22nd Sep 2021

Russia-Ukraine war has 'global' importance, Biden says

  • Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky (l) and US president Joe Biden on Wednesday (Photo:
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US president Joe Biden has pledged to help Ukraine fight "Russian aggression", including with new arms supplies and potential sanctions against Nord Stream 2.

"The United States remains firmly committed to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression," Biden told press at his first summit with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in Washington.

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"Today, we're going to discuss how the US can continue to support Ukraine as it advances its democratic reform agenda," he added.

"At a difficult time for the world and the United States ... still you found time for us and we're thankful for this indeed," Zelensky noted, alluding to Biden's recent preoccupation with the US pull-out from Afghanistan.

"I feel that the president [Biden] personally, and not only feel - I heard this - the president personally supports Ukraine regarding the granting of Nato membership," he added.

"We are very much concerned, as you are, with the commissioning of - possible commissioning of - Nord Stream 2," he also said, referring to a Russian-German gas pipeline, which poses a risk to Ukraine by making its EU gas-transit system obsolete.

The two sides issued a joint communiqué which spoke of the wider geopolitical importance of Russia's war on Ukraine in the past seven years since its pro-Western revolution in 2014.

"Ukraine's success is central to the global struggle between democracy and autocracy," it said.

"In the 21st century, nations cannot be allowed to redraw borders by force. Russia violated this ground rule in Ukraine. Sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances," it added.

The statement said the US would ship a further $60m (€51m) of military supplies to Ukraine, including "additional Javelin anti-armour systems" - high-tech anti-tank weapons, which Ukrainian soldiers say have already helped keep Russian tanks off the battlefield in Ukraine's eastern Donbas region.

"The United States and Ukraine continue to oppose Nord Stream 2, which we view as a threat to European energy security," the communiqué also said.

And it pledged to continue "using measures envisaged in legislation" to "prevent the Kremlin's use of energy as a geopolitical weapon", alluding to potential sanctions that would shut down the pipeline if Russia used it to cut off Ukraine's gas flows for political reasons.

But there is little prospect of Ukraine joining Nato in the near future despite the warm words, due to the US and other Nato powers' insistence that Zelensky must first root out corruption in its political system, in a position also highlighted on Wednesday.

"With US support, Ukraine is pursuing a reform agenda to transform the country in line with European and Euro-Atlantic principles and practices," the statement said, adding a list of concerns on judicial reform and protection of minorities, among other issues.

"There are steps that Ukraine needs to take. They're very familiar with these," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki also said.

The White House added, in a note to Congress on arms supplies, that Ukraine needed more weapons due to a "major increase in Russian military activity along its [Ukraine's] border" in recent times.

And it blamed Russia for a spike in ceasefire violations.

There were 144 of these, including 63 explosions and small-arms fire, in the past week alone, according to an international monitoring mission by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, an intergovernmental body based in Vienna.

Meanwhile, the US meeting came after Germany, France, and Italy recently snubbed a summit in Ukraine by declining to send their foreign ministers at the last minute, in what Kyiv feared was the EU bowing to Russian pressure.

But it was also useful for Biden in terms of repairing America's image on the world stage after the Taliban took back Afghanistan in a glaring defeat for US foreign policy, analysts said.

"Biden will welcome this meeting in the sense of not just supporting Ukraine, but returning to business as usual. The last couple of weeks have been very difficult for the administration because of the chaos in Kabul, and a meeting with the Ukrainian president gives Biden the opportunity to change the conversation," Charles Kupchan, a former US official who now works for the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank in New York, told the Washington Examiner newspaper.

"There is no consensus within either Nato or the European Union about potential Ukrainian membership," Kupchan added.

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