President Joe Biden met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday where he reaffirmed the US’s strategic partnership with the Eastern European country and announced a new military assistance package totaling $60 million – but refused to take questions.
Zelensky thanked him for the aid before appealing to Biden for help in freeing 450 Ukrainian prisoners held by Russian forces in Crimea and Moscow.
Ukraine’s struggle with Russia over the Crimean territory has led to a years-long war and thousands of Ukrainian deaths. No western nation recognizes Russia’s ownership over the peninsula despite Russia’s insistence people living there want to be under its rule.
It was Biden’s first meeting with a fellow head of state since the US completed its military evacuation from Afghanistan on Monday.
He opened the meeting by congratulating Zelensky on Ukraine’s recent celebration marking 30 years since its independence from the former Soviet Union.
‘The United States remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression and, and our support for Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations,’ he told reporters in the Oval Office.
‘We’re revitalizing the strategic partnership commission between our nations and we’re also creating a new strategic defense framework and a new $60 million security assistance package, as well as a new energy and climate dialogue to help Ukraine diversify its energy supplies while supporting our climate goals relating to global warming.’
Zelensky thanked Biden for the opportunity to visit the White House during what he called ‘difficult times’ for the United States, Ukraine and the world.
He offered his ‘sincere condolences’ for the deaths of 13 US servicemembers in Kabul and said Ukraine knew the pain of losing lives because of its ongoing conflict with Russia.
‘We are very compassionate and we have the fellow feeling for such losses – such tragic loss – because for eight years in a row, as you know, we’ve had this war on the Ukrainian Donbas and we have lost 15,000 of our best people,’ Zelensky said through an interpreter.
Biden refused to take questions at the end of their comments.
Biden opened the meeting by congratulating Zelensky (left) on 30 years of Ukrainian independence from the former Soviet Union but didn’t take questions from reporters at the end
Part of the aid for Ukraine includes $45 million in humanitarian funding aimed at supporting ‘Ukrainians that remain impacted by the crisis with Russia in the east,’ according to senior officials, in addition to the $60 million in security funding.
‘Russia’s aggression, including the war in eastern Ukraine and its seizure of Crimea, has claimed more than 14,000 Ukrainian lives, destabilized Europe and the Black Sea region, and threatened the global rules-based order,’ the White House said in a statement after the meeting.
The statement went on to say the US ‘does not and will never’ recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
‘Together, we call on Russia to recommit to the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and engage genuinely in conflict resolution efforts to end the war.’
In the past Biden has been criticized as taking too soft a stance against Russia as it slowly strengthens its grip in the region.
Biden vowed to stand with Ukraine against ‘Russian aggression’ but has done little to actually punish Vladimir Putin over actions against American cybersecurity since they met in June
The last time Biden spoke with Zelensky was by phone in June before his meeting with Putin in Geneva that same month
Biden formally withdrew US opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Russia and Germany, which would undercut the Ukrainian energy sector by lessening the need for natural gas routes through there.
The president has also sent multiple apparently empty warnings to Putin over massive cyberattacks across companies the US government and numerous private entities rely on like Microsoft.
Russia has denied participation in the hacks. The US Treasury blacklisted 32 Russian entities in April over efforts to meddle in the 2020 election and other ‘acts of disinformation and interference.’
But he tackled cyber defenses in his meeting with Zelensky today. After Biden and Zelensky spoke the White House announced both countries will participate in a US-Ukraine Bilateral Cyber Dialogue in Kyiv.
Biden welcomed Zelensky to the White House on Wednesday after their meeting was pushed back as Biden grappled with dueling crises in the Kabul airport suicide attack that killed 13 US servicemembers and the devastating toll of Hurricane Ida.
It’s Zelensky’s first time at the White House, but the shadow of Biden’s predecessor looms over the meeting.
Two years ago former President Trump dangled a possible White House meeting over Zelensky’s head but pressured him to announce an investigation into then-candidate Biden and his son Hunter.
Biden will welcome Zelensky to the White House on Wednesday afternoon after the meeting was pushed back from Monday
Trump dangled a possible White House visit over Zelensky’s head roughly two years ago while he tried to pressure him into announcing an investigation into the Bidens
Trump had suggested Zelensky look into Hunter Biden’s time on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
When he was vice president Biden leveraged $1 billion in aid over the Eastern European country in a international bid to oust a federal prosecutor who failed to go after corruption among Ukraine’s top politicians. Trump claimed it was because the prosecutor was looking into Burisma.
But the White House went into the Oval Office meeting on a hopeful note.
‘This visit will affirm the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea, our close cooperation on energy security, and our backing for President Zelenskyy’s efforts to tackle corruption and implement a reform agenda based on our shared democratic values,’ the White House said in a statement.
Biden and Zelensky have spoken by phone twice before, once in April and once in June before the US president’s meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Geneva.
The two heads of state were originally slated to sit down together Monday afternoon.
Biden and Zelensky’s face-to-face was delayed after a suicide attack on Thursday killed numerous people outside of Hamid Karzai International Airport
13 US service members were among those killed in the devastating blast
That same day the final US military jet departed from Hamid Karzai International Airport, officially ending the 20-year American military presence in Afghanistan.
Instead of hosting the face-to-face Monday, the president sat down with Vice President Kamala Harris and their national security team to discuss the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan.
Just days before, a suicide bomber linked to Afghan ISIS affiliate ISIS-K set off an explosion at the Kabul airport’s crowded Abbey Gate checkpoint.
The blast killed 170 Afghans and 13 members of the US military.
Biden was blamed by some Republican lawmakers and grieving family members for the servicemembers’ deaths.
Also on Monday Biden spent the day being briefed on Hurricane Ida by his homeland security team.
Wednesday’s meeting won’t be Zelensky’s first time meeting with Biden officials face-to-face.
Zelensky met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin Tuesday to underscore their military partnership
Zelensky also met with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson Tuesday, after which he expressed a desire for Ukraine to become a ‘space power again’
On Tuesday Zelensky met with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. They signed a Strategic Defense Framework aimed at strengthening the Ukrainian defense sector at its borders and in the Black Sea as well as reaffirming the US-Ukraine partnership.
Austin’s counterpart, Defense Minister Andrii Taran, was also present.
Zelensky also met with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, after which he publicly invited the former Florida senator to Ukraine and said on Twitter: ‘Ukraine must become a space power again.’
‘Today I had a fruitful discussion with [NASA] Administrator [Bill Nelson] on projects Ukraine can join with its unique space technologies.’
Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv in May. Last week Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm led a delegation there to represent the Biden administration at the Crimea Platform Summit and commemorate Ukraine’s 30th anniversary of independence from the former Soviet Union.
Today Biden and Zelensky will meet for an expanded bilateral meeting with senior advisers before transitioning to a one-on-one, senior administration officials said.