President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for the first time as president Friday, amid escalating tensions with Russia.
‘President Biden affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea,’ the White House’s readout said.
Politico first reported the leaders would talk Friday morning, after key U.S. officials were in touch with their Ukrainian counterparts through the week, as videos have shown Russia sending trains filled with tanks and military vehicles into Crimea and toward Donbass, Ukraine’s easternmost region that borders Russia.
Ukrainian officials had been asking Washington for weeks for there to be a call between Biden and Zelensky, but the U.S. president has been keeping his Ukrainian counterpart at arm’s length as he pushes for more reforms in the country, Politico said.
The readout said that Biden committed to revitalizing the ‘strategic partnership’ between the U.S. and Ukraine ‘in support of President [Zelensky’s] plan to tackle corruption and implement a reform agenda based on our shared democratic values that delivers justice, security, and prosperity to the people of Ukraine.’
Former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment was over a call he made to Zelensky in July 2019 – pressuring him to announce an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden, as the now-president looked to be a formidable political rival.
Russia has used trains to move massive military vehicles toward Crimea and in Ukraine’s easternmost region, Donbas, which the Pentagon now believes was a military training exercise, but Ukraine’s president viewed as a ‘threat’
A column of tanks and trucks at the roadside as they make their way to the conflict zone
Tanks are transported by freight train at a station headed towards the separatist region on the border with Ukraine
The Kremlin said Thursday Ukraine and the West should not ‘worry’ about Russian troop movements on the Ukrainian border (pictured, a tank of pro-Russian militants of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic)
WHITE HOUSE READOUT OF BIDEN’S CALL WITH ZELENSKY
President Joseph R. Biden spoke today to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine. President Biden affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea. He emphasized his administration’s commitment to revitalize our strategic partnership in support of President Zelenskyy’s plan to tackle corruption and implement a reform agenda based on our shared democratic values that delivers justice, security, and prosperity to the people of Ukraine. The leaders agreed these reforms are central to Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations. They also discussed the importance of close United States-Ukraine cooperation to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen democracy in the region.
Hunter Biden had served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company.
Trump was pushing that Hunter Biden was enriching himself on his family name.
The ex-president alleged that Vice President Biden withheld loan guarantees to pressure Ukraine to fire prosecutor Viktor Shokin to prevent an investigation into Burisma and protect Hunter and his business dealings.
Biden did pressure Ukraine to fire Shokin, but because he wasn’t doing enough to root out corruption – the view of the United States government, the European Union, the World Bank and then International Monetary Fund.
Trump called Zelensky and demanded an investigation in exchange for the $400 million in military aid that Congress had earmarked for Ukraine.
Since taking office, Biden has had his national security team handling relations with Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday reaffirming the United States’ ‘unwavering support’ for Kiev in the face of ‘Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbass and Crimea,’ reported CNN.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan held a similar call with his Ukrainian counterpart on Monday.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley spoke to Ukraine’s top general and also Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the head of Russia’s general staff.
Details about Milley’s call with Gerasimov haven’t been made public.
The Kremlin said on Thursday the West should not ‘worry’ about Russian troop movements on the Ukrainian border, but there are concerns the situation could develop into another conflict.
CNN reported that the Pentagon has become worried about an escalation as military intelligence reports said around 4,000 heavily armed Russian forces had been seen moving in Crimea.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken reaffirmed the United States’ ‘unwavering support’ for Ukraine during a call Wednesday
‘It was not totally clear what they were up to,’ an official told the network, adding that the US now believes it may have been part of a Russian military exercise.
Zelensky said Thursday that he believe the moves represented a threat.
‘Playing with muscles in the form of military exercises and possible provocations along the border is a traditional Russian affair,’ Zelensky said, according to Reuters. ‘In this way, [Russia] seeks to create an atmosphere of threat and, at the same time, of pressure during the ceasefire negotiations and for peace as our value.’
The US agreed with Ukraine’s assessment that two incidents involving mortar and machine gun fire that led to the death of four Ukrainian soldiers last Friday represented a violation of a ceasefire agreement.
Russia blamed the renewed fighting on Ukraine.
On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not confirm the troop buildup on the border, saying Moscow was at liberty to move troops across its territory.
‘The Russian Federation moves its armed forces within its territory at its discretion,’ Peskov said. ‘It should not worry anyone and does not pose a threat to anyone.’
‘As for the participation of Russian troops in the armed conflict on the territory of Ukraine, Russian troops have never taken part in it,’ he added. ‘And [they] are not doing it now.’
President Joe Biden has taken a tougher approach to Russian than former President Donald Trump, labeling Russian President Vladimir Putin a ‘killer’ and slapping sanctions on Russian officials and entities over the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny.
More santions are expected over election interference and the SolarWinds cyberattack, CNN said.
Russia’s large military exercise on Ukraine’s border could be a message to Biden, showing the country’s military dominance in the region, CNN’s Pentagon source said.
This week, Moscow and Kiev blamed each other for a rise in violence between government forces and Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine (pictured, volunteers take an oath of allegiance before they leave for Donbas to fight pro-Russian separatists)