Ukrainian President Zelenskiy Visiting White House for Talks on Security, Energy

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Ukrainian President Zelenskiy Visiting White House for Talks on Security, Energy

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visits the White House for talks Wednesday with U.S. President Joe Biden, a trip that has been in the works for two years and delayed one day due to consultations about events in Afghanistan.  Senior U.S. administration officials said the message behind the visit is “the United States’ commitment to Ukraine sovereignty, territorial integrity, and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.”   The officials told reporters the agenda would include security issues, energy and climate policy and anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine. The officials also said the two sides would be announcing several agreements, including security assistance for Ukraine, humanitarian aid for those “impacted by the crisis with Russia in the east” and coronavirus aid. During the administration of former President Donald Trump, surrogates for Trump pressed Ukraine to open an investigation into activities involving the son of then-candidate Biden. The incidents led to President Trump’s first impeachment by the House of Representatives, and the political furor sidelined relations with Kyiv.  Analysts say there are both challenges and opportunities in the meeting between Biden and Zelenskiy in Washington. Ukraine Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova expressed optimism about the visit, saying it sends an important message about the U.S.-Ukraine relationship.Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Defense Minister Andrii Tarant are welcomed at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, Aug. 31, 2021.“After (German) Chancellor (Angela) Merkel, President Zelenskiy is the second leader the U.S. is inviting to the White House with a visit to discuss some strategic issues,” Markarova told VOA. “So, I believe it shows the level of attention, focus and importance of our bilateral relations for both Ukraine and the United States.”    American experts agree that the Biden-Zelenskiy meeting is an opportunity to strengthen Ukraine-U.S. relations. Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, says the outcome of the meeting will depend to a great extent on Zelenskiy. “It seems to me, though, that part of the ability to make this a successful meeting will depend on what President Zelenskiy asks for,” Pifer told VOA. “He should moderate some of his requests because if he asks too much, he may be disappointed. You do not want to ask the question unless you are sure the answer is going to be ‘yes.’”   Among the more sensitive subjects are NATO membership and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Europe, which Ukraine opposes. Experts say it is important that Zelenskiy remain realistic and balanced when discussing these issues. “He should not expect any commitment from the United States regarding Ukraine and NATO. He should also not expect any change in the Biden position on Nord Stream 2,” said John Herbst, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and the director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. “Zelenskiy has to make clear that he still opposes that decision and would like to see a change without antagonizing the president. So, he can do that, I think, by mentioning it, but not in a confrontational way in their White House meeting.” Daria Kalenyuk, the executive director of the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Center, says Zelenskiy should remain assertive when discussing the Nord Stream 2 issue. She said White House’s decision to waive sanctions on Nord Stream 2 contradicts Biden’s statements on fighting corruption abroad. “The right thing would be to talk, not only about corruption in Ukraine, but also about geopolitical corruption and strategic corruption. We can and should ask why Nord Stream 2 is being finished despite it being the symbol of strategic corruption,” Kalenyuk said. Regarding security cooperation, the Biden administration has decided to support providing additional military aid to Ukraine in case of a possible escalation of its longstanding conflict with Russia in eastern Ukraine. In addition, Biden did signal his intention to provide Ukraine with $60 million more in U.S. military equipment. “I would think that additional American military assistance would be good,” Pifer said. “First of all, because it would help improve Ukrainians’ defense capabilities. That’s the practical step. But second of all, it would be a way to send a strong message of American support for Ukraine.” Ambassador Herbst said Biden should also be interested in supporting Ukraine through strong rhetoric. “He needs to demonstrate in very clear ways that the United States has Ukraine’s back — is supporting Ukraine — as Moscow continues this war. And Biden has even more reasons now to do it, after his administration’s disastrous handling of the pullout from Afghanistan. He needs to show that, in fact, he is a strong international player.” At the same time, the White House has repeatedly emphasized that it expects Ukraine to deliver tangible results in the country’s fight against corruption. Pifer said the biggest thing Zelenskiy can bring is a credible, compelling message of Kyiv’s commitment to reform.  “And that means a more open and competitive economy. It means rule of law, including reforming the judicial sector,” Pifer said. “It means reducing the outsize political and economic influence of the oligarchs. It means combating corruption.”  Ambassador Markarova is convinced the two presidents will see eye to eye, even on the more complex issues. “We know that both Ukraine and the U.S. are strategic partners and friends. So, the two leaders will discuss all the issues on the agenda like partners — sincerely and earnestly. And they will find solutions that are acceptable for both sides,” she said. Myroslava Gongadze contributed to this report. 

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