Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will have his first visit to the White House on Wednesday, at a meeting that Kiev hopes will strengthen security ties between the two countries, increase Ukraine’s position to join NATO and provide a platform. form to express dissatisfaction on the Russia-Germany Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
The visit, for both Zelenskyy and US President Joe Biden, will also likely serve as a palace clean-up after the recently-elected Ukrainian president found himself in a main role in the 2019 impeachment inquiry against former US President Donald Trump.
Trump has been accused of conditioning military aid to Ukraine – and a visit to the White House – in exchange for Zelenskyy who unearthed the role of Biden’s son in Ukrainian energy company Burisma. The investigation indicated that Zelenskyy, a former comedian keen to display his influence on foreign policy, had resisted.
“This visit is important for Zelenskyy because Trump brought him into the domestic political debate, there has been some concern that there could be tensions between the Ukrainian leader and the Biden administration,” Olexiy Haran, professor of comparative politics at the University of Kiev Mohyla Academy, told Al Jazeera.
“But that did not happen, because first of all he resisted pressure from Trump, and secondly, Biden and his staff at the State Department understand the importance of Ukraine,” he said. -he declares.
The visit comes as the Ukrainian population has turned increasingly against Russia – and European integration – after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the Biden administration sought to strengthen ties. transatlantic, in particular against Russia.
Wednesday’s meeting comes after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kiev in May, shortly after Biden pledged “unwavering support” to Ukraine amid training of Russian troops in the region eastern Donbass.
While Zelenskyy will likely seek security, space exploration and support arrangements for Ukraine in light of the Nord Stream 2 project, the visit alone “will likely raise Zelenskyy’s profile in his country,” he said. Haran added.
An “absolutely essential” safety aid
On Tuesday, Zelenskyy and his delegation were scheduled to meet with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.
Hours earlier, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleb told the Associated Press news agency that he hoped the trip to the United States “would bring the strategic partnership between Ukraine and the United States to a new level. higher level ”, adding that a push for stronger US security assistance“ be absolutely crucial and absolutely central to all discussions ”.
Despite a 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany, there have been regular skirmishes between Ukrainian and Russian forces along the border. More than 14,000 people have been killed in the fighting since 2014.
Meanwhile, Yuriy Vitrenko, head of Ukrainian oil and gas company Naftogaz, told the AP news agency that Zelenskyy would urge the United States to impose tougher sanctions on companies supporting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which connects Russia to Germany.
The United States had opposed the pipeline, which critics said would increase the Kremlin’s influence over Europe, while depriving Ukraine of lucrative transit fees, before reversing its stance in July. .
As Germany has sought to allay Kiev’s concerns, Ukrainian officials have said they need more concrete action.
“We will be very, very loud, because it is a matter of national security for Ukraine, for the region, and we also think for the United States,” Vitrenko said.
Human rights, corruption and NATO membership
The Biden administration should continue to pressure Ukraine to tackle the endemic corruption that has long plagued the government.
Human Rights Watch last week called on the United States to tie aid to human rights in Ukraine, with senior researcher Yulia Gorbunova calling for greater reforms of Ukraine’s security services, which have been accused of repeated abuse, calling on Zelenskyy to sign legislation that brings Ukraine’s legal framework in line with international standards on war crimes and crimes against humanity, and pressures the Ukrainian authorities to “not ignore or minimize the threat of violence by far-right nationalist groups ”.
The White House said the meeting would strengthen the “unwavering support of the United States for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of ongoing Russian aggression in Donbass and Crimea, our close cooperation on energy security and our support for President Zelenskyy’s efforts to fight corruption. and implement a reform program based on our shared democratic values ”.
The fight against corruption has long been a condition cited by the American and European powers for Ukraine to progress towards deeper integration with Europe, in particular by obtaining the long-awaited membership of NATO.
At a NATO summit in June, Zelenskyy called on Biden to respond clearly with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to Kiev’s request for a membership action plan – an official pathway to enter. the alliance.
Biden replied that it was not yet clear whether Ukraine had made enough progress in tackling corruption or meeting other criteria.
Still, many observers have noted that corruption is not NATO’s only concern, with members reluctant to put Ukraine on the path to membership as it remains embroiled in a hot, low conflict. intensity with Russia over Crimea and its eastern border.
“It may seem unfair in Kiev,” Steven Pfifer, senior researcher at the Brookings Institution wrote last week, “but it is the reality.”