President Joe Biden met with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, giving Zelensky a long-awaited opportunity to learn more about the U.S. posture toward his country’s tension with Russia.
Zelensky’s first visit to Washington also marked Biden’s first meeting with a foreign leader since the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan. His requests to meet with the American president date back to the Trump administration in 2019.
The Biden White House has been hoping for a visit that demonstrates the country’s resolve to support an ally against aggression from Russia. Biden personally was in desperate need of a favorable foreign relations event after the disaster that is still unfolding in Afghanistan.
Biden had some momentum heading into the meeting from a recently approved $60 million military assistance aid package directed to Ukraine. However, while Biden has been supported financially as Russia builds up its military presence on the Ukrainian border, his decision to waive sanctions against Russia related to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has complicated relations with Zelensky and Ukraine.
Biden was expected to downplay any controversy over the pipeline, which Zelensky stridently opposes. When Biden elected not to sanction Russia over the pipeline earlier this year, it caused difficult media coverage and public criticism by Republican lawmakers.
Zelensky has referred to America’s refusal to block the pipeline between Russia and Germany as a “grave political error.” He has called the project a potent political weapon for Russia in dealing with NATO member nations. Meanwhile, Russia is actively supporting an eastern Ukraine insurgency seeking separation.
A joint statement was released after Wednesday’s meeting that said the U.S. and Ukraine continue to oppose Nord Stream 2, which is seen as a threat to energy security in Europe.
The meeting signaled the beginning phase of difficulties Biden would likely face following the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan with other foreign allies and partners. Vague reassurances in the light of the abandonment of thousands of Afghans who assisted America’s war effort for many years can weaken strategic alliances with friends and send unwanted signals to enemies.