The Ukrainian leader who found himself ensnarled in Donald Trump’s first impeachment now finds a President who has assiduously fought for his country’s increased military aid and backing for NATO membership.
The White House says the meeting on Wednesday between President Joe Biden and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is aimed at showing support for Ukraine’s sovereignty amidst Russia’s seizure of Crimea and backing of armed separatists in the country’s east.
Biden also intends to encourage Zelenskyy’s efforts to tackle graft and reassure him that the US will help protect Ukraine’s energy security.
In advance of the sit-down, the Biden administration said it was committing up to $60 million in new military aid to Ukraine.
Zelenskyy is 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.
The White House meeting, originally scheduled for Monday, was pushed back two days since Biden and his national security team were consumed by the American military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Zelenskyy, a television actor new to politics, took office in May 2019 anxious to firm up his country’s relationship with the United States. Instead, he was drawn into the machinations in which Trump himself called him in July 2019 asking for “a favour” and asked Zelenskyy to open an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
The allegations that Trump withheld congressionally approved military aid while seeking Ukraine’s help for his reelection campaign formed the basis of the House Democrats’ impeachment case against him. Trump was ultimately acquitted by the Senate, and the Oval Office meeting with Zelenskyy never happened.
With Biden, Zelenskyy now has a U.S. president with a long history of involvement in Ukraine, who has supported its determination to break free from Russia, shore up its young democracy and be more fully welcomed into the Western club.
As vice president, Biden was the Obama administration’s point person on Ukraine and pushed for tougher action against corruption. He once boasted of his success in getting Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor, who had blocked some corruption investigations. Trump later twisted this by insisting, wrongly, that Biden had done so to protect his son and the energy company on whose board he served.
Zelenskyy also is looking for new economic and military assistance as Ukraine faces a hostile Russia on its eastern border. And he has said he wants a clear statement from Biden on whether he supports eventual NATO membership for Ukraine. NATO members are wary however.
On Nord Stream 2, Zelenskyy is likely to stress that the pipeline not only would give Russia too much power over energy supplies but could potentially deprive Ukraine of the billions of dollars in transit fees.
While the U.S. opposes the new pipeline, Biden agreed not to penalize the German company overseeing the project.
Russian President Vladimir Putin published a lengthy essay in July defending his statement that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people” saying, “I am convinced that the true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia,” Putin concluded.