President Biden held his first call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday as tensions between Kyiv and Moscow are high.
Kyiv has accused Moscow of being behind recent attacks in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region. In one incident, four Ukrainian soldiers were killed. But Russia denies any involvement, and besides Ukraine’s word, there’s no evidence to suggest Moscow was responsible, and it’s not clear which side started the recent escalation.
According to a White House readout of the call, 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.”
In a speech following the call, Zelensky said Biden pledged support for Kyiv with respect to the Donbas situation. “We discussed the situation in Donbas in detail. President Biden assured me that Ukraine will never be left alone against Russia’s aggression,” he said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed Moscow’s view of what it believes is happening in Donbas with reporters on Friday. “The realities along the engagement line are rather frightening. Provocations by the Ukrainian armed forces do take place,” he said.
Peskov also warned NATO against deploying troops to Ukraine and denied that recent troop movements near Russia’s border with Ukraine were meant to be a threat. “Russia is not threatening anyone, it has never threatened anyone,” he said.
Biden’s call with Zelensky followed a Thursday discussion between Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Ukrainian counterpart. “Secretary Austin reaffirmed unwavering US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” the Pentagon said in a readout of the call.
Austin condemned what he called “recent escalations of Russian aggressive and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine.” He “offered condolences to Minister Taran on the deaths of four Ukrainian soldiers on March 26.”
The fighting in Donbas was sparked by the 2014 US-backed coup in Kyiv after separatists rejected the post-coup government. Since then, the US has provided Ukraine with more than $2 billion in military aid. The Pentagon recently announced a new $125 million package for Ukraine that includes armed patrol boats.