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 America’s unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in Donbas and Crimea,” read a reading of the White House call.
The president reiterated his support for the US “strategic partnership” with Ukraine and for Zelensky’s anti-corruption agenda “based on our shared democratic values that bring 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 US officials had spoken with their Ukrainian counterparts about the issue in at least three calls, according to Politico.
Blinken voiced 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 lobbied 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, negotiated by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which resulted in the death of four Ukrainian soldiers in the eastern part of the country on March 26 and injuries to others. two, according to the Pentagon press. Secretary John Kirby said.
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The Ukrainian army said all four were killed in a mortar attack that it blamed on Russian troops. Russia denies having a military presence in the region. The State Department said Blinken expressed condolences for the losses.
“The destabilizing actions of Russia undermine the easing of tensions that was achieved through an agreement negotiated by the OSCE in July last year,” Kirby said of the hundreds of ceasefire violations reported in recent days. “In addition, we are aware of the Ukrainian military reports on Russian troop movements on the borders of Ukraine.”
The Biden administration recently approved $ 125 million in lethal aid to Ukraine for defense against Russia, according to Politico.
Before the 2020 elections, then-President Trump accused Biden of abusing his position when he was vice president by forcing the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor to help his son Hunter Biden, who was on the board of the Ukrainian oil company Burisma in that moment. No evidence of irregularities has been found.
Trump himself was accused of asking Zelensky to investigate the Bidens during a phone call in July 2019, leading to his first impeachment in 2019, as it seemed likely that Biden was his political opponent. He was acquitted in February 2020.
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The White House reading on Biden’s call with Zelensky added that the two leaders also discussed the “importance of close cooperation between the United States and Ukraine to contain the COVID-19 pandemic and strengthen democracy in the region.”
Associated Press contributed to this report.