the US’s annual defense policy bill that passed on January 1. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said during his confirmation hearing on January 19 that he was “determined to do whatever we can to prevent that completion” of the pipeline.

But the Biden administration softened its stance last month, releasing a joint statement with Germany indicating it would not stand in the way of the pipeline, provided Russia did not “misuse” or weaponize it against Ukraine.

The US also announced the $60 million in security assistance to Ukraine – which will include Javelin anti-tank missiles – ahead of the Biden-Zelensky meeting.

In a memo to Congress requesting the aid, the Biden administration cited a “major increase in Russian military activity along [Ukraine’s] border” as the reason for the security assistance.

“Russia’s buildup along the Ukrainian border has highlighted capability shortfalls in the Ukrainian military’s ability to defend against a Russian incursion,” the notification said. “Ukraine’s significant capability gaps must be urgently addressed to reinforce deterrence in light of the current Russian threat.”

The US and Ukraine have long been allies. But Wednesday’s meeting held heightened significance for both the Biden and Zelensky administrations. For Zelensky, it was the culmination of a two-year effort to secure a White House meeting and a public commitment from the US president to a safe and secure Ukraine.

For Biden, Wednesday’s meeting was a chance for his administration to mitigate some of the damage done by his predecessor and regain Ukraine’s trust, as well as reaffirm the US’s commitment to maintaining global alliances and strategic security. Indeed, Zelensky is just the second European head of state to meet with Biden in the Oval Office, and administration officials told The Los Angeles Times it was a sign of the importance Biden places on guarding Ukraine against Russia’s aggression.

© AP Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin walks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during an honor cordon upon his arrival at the Pentagon, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Washington. AP

‘A new stage in defense cooperation’

Zelensky arrived in Washington, DC, on August 30 for a three-day trip and he and his defense minister met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin Tuesday.

“Today, I met with Ukrainian President @ZelenskyyUA and Minister of @DefenceU Taran to reiterate the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine,” said a tweet from Austin’s official Twitter account. “We also signed a Strategic Defense Framework to enhance our defense partnership and advance shared priorities.”

Zelensky also tweeted out a photo of his and Defense Minister Andrii Taran’s meeting with Austin.

“A new stage in defense cooperation,” Zelensky tweeted. “An agreement on the strategic foundations of the defense partnership was signed in @DeptofDefense.” He added that the US’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, its quest to gain NATO membership, and its opposition to Russian aggression “are very important.”

Zelensky was elected president in 2019 after campaigning on a platform of maintaining strong ties to the US and moving Ukraine out of the sphere of Russian influence and toward the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. But he was unable to get a White House meeting with then-President Donald Trump despite multiple attempts to do so.

In fact, the Trump administration’s back-and-forth with Zelensky and his top aides made headlines in the US when it surfaced that Trump was withholding an Oval Office meeting and nearly $400 million in vital security assistance while demanding that Zelensky publicly commit to bogus political investigations targeting the Bidens ahead of the 2020 US election.

Trump’s efforts ultimately resulted in his first impeachment by the House of Representatives, which accused him of obstructing Congress and abusing his power by trying to leverage US foreign policy and manipulating a key ally for his own political ends.

Earlier this week, a senior Biden administration official told reporters on a call that “in the 30 years since Ukraine achieved independence, our strategic partnership has never been stronger than it is now.” One official also added, “We believe this meeting comes at a pivotal moment in the bilateral relationship as we continue to build on ties that bind our two countries together and really seek to take our strategic partnership to an elevated level.”

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