WASHINGTON – The White House said Wednesday that it has invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to meet with President Joe Biden next month, but that the visit will take place later than Kiev expected, reinforcing a belief in Ukraine that the previous The country under pressure by the US president is also getting less compared to the new-favored treatment.
Zelensky publicly appealed for a personal meeting with Biden ahead of Biden’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva in June. Instead, Zelensky got a call with Biden and later tweeted that he had been invited to visit the White House in July.
But there was no July meeting in the Oval Office and the session is now set for August 30, the White House announced. Meanwhile, administration officials denied allegations that they warned Ukraine against public criticism of Biden over its handling of a controversial Russian gas pipeline or postponed any meetings between leaders.
Ukraine was high expectations Biden for the presidency after he struggled with demands from former President Donald Trump, who asked Zelensky’s government to dig up dirt on the Biden family to help win re-election. The episode led to the first impeachment of Trump, who was acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate in February 2020, and dragged Ukraine into America’s bitter partisan politics.
But Biden stunned Ukraine this May when his administration decided to waive sanctions against the company and CEO overseeing the construction of a Russian gas pipeline in Europe, a project strongly favored by Ukraine and its Eastern European neighbors. was opposed.
Despite repeated objections from Ukraine as well as a bipartisan group of lawmakers, Biden held off on moving forward with sanctions designed to prevent the completion of the project, known as Nord Stream 2. is. The administration said that this move will give time to work. A settlement agreement with Germany, which has supported the pipeline.
On Wednesday, the Biden administration and Germany announced a deal aimed at softening the blow of a pipeline that bypasses Ukraine, but the agreement immediately drew sharp criticism in Kiev and elsewhere.
Opponents of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, including Ukraine and Poland, criticized the deal on Wednesday, saying it would leave Kiev vulnerable to Russian coercion.
In a joint statement, Ukraine and Poland said the deal had “greatly deepened” the “crisis”.
“Unfortunately, the proposals so far to cover the resulting security deficit cannot be considered sufficient to effectively limit the threats posed by NS2 (Nord Stream 2),” the statement said. “We call on the United States and Germany to adequately address the security crisis in our region, the only advantage of which is Russia.”
Biden administration officials defended the agreement and their vision for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, denying allegations they tried to pressure Kiev to avoid publicly criticizing the deal or lobbying against it in Congress. of.
US officials have said they want to avoid disrupting ties with Germany, a key ally that has backed the pipeline.
Bypassing Ukraine, the pipeline would deprive Kiev of attractive transit fees for gas transported on its territory.
The Biden administration said on Wednesday that the deal with Germany would help reduce the Nord Stream pipeline’s impact on Ukraine and would include investments in “green energy” in Ukraine.
John Herbst, the former US ambassador to Ukraine, said that Kiev felt a “sense of betrayal” by President Biden over his behavior, especially after what happened during former President Trump’s tenure.
“This is a very weak diplomatic performance by the Biden administration,” said Herbst, a fellow at the Atlantic Council. “In five months of talks (with Germany), they got nothing.”
The White House said Biden looked forward to welcoming Zelensky to Washington in August, and that “the visit will reaffirm the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in eastern Ukraine.” “, as well as on collaboration. Support for “energy security” and Zelensky’s “efforts to combat corruption.”
According to Herbst and two congressional aides with direct knowledge of the matter, administration officials had warned Ukraine in recent days not to break the US-German agreement publicly and against the agreement in meetings with members of Congress. Avoid arguing.
“They were told to shut up and swallow it,” Herbst said.
Zelensky’s visit in August will take place at a time when Congress will not be in session.
Officials strongly denied that the meeting was initially planned earlier in the summer or was delayed because of friction between the two governments over the pipeline.
Foreign Minister for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said the administration never asked Ukraine to keep quiet on Nord Stream 2.
“I want to reiterate that here we have taken zero action to silence Ukraine. Ukraine is a sovereign nation and will speak for itself,” Nuland said during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. During the Obama administration, Nuland was a senior diplomat overseeing Ukraine policy following Russia’s incursion into the country’s Crimean peninsula.
Under the US agreement with Germany, Nuland said Berlin was committed to action if Russia “tried to use energy as a weapon or to take further offensive action against Ukraine.”
“Germany will take action at the national level, and press for effective measures, including sanctions at the European level, to limit Russian export capabilities to Europe in the energy sector,” Nuland said.
Nuland said the US and Germany would support the extension of the current $3 billion annual gas transit agreement between Russia and Ukraine beyond 2024. Washington will “look for leverage and create and use pressure to seek an additional 10 years,” she said.
But it was unclear how the Biden administration and Germany could persuade Russia to extend an existing gas transit contract that expires in three years.
“Look, it’s a bad situation and a bad pipeline, but we need to help protect Ukraine, and I think we’ve made some important steps in that direction with this agreement,” Nuland told lawmakers.
Under the agreement, Germany also agreed to invest in a new $1 billion fund to help Ukraine move to cleaner sources of energy and improve its energy security.
Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who has held onto all State Department candidates until the Biden administration banned the pipeline company and its CEO, said he was not convinced by the administration’s arguments.
“It is a generational geopolitical mistake that decades from now, future Russian dictators will reap billions of dollars a year,” Cruz told a Senate hearing. “And will use that pipeline to do economic blackmail on Europe decades from now.”
According to a source familiar with the senator’s views on the issue, the US-German deal would not change Sen. Cruz’s stance and he had no plans to remove his hold on all State Department nominees. Dozens of nominees are in the pipeline for Senate confirmation for State Department positions.
Democratic Sen. Jean Shaheen, who called on the Biden administration to take action to prevent the pipeline from being completed, said he was not convinced the US-German agreement would take effect.
“While I wait for the administration to be briefed on the final details of the agreement, I doubt it will be enough when the key player at the table – Russia – refuses to play by the rules,” Shaheen said. said. Statement.
As officials in Germany and the US worked over the past week to work out the final outline of the deal, senior State Department official Derek Cholet visited Ukraine on Tuesday to discuss the deal.
At a State Department briefing with reporters, spokesman Ned Price said it was clear that sanctions would not be successful in halting construction of the pipeline and that the administration decided to undermine “our relations with our ally Germany”. It is not in America’s interest to do so. “on the project.
Greens party members in Germany called the US-German agreement “a bitter blow to climate protection” that would harm Ukraine and help Putin.
“At a time when Putin is putting heavy rhetoric and military pressure on Ukraine and once again questioning the country’s sovereignty, Washington and Berlin are sending the wrong signals to Moscow,” said Oliver Krischer, deputy chairman of the party’s parliamentary group and Manuel said. Sarrazin, Eastern European policy spokesman, told Reuters.
In a joint statement, the US and Germany said they “stand firm in their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, independence and the chosen European path.”
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