Biden agrees to meet Zelenskiy, but after the Putin summit

Biden agrees to meet Zelenskiy, but after the Putin summit
US President Joe Biden has invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to meet at the White House in July, but the US position on Ukraine has weakened dramatically in recent months
By Ben Aris in Berlin June 8, 2021

US President Joe Biden has invited Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to meet at the White House in July, during a phone conversation between the two presidents on June 7. 

“Thank you @POTUS @JoeBiden for inviting me to visit the @WhiteHouse in July during our phone conversation. I look forward to this meeting to discuss ways to expand strategic co-operation between Ukraine and #USA,” Zelenskiy said in a tweet. 

The administrations of Biden and Zelenskiy haven’t yet published their readouts of the call.

Zelenskiy had been pushing for a meeting with Biden before his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which will happen on June 16 in Geneva, and Biden’s position on Ukraine has noticeably weakened in recent months. 

Biden withdraw his threat of harsh sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to try to block its completion in a sop thrown to Berlin, as the White House admitted that improving its relations with Germany was more important than its commitment to supporting Ukraine. 

It was also reported that Biden was considering meeting with Zelenskiy before Putin until a scandal erupted that saw the highly respected Andriy Kobolev, CEO of Naftogaz, sacked in a move that was widely criticised as corporate governance abuse.  

Biden is about to make his first visit abroad as president and will travel to the UK for the G7 and NATO summits before meeting Putin in Switzerland. 

Talks with Zelenskiy will focus on the American position on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Russian aggression on Ukraine’s border, and the possible strengthening of Ukraine’s defences along the Sea of Azov, axios.com reports.

In an hour-long interview with Axios on June 4, Zelenskiy stated that he hoped for a last-minute Michael Jordan-esque leap from Biden that would stop the Nord Stream construction. Zelenskiy also reiterated the Ukrainian government’s stance that the pipeline is a security threat to Ukraine. He also claimed that he understood the American need for good relations with Germany, but asked: "How many Ukrainian lives does the relationship between the United States and Germany cost?”  

Zelenskiy has been pushing a much tougher line with his western allies in recent months and calling them to account, to commit to their relationship with Ukraine and set a timetable for NATO and EU accession. “We can[not] sit in the waiting room forever,” the president poignantly said last month.  

“While Zelenskiy states that he understands the importance of US-German relations to the Americans, he still has not shown publicly that he understands the Biden administration’s expectations regarding governance and corruption,” James Hydzik of Concorde Capital said in a note. “The eventual compromise regarding Naftogaz and how it is run, with a promise of no changes for the next year in return for the board remaining, did nothing to repair relations at the inter-governmental level. The likelihood of Biden suddenly changing course on the sanctions is low. Ukraine’s officials communicating with the American government need to keep up the pressure regarding the pipeline, but without pushing too hard and further damaging relations.”  

Ukraine has been banking on Biden’s strong support in their face-off with Russia, but as the Biden administration starts to unfold, Bankova has been disappointed as Ukraine has been demoted and its interests made subordinate to US relations with Germany and Russia. 

Zelenskiy says he learned through the press not any calls from the State Department that President Biden had decided to stop trying to block a Russian pipeline that Ukraine sees as a dire national security threat.

In an hour-long interview with Axios, the embattled leader spoke of his frustration and disappointment with the White House; Putin's psychological pressure campaign; and his hope that Biden, whom he compares to basketball great Michael Jordan, can still outmanoeuvre Russia and rescue Ukraine.

Putin has pressed home his advantage, as even the fact of the upcoming Biden summit is already a big diplomatic win for the Kremlin. At SPIEF last weekend Putin announced that Nord Stream 2 was complete and ready to take on gas. He also said that Ukraine needed to show Russia some “good will” if it wanted to continue to be used as a transit route to Gazprom’s European customers. 

Zelenskiy was clearly dismayed by Biden’s decision not to block the completion of the pipeline. 

"This is a weapon, a real weapon ... in the hands of the Russian Federation," he said. "It is not very understandable ... that the bullets to this weapon can possibly be provided by such a great country as the United States,” Zelenskiy said in the interview. 

     

 

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