WASHINGTON -- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is set to make his first official visit to the White House on September 1, when he is expected to ask U.S. President Joe Biden for concrete security guarantees and additional military aid to curb Russian aggression.
The meeting comes as Russia prepares to begin large-scale military exercises near Ukraine's border, where earlier this year it amassed more than 100,000 troops as well as military hardware in what Washington called an attempt to intimidate its smaller neighbor.
Ukraine is seeking to join Western organizations, such as the European Union and NATO, angering Moscow, which considers the fellow Slavic country to belong to its sphere of influence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin in July published a 5,000-word argument claiming that Ukrainians and Russians were one people, which many in Kyiv view as an attempt to undermine its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Ukraine is seeking greater U.S. support to help it defend itself against aggression by the Kremlin, which in 2014 seized its Crimean Peninsula and backed rebels in two eastern regions, triggering a seven-year war that has taken the lives of more than 13,200 people.
Washington on August 31 promised Kyiv up to an additional $60 million in military aid that the White House said made necessary because of a “major increase in Russian military activity along its border” and because of mortar attacks, cease-fire violations, and other provocations.
“Russia’s buildup along the Ukrainian border has highlighted capability shortfalls in the Ukrainian military’s ability to defend against a Russian incursion,” the U.S. administration said in a notification to Congress cited by the AP news agency on August 31.
“Ukraine’s significant capability gaps must be urgently addressed to reinforce deterrence in light of the current Russian threat,” the notification says.
The $60 million in aid is on top of the $400 million annual U.S. military assistance Ukraine receives from Washington.
Included in the move announced on August 31 will be delivery of additional Javelin missile systems. The world’s most-effective antitank missiles are needed by Kyiv to help in its ongoing war against Russia-backed separatists.
From 2014 to 2021, the United States has committed more than $2.5 billion in security assistance to help Ukraine’s forces monitor and secure their borders, operate more safely and effectively, defend their country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and become more interoperable with NATO.
Russia took control of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014 after sending in troops, seizing key facilities, and staging a referendum dismissed as illegal by at least 100 countries. Moscow also backs separatists in a war against government forces in eastern Ukraine, although it has consistently denied any role in the fighting.
Zelenskiy, who met with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on August 31, also said he will request that the United States join the peace talks to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The talks, known as the Normandy Format, consist of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France.
Zelenskiy said Austin will visit Ukraine in the autumn as part of the military agreement signed on August 31.
Zelenskiy said Ukraine needs "not just words" from the West but for partners to "walk the talk."
Biden is also expected to press Zelenskiy to tackle corruption in the country and carry out reforms.
Zelenskiy, meanwhile, is expected to raise with Biden on Washington’s decision not to block construction of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany that bypasses Ukraine. Zelenskiy has described the new pipeline as a powerful geopolitical weapon for Russia.
Critics of the pipeline project -- which is nearly completed -- argue it will strengthen Moscow’s energy hold on Europe and cut Ukraine off from lucrative gas-transit fees, amounting to billions of dollars annually.