Ahead of an in-person meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin that is scheduled for June 16th, President Biden on Monday spoke on the phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Washington has been stoking tensions between Moscow and Kyiv by supporting Ukraine in a recent stand-off over Crimea and Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, a topic expected to be discussed in the Biden-Putin Summit.
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that Biden told Zelensky that he will “stand up firmly for Ukraine sovereignty, territorial integrity, and its aspirations.” According to Zelensky, one of the “aspirations” that was discussed is Ukraine’s desire to join NATO, which would escalate tensions in the region, making a conflict between the military alliance and Russia more likely.
The two leaders also discussed Nord Stream 2, the Russia to Germany natural gas pipeline project. President Biden recently decided not to sanction the company in charge of the pipeline, accepting the reality that the project will be completed whether Washington likes it or not.
While Biden’s Nord Stream 2 decision was likely more about repairing ties with Germany than the relationship with Russia, since Ukraine stands to lose billions in natural gas transportation fees once Nord Stream 2 is completed, Zelensky is not happy about it.
In an interview with Axios on Friday, Zelensky said he was “disappointed” by Biden’s Nord Stream 2 decision and described the pipeline as a “weapon” that can be used by Moscow. “This is a weapon, a real weapon … in the hands of the Russian Federation,” he said. “It is not very understandable … that the bullets to this weapon can possibly be provided by such a great country as the United States.”
Zelensky also used the Axios interview to appeal to Biden to meet with him before the Putin summit. Zelensky said he would meet with Biden “at any moment and at any spot on the planet.” During Monday’s call, Biden invited Zelensky to visit Washington in July.
The Ukrainian leader is also hoping that the US expands military assistance for Kyiv in the Black Sea, a region where both Washington and NATO are looking to increase their footprint to confront Russia.