Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy hopes to seal significant deals with the United States when he visits the White House on Wednesday, amid concern in Kiev that the embattled country is slipping down Washington’s agenda.
The White House said US president Joe Biden wanted to show “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression” and “backing for [Mr Zelenskiy’s] efforts to tackle corruption and implement a reform agenda”.
Yet such stock phrases will not soothe Ukraine’s frustration over a recent US decision to accept the completion of Russia’s strategic Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany, or its alarm at the chaotic US-led western withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Both events suggest to many Ukrainians that Mr Biden wants to extricate the US from difficult situations abroad and, in the case of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, that he is keen to leave Europe to sort out its own disputes and may want to stabilise US relations with Russia to facilitate co-operation in certain areas.
The US has been Ukraine’s main backer during its seven-year conflict with Russia, which began when a pro-western revolution in Kiev prompted the Kremlin to seize Crimea and foment fighting in eastern Ukraine that has now killed 14,000 people.
“There should be three defence agreements. There will also be important things related to economic agreements,” Mr Zelenskiy told Ukrainian media on Tuesday. “There will be a big debate about Nord Stream. There should be an energy agreement and deals. I say ‘should be’ because the devil is in the detail.”
Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Mr Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, said there would also be discussion “about an American representative becoming part of the Minsk process in some form or other”, referring to the largely moribund peace talks between Ukraine, Russia and Moscow-led separatists who control parts of eastern Ukraine.
When the US dropped efforts to block the €9.5 billion Nord Stream 2 project in July, Berlin and Washington pledged to help shield Ukraine from any economic and security damage resulting from completion of a pipeline that will allow Moscow to cut gas flow through eastern Europe while continuing to supply major western markets.
“It’s a security threat for Ukraine, because if there is no physical transit of gas through Ukraine, it increases the chance of a full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine and it’s not in the interests of Ukraine, and it’s not in the interests of Europe, not in the interest of the US.”