Biden and Zelensky reaffirm alliance as Ukraine's war with Russia enters 7th month

US President Joe Biden's call with Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky came as Ukraine's forces continue to battle Russian forces in the south and east of the country. PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, AFP

WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - President Joe Biden talked with President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday (Aug 25), White House officials said, reaffirming US support for Ukraine as Russia's invasion stretches into its seventh month.

In a statement after the call, the officials said that both leaders expressed concern about ongoing fighting around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power complex in Ukraine, which Russian forces seized several months ago.

Shelling at the plant damaged power lines on Thursday, briefly cutting it off from Ukraine's grid and causing lasting outages in some areas.

The leaders called for Russia to return full control of the complex to Ukraine and for inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, to access to the plant.

IAEA director Rafael Grassi intends to lead the inspection team himself, and said on Thursday that necessary agreement from Ukraine and Russia could come within days.

Mr Biden's call with Mr Zelensky came as Ukraine's forces continue to battle Russians in the eastern and southern parts of the country.

On Wednesday, as the war ended its sixth month on Ukraine's Independence Day, Mr Biden announced that the United States would deliver nearly US$3 billion (S$4.17 billion) worth of arms and equipment to Ukraine, its largest single package of military aid during the war.

Since Russia invaded Feb 24, the US has given Ukraine more than US$13 billion in security assistance.

Mr Biden "congratulated Ukraine on its Independence Day and expressed his admiration for the people of Ukraine, who have inspired the world as they defended their country's sovereignty over the past six months", the White House statement said.

Asked by reporters whether Mr Biden retained full confidence in Mr Zelensky, Ms Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said the administration supported "Zelensky, the president, and his fight for freedom".

Mr Zelensky, who has repeatedly swung from chiding Western allies for delivering aid too slowly to expressing his deep appreciation, said on Twitter that he had "a great conversation" with Mr Biden and thanked him for "the unwavering US support for Ukrainian people".

He said: "We discussed Ukraine's further steps on our path to the victory over the aggressor and importance of holding Russia accountable for war crimes."

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