Biden holds first face-to-face meeting with Ukrainian ministers since Russian invasion

The meeting took place at the Marriott Hotel in the city centre of Warsaw. PHOTO: AFP

WARSAW (AFP) - Mr Joe Biden met two Ukrainian ministers in Warsaw on Saturday (March 26) in the first face-to-face talks between the United States President and top Kyiv officials since Russia's invasion began.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov made a rare trip out of Ukraine, in a possible sign of growing confidence in the fightback against Russian forces.

The meeting took place at the Marriott Hotel in the city centre - opposite a Warsaw train station where there has been a constant flow of Ukrainian refugees since the conflict started.

Mr Biden could be seen seated at a long white table between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, facing Mr Kuleba and Mr Reznikov, an AFP reporter said.

There were Ukrainian and US flags in the background.

The officials discussed “the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

Mr Blinken and Mr Austin “pledged continued support to meet Ukraine’s humanitarian, security, and economic needs”, he added.

Mr Biden last met Mr Kuleba in Washington on Feb 22 - two days before Russia began its assault.

Since then, Mr Kuleba also met Mr Blinken in Poland next to the border with Ukraine on March 5.

Mr Biden is on the second and final day of a visit to Poland after he met EU and Nato leaders in Brussels earlier in the week.

Biden also met Saturday with Polish President Andrzej Duda, and with Ukrainian refugees at a processing centre in Warsaw when he called Russian President Vladimir Putin who ordered the attack on Ukraine “a butcher”.

Asked what he thought of Putin after meeting refugees, Biden said: “He’s a butcher.”

A Kremlin spokesman said later that the comments narrow the prospects for mending ties between Russia and the US, TASS news agency said.

More than 10 million people in Ukraine have been forced from their homes and more than 3.4 million have fled the country, including more than 2 million who have arrived in Poland.

Biden told Duda that the US regards its Nato obligation to defend Poland in the event of attack as a “sacred commitment”.

Duda said on Saturday that during his meeting with Biden in Warsaw he had asked about the possibility of speeding up military purchases.

Duda said he was referring to purchases of Patriot missile systems, High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, F-35 aircraft and Abrams tanks.

Mr Biden in his meeting with the Ukrainian ministers praised the Ukrainians for showing "backbone" against the Russian invasion and compared their resistance to the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in China in 1989.

"This is Tiananmen Square squared," he said.

He also referred to Russian President Vladimir Putin as "a man who, quite frankly, I think is a war criminal".

"And I think we'll meet the legal definition of that as well," he said.

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Mr Biden said he would have liked to see the devastation caused by the conflict "first-hand".

"They won't let me, understandably I guess, cross the border," he said.

Speaking to the troops, he said: "You're in the midst of a fight between democracies and autocrats. What you're doing is consequential, really consequential."

Later on Saturday, he is due to meet Polish leaders, visit a reception centre for refugees and give a major speech on the conflict.

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