Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made his first visit to the White House on Wednesday, during a meeting Kiev hopes it will strengthen security ties between the two countries, Ukraine’s position to join NATO and provide a platform to vote dissatisfaction over the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
The visit, for both Zelenskyy and US President Joe Biden, is also likely to serve as a taster after the newly elected Ukrainian president introduced him in a lead role in the investigation into the 2019 accusation of former US President Donald Trump.
Trump is accused of conditioning his military aid to Ukraine – and a visit to the White House – in exchange for Zelenskyy digging dirty about the role of Biden’s son at Ukrainian energy firm Burisma. The investigation showed that Zelenskyy, a former comedian eager to show foreign policy, opposed it.
“This visit is important for Zelenskyy because Trump has brought himself into the domestic political debate, there were concerns that there may be tensions between the Ukrainian leader and the Biden administration,” said Olexiy Haran, professor of comparative politics at the University of Kyiv Mohyla, said. Academy, told Al Jazeera.
“But that did not happen because, firstly, he resisted Trump’s pressure, and secondly, Biden and his people in the State Department understand the importance of Ukraine,” he said.
The visit comes as the Ukrainian population increasingly turned against Russia – and towards European integration – following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the Biden administration wanted to strengthen transatlantic ties, especially against Russia.
The meeting comes on Wednesday after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kyiv in May, shortly after Biden promised “unwavering support” to Ukraine amid Russian troops along the eastern Donbas area.
While Zelenskyy is likely to reach agreements on security, space exploration and support for Ukraine in the light of the Nord Stream 2 project, the visit alone will ‘increase Zelensky’s profile in his country’, Haran added.
Security assistance ‘absolutely essential’
On Tuesday, Zelensky and his delegation would meet with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Hours earlier, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleb told The Associated Press that he hoped the US trip would take the strategic partnership between Ukraine and the United States to the next level. be absolutely decisive and absolutely central in all discussions. ”
Despite a 2015 peace deal mediated by France and Germany, there were frequent skirmishes between Ukrainian and Russian forces along the border. More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting since 2014.
Meanwhile, Yuriy Vitrenko, head of Ukraine’s state-owned Naftogaz oil and gas company, told the Associated Press that Zelenskyy would urge the US to impose tougher sanctions on companies supporting the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which runs from Russia to Germany. .
The US opposed the pipeline, which critics say would increase the Kremlin’s leverage over Europe, while depriving Ukraine of lucrative throughput, before changing its position in July.
While Germany tried to allay Kiev’s concerns, Ukrainian officials said they needed more concrete steps.
“We will be very, very hard because it is a matter of national security for Ukraine, for the region, and we also believe for the USA,” Vitrenko said.
Human rights, corruption and NATO membership
The Biden administration is expected to continue to pressure Ukraine to address endemic corruption that has plagued the government for a long time.
Last week, Human Rights Watch called on the US to link aid to human rights in Ukraine, while senior researcher Yulia Gorbunova called for greater reforms of Ukraine’s Security Services, accused of repeated abuses. Zelenskyy signing legislation brings Ukraine’s legal framework into line with international standards on war crimes and crimes against humanity, urging Ukrainian authorities not to “ignore or minimize the threat of violence by far-right nationalist groups” .
The White House said the meeting would strengthen the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in light of Russia’s continued aggression in the Donbas and Crimea, our close cooperation on energy security and our support for President Zelensky’s attempts to tackle corruption. and implement a reform agenda based on our shared democratic values ”.
Addressing corruption has long been a condition put forward by the US and European powers for Ukraine to move towards further integration with Europe, including obtaining long-term admission to NATO.
At a NATO summit in June, Zelenskyy called on Biden to give a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to Kiev’s request for a membership action plan – an official way to enter into the alliance .
Biden replied that it was not yet clear whether Ukraine had made enough progress in addressing corruption or meeting other criteria.
Yet many observers have noted that corruption is not the only source of concern for NATO; members are reluctant to put Ukraine on the path to joining while still engaged in a heated conflict with Russia over Crimea and on the eastern border.
“It may seem unfair in Kiev,” Steven Pfifer, senior co-director of Brookings Institution, wrote last week, “but that’s the reality.”