Washington, Sep 1 (EFE).- President Joe Biden on Wednesday expressed to his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodimir Zelensky, the “firm commitment” of the United States to the territorial integrity of Ukraine in the face of Russian “aggression” and offered $60 million in military aid to Kiev.
The first in-person meeting between the two leaders focused on security questions and ranged from Ukraine’s potential entry into NATO to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, including tensions in the Donbas, the scene since 2014 of a war between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatists.
In remarks to reporters before the start of their meeting, Biden said that the two countries share a “similar value system” and both want “a Europe whole, free and at peace.”
“The United States remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression,” the US leader told Zelensky in the Oval Office, adding that Washington will work with Ukraine to help Kiev implement democratic reforms.
In response, the Ukrainian president thanked the US for its continuing support for being “our strategic partner and supporter of our sovereignty and our territorial integrity,” adding that efforts must focus on the Donbas, the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, as well as on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, which Russia considers to be part of its sphere of influence.
Zelensky also thanked Biden for the $60 million the White House requested last Friday that Congress provide to Kiev with the aim of having the aid package ready for the Ukrainian leader’s visit, which was delayed by a couple of days to allow Biden to focus on the withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Specifically, the military aid package includes Javelin fire-and-forget anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, which Washington has sent to Kiev on earlier occasions, as well as both lethal and non-lethal equipment to allow Ukraine to defend itself “more effectively” against Russian aggression, the White House said in a statement after the meeting.
Since 2014, when the conflict with Russia erupted, the US has provided Ukraine with some $2.5 billion in military aid, $400 million of that coming just this year.
Besides the military aid, however, the White House did not announce any other funding commitments to Ukraine.
Although Zelensky pressed him on the matter, Biden provided only lukewarm public support for Kiev’s entry into NATO and did not specify when that request might be approved, details that the Ukrainian leader hoped to get during this meeting.
Biden said only that the US supports Ukraine’s “Euro-Atlantic” aspirations.
Zelensky had come to Washington hoping, in particular, to get details about entering NATO after Ukraine helped with the massive evacuations from Afghanistan by transporting both US and Afghan citizens out of the Central Asian nation.
Despite the growing cooperation between Kiev and NATO, the majority of the members of the Atlantic Alliance believe that Ukraine needs to adopt a series of political reforms before it can become part of the select defense club.
In that regard, Biden said that one of the issues to be discussed at their meeting would be to see how the US can help Ukraine advance its agenda of democratic reforms so that it may fully integrate itself into Europe.
There also were no big announcements regarding the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that will bring Russian natural gas to Germany without passing through Ukraine, a situation that will deny Kiev an important source of income, given that up to now most Russian gas destined for Europe has passed through Ukraine and Kiev has been charging Moscow transit fees.
The pipeline barely figured in the remarks the two leaders exchanged before reporters.
Biden said only that he wants to create a new “dialogue” with Ukraine regarding energy and climate change in line with his objectives to reduce global warming.
In July, Washington and Berlin reached an agreement for the US to withdraw its opposition to the pipeline, news that Ukraine received with a certain skepticism.
Despite the lack of big announcements, the meeting has great symbolic value because it displays the return to normality in bilateral relations after the scandal caused by the telephone call in which former President Donald Trump asked Zelensky to do him “a favor.”
Specifically, in that July 2019 call, Trump pressured Zelensky to launch an investigation into alleged corruption in Ukraine by Biden, who was his main political rival at the time, and his son Hunter Biden, a request that led to Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate, where he was absolved by the Republican majority.