Wednesday’s meeting, some two years after both Zelensky and Biden were ensnared in that historic first impeachment, marked an opportunity for the Eastern European leader to set a new tone with a new administration in person.
In the Oval Office, Zelensky made big requests for the Biden administration in front of the press, including getting the US’ input on Ukraine’s chances of joining NATO, establishing the potential US role in reaching a settlement in the Donbas region of Ukraine, and requesting American assistance in freeing hundreds of individuals imprisoned in Donbas.
“I have a very big agenda for our relations, maybe not for this meeting, which is too short to answer all the questions,” Zelensky said, adding that Ukrainian security issues would be a priority for the meeting.
Questions about the US’ long-term foreign policy approach remain in the air.
Trump challenged America’s long-standing diplomatic role in the world, building a nationalist platform he assured would put “America first” and often siding with Russia despite its escalating aggressions with Ukraine in their ongoing dispute over Crimea. And though Biden has asserted that American diplomacy is back, even allies are wondering how long it’ll last — especially in the wake of the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Biden stated that “the United States remains firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression, and our support for Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.” He also said the US and Ukraine “have a similar value system.”
Biden indicated that the US will “continue to support Ukraine as it advances its democratic reforms agenda and movement toward being completely integrated in Europe.”
Details of Wednesday’s visit
Biden senior administration officials said the White House meeting would be designed to demonstrate the US’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, saying on a call with reporters on Monday that “in the 30 years since Ukraine achieved independence, our strategic partnership has never been stronger than it is now.”
In the Oval Office, Biden formally announced $60 million in new security assistance, which officials on the call said would include new Javelin anti-armor missiles. Officials said he’s expected to get an update on the security situation in the region amid continued acts of Russian aggression. He’ll also press Zelensky to make reforms in his country targeting corruption.
A source at a US-based firm that engages closely with the Ukrainian government indicated that NATO membership and the defense agreement were top of mind.
The US will also expand its Covid-19 assistance to Ukraine, providing “cold chain storage support and an additional $12.8 million in Covid-related assistance,” according to the administration official. The US has already donated nearly 2.2 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to the country.
The US government will provide an additional $45 million in humanitarian assistance to help address Ukrainians impacted by the crisis with Russia, the official said.
Zelensky’s visit to the White House comes after earlier meetings in Washington.
A long-awaited meeting
During his time with Putin in Geneva, Biden indicated that Ukraine would be top of mind during the summit and said later that he had “communicated the United States’ unwavering commitment to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
The meeting between Zelensky and Biden was originally scheduled to occur on Tuesday, but was moved as it became clear that August 31 would be consumed with the final day of the war in Afghanistan.
The source at the US-based firm said there had been some unhappiness in Kiev about the shifting calendar for the visit, which had originally been eyed for late July, as well as some concern about the strength of US support for Ukraine in light of its moves on Nord Stream 2 and Biden meeting with Putin prior to meeting with Zelensky.
“Bringing two heads of state together is a complicated and fast-moving process,” a Biden official said on Monday’s call. “We want this meeting to receive the attention that it deserves. There is a wide range of issues for the two sides to discuss, and we’re really looking forward to having the time and space to do that on Wednesday.”
CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed to this report.