September 17, 2021

InItDeep

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Biden holds first call with Ukrainian president amid Russian ‘aggression’ in the region

President Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday in their first conversation since Biden took office.

The phone call came amid what the White House has called escalations of Russian “aggression” in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014.   

Biden “affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea,” a White House readout of the call said. 

The president reiterated his support for the U.S.’s “strategic partnership” with Ukraine and of Zelensky’s anti-corruption agenda “based on our shared democratic values that delivers justice, security, and prosperity to the people of Ukraine,” the White House added.

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Before Biden’s call, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top U.S. officials had spoken with their Ukrainian counterparts about the issue in at least three calls, according to Politico.

Blinken expressed the administration’s “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression” in the region during one of the calls, the State Department said.

Ukraine had pushed for the call with Biden for weeks as a show of support against Russia, Politico reported.

The Russian escalations include violations of a July 2020 ceasefire, brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, that led to the deaths of four Ukrainian soldiers in the eastern part of the country on March 26 and the wounding of two others, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.

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The Ukrainian military said the four were killed in a mortar attack it blamed on Russian troops. Russia denies having a military presence in the region. The State Department said Blinken expressed condolences for the losses. 

“Russia’s destabilizing actions undermine the de-escalation in tensions that had been achieved through an OSCE-brokered agreement back in July of last year,” Kirby said of the reported hundreds of ceasefire violations in recent days. “Additionally, we are aware of Ukrainian military reports concerning Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s borders.” 

The Biden administration has approved $125 million in lethal aid to Ukraine recently for defense against Russia, according to Politico

Before the 2020 election, then-President Trump accused Biden of abusing his office when he was vice president in forcing the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor to help his son Hunter Biden who was on the board of Ukrainian oil company Burisma at the time. No evidence of wrongdoing has been found. 

Trump himself was accused of asking Zelensky to investigate the Bidens during a July 2019 phone call, which led to his first impeachment in 2019 as it seemed likely Biden would be his political opponent. He was acquitted in February 2020. 

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The White House readout of Biden’s call with Zelensky added the two leaders also discussed the “importance of close United States-Ukraine cooperation to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen democracy in the region.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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