Biden invites Ukraine's president to White House

Mr Volodymyr Zelensky accepted the invitation.
Mr Volodymyr Zelensky accepted the invitation.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Joe Biden reaffirmed US support for Ukraine's territorial integrity on Monday (June 7) after Russian troop movements on its border, and invited President Volodymyr Zelensky to the White House.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that Mr Biden talked by phone with Mr Zelensky, telling him "he will stand up firmly for Ukraine's sovereignty" and "looks forward to welcoming him to the White House this summer".

The invitation to visit in July marked a show of support for Ukraine ahead of Mr Biden's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva next week.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the leaders had discussed the countries' "shared democratic values and Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspirations".

She said Mr Biden "affirmed the United States' unwavering commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of ongoing Russian aggression in Donbass and Crimea".

Mr Zelensky accepted the invitation. He said that in their phone call, Mr Biden had reaffirmed support for providing a pathway for Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato), and Mr Zelensky "also expressed gratitude" for a US plan to supply 900,000 Covid-19 vaccine doses to Ukraine.

The Biden administration has expressed strong support for Kiev as it faces Russia-allied separatists and saw a strong buildup in April of Russian troops along its eastern border and in Crimea, the Ukraine territory seized seven years ago by Moscow.

The movement of heavy armour and an estimated 100,000 troops or more to Ukraine's border sent alerts through Nato over concerns that Russia might be preparing to invade Ukraine under the guise of conducting military exercises.

Moscow said it was not threatening the country and has since pulled back some of the troops.

In March, the Biden administration signalled its support by approving US$125 million (S$165 million) in military aid to Ukraine, with another US$150 million on hold until Kiev can demonstrate progress on military reforms.

Ukraine though remains concerned about the strength of US support.

It has expressed concern over the timing of the Biden-Putin meeting, as well as Washington's decision to drop sanctions aimed at blocking completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline set to deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany, bypassing Ukraine.

"Nord Stream 2 is not an economic project. It poses a serious threat and is a security challenge," the Zelensky statement said.

Mr Biden, meanwhile, faces the likelihood of stepped-up political attacks from the right over meeting Mr Zelensky, after Ukraine figured deeply in his election fight last year against former president Donald Trump.

Mr Trump was impeached after he pressured Mr Zelensky, using aid as leverage, to hand over political dirt on Mr Biden, who as vice-president several years earlier had dealings with the country.

Without evidence, Republicans still maintain that Mr Biden is protecting himself and his son Hunter Biden over allegedly shady business deals done with Ukrainians.

While Mr Biden was vice-president, Mr Hunter Biden was on the board of one of the country's largest energy firms, with the company apparently having hoped to exploit him for his political connections.