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Biden Backs Ukraine Ahead Of His Summit Meeting With Putin

Updated June 7, 2021 at 7:54 PM ET

President Biden reassured Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy that he would stand up for Ukraine in its tensions with Russia.

Biden's remarks, which were made in a phone call between the two leaders Monday, were seen as a sign of support for Kyiv ahead of Biden's high-stakes summit in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16.

"President Biden was able to tell President Zelenskyy that he will stand up firmly for Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity and its aspirations as we go forward," national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. "And he also told President Zelenskyy that he looks forward to welcoming him to the White House here in Washington this summer after he returns from Europe."

Sullivan suggested the call was pre-planned, but notably it came after an Axios interview published over the weekend in which Zelenskyy implored Biden to meet with him before he meets with Putin, insisting he would be willing to meet Biden "at any moment and at any spot on the planet."

Zelenskyy, who was elected to the presidency in 2019, has made closer relations with the West a centerpiece of his foreign policy. His country has been in conflict with Russia since Putin annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Zelenskyy's desire for an Oval Office meeting with an American president was at the heart of former President Donald Trump's first impeachment proceedings.

Biden's meeting with Putin comes against the backdrop of recent ransomware attacks stemming from Russia and Russian interference in U.S. elections. Still, the White House defended the meeting. In a press briefing Monday, Sullivan insisted the summit was not a "reward" for Putin, but rather a way to effectively manage the relationship.

The U.S. also plans to give 900,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses to Ukraine, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. With demand drying up domestically, the U.S. has started shipping surplus doses abroad.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.