U.S. President Joe Biden assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at a White House meeting Wednesday that the United States remained “firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression” in its eastern region.
Accordingly, the White House announced its firm support of Ukraine’s sovereignty over the contested Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow unilaterally annexed in 2014, sparking a continuous conflict between the neighboring states.
“The United States does not and will never recognize Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea, and reaffirms its full support for international efforts, including in the Normandy Format, aimed at negotiating a diplomatic resolution to the Russian-led conflict in eastern Ukraine on the basis of international law, including the U.N. Charter,” the White House said in a statement after the meeting concluded.
The U.S. also announced a new $60 million security assistance package, including additional Javelin anti-armor systems and other defensive lethal and nonlethal capabilities.
The leaders also discussed energy and climate policy, anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine, Ukraine’s aspirations for NATO membership, and the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline between Russia and Europe, which Ukraine opposes.
“The United States and Ukraine continue to oppose Nord Stream 2, which we view as a threat to European energy security,” the White House said in its statement.
Olga Oliker, program director for Europe and Central Asia at the International Crisis Group, told VOA via Skype from Brussels that the pomp of the visit belied the difficult topics on the table.
“They're all thorny, sticky issues here,” she said. “There's nothing easy here. Ukraine wants more of a commitment of support than it's going to get."
Zelenskiy also underscored the importance of being among the handful of world leaders to have been invited into the White House in recent months.
“In the difficult times for the world and for the United States, for Ukraine, still you found time for us, and we are very grateful for this, indeed,” he said through an interpreter. “And of course, the United States, our strategic partner and staunch supporter of our sovereignty and our territorial integrity.”
Oliker told VOA the timing of this visit was important to the Ukrainians.
“For the Ukrainians, especially in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, they want a clear statement of support from the United States,” she said. “And I think also that the Zelenskiy team had very high hopes for the Biden administration, particularly after all of the challenges that they faced with the Trump administration. They had hoped to get a meeting as early as possible, ideally before President Biden had a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That did not happen, but they're meeting now.”
The Congressional Ukrainian Caucus also met with Zelenskiy on Tuesday, as did Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Austin congratulated Zelenskiy on Ukraine's 30 years of independence and also offered his support for Ukraine's sovereignty "in the face of Russian aggression."
Zelenskiy’s visit to Washington came two years after his name unexpectedly became central to a U.S. investigation that led to former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment.
Trump, hoping to dig up dirt on Biden in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, asked Zelenskiy in 2019 to investigate the eventual Democratic candidate, along with his son Hunter Biden’s lucrative business ventures in Ukraine. Trump was acquitted of wrongdoing at a Senate trial linked to the Ukraine phone call. A report released in September 2021 by Senate Republicans found “problematic” behavior but no wrongdoing by Hunter Biden.
When asked if the two presidents discussed the allegations against Hunter Biden during their meeting Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki gave a one-word answer.
“No,” she said.
Myroslava Gongadze contributed to this report.