Zelenskyy invites Biden, Harris to Ukraine, as Blinken visits to strengthen ties

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday invited President Biden and Vice President Harris to attend an inaugural event commemorating Ukrainian independence in a sign of the deepening relationship between both countries.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris pose for a photo as they ride in the Presidential limousine from Emory University in Atlanta Friday, March 19, 2021, to Peachtree Dekalb Airport. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz) 
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris pose for a photo as they ride in the Presidential limousine from Emory University in Atlanta Friday, March 19, 2021, to Peachtree Dekalb Airport. (Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz)

“We hope that this is going to be a fundamental year of our bilateral relationship,” Zelenskyy said at a joint press conference with Secretary of State Antony Blinken after their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine.

“President Biden is deeply and personally committed to” the U.S-Ukraine relationship, Blinken said in remarks to Embassy Kyiv staff.

Ukraine will celebrate its 30th anniversary of “regained” independence in 2021 with a new event, the “Crimean Platform, the first venue to support Ukrainian Crimea and de-occupy the peninsula,” Zelenskyy said.

The announcement comes as Blinken has held a series of high level meetings in Kyiv with Zelenskyy, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and other governmental and civil society representatives to affirm U.S. “unwavering” support to Ukrainian security against Russian aggression and encourage institutional reforms that would bolster Ukraine’s integration into the Euro-Atlantic community.

Secretary Antony J. Blinken participates in a virtual U.S. Embassy London meet and greet, in London, United Kingdom, on May 4, 2021. State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha 
Secretary Antony J. Blinken participates in a virtual U.S. Embassy London meet and greet, in London, United Kingdom, on May 4, 2021. State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha

These reforms would also strengthen Ukrainian sovereignty as Russia uses corruption in Ukraine “to try to advance its interests,” Blinken said at the press conference.

On security, Blinken said the U.S. was “actively looking at strengthening even further our security cooperation and our security assistance to Ukraine,” but said he had nothing further to announce.

According to Spokesperson Ned Price, Blinken and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba had in a meeting on Thursday “discussed U.S.-Ukraine cooperation on shared priorities, including forging and even stronger partnership and enhanced NATO cooperation.”

Blinken at the press conference acknowledged signs of Russian troop withdrawal along the Ukrainian border, but said that “significant” forces remained.

Zelenskyy agreed and added that Ukraine’s military and intelligence forces reported some 3,000- 3,500 Russian troops along the border.

“We have fewer sniper shots fired,” Zelenskyy said, “and thank God for that because sniper fire is responsible for the majority of our casualties and dead.” He was concerned, however, of recent developments in the Donbas region. “Unfortunately, we have more UAVs coming from the separatist side in the temporarily occupied Donbas.”

Yet security is only one of the “twin challenges” Ukraine faces. Among other democratic and economic reforms, the U.S. has three main concerns: the rule of law in Ukraine – that the selection of judges is transparent – corporate governance, particularly of state-owned enterprises; and reform of the security forces, Blinken said at a virtual round table with civil society, business, and anticorruption institutions on Thursday.

Since 2014, the U.S. has provided $4.6 billion in total assistance to Ukraine, including security and non-security assistance, the State Department said in a statement. It has also provided an additional $1 billion in financial assistance in the form of sovereign loan guarantees.

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