Details of Biden-Zelensky call revealed
In a call with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky, US President Joe Biden reportedly discussed his recent talks with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the Donbass crisis, NATO membership for Ukraine, and internal reforms in Kiev.
“I just finished a 1.5 hour-long talk with [Biden],” Zelensky tweeted on Thursday night, adding that the American Commander-in Chief “acquainted me with the content of his talks with Vladimir Putin” and that they discussed “possible formats for resolving the conflict in Donbass” and “the course of internal reforms in Ukraine.”
Biden and Putin spoke for over two hours on Tuesday, with Ukraine as the main topic of discussion, though the two leaders touched on other issues as well.
During the call itself, Zelensky’s chief of staff told reporters that Biden had promised Ukraine military assistance against “external aggression” and said that for Washington, Ukraine’s membership in NATO was a decision purely for its people and the alliance.
Moscow has said that any NATO offer of membership for Kiev would be a “red line” for Russia.
US media reported earlier in the day that Biden could advise Zelensky to provide wider autonomy to the two regions in the eastern Donbass region, which had declared independence after the 2014 Kiev Maidan but have not been recognized by anyone, including Russia, although Moscow does provide support. Ukraine promised such autonomy in the Minsk Agreement mediated by France and Germany, but has yet to follow through.
As the call was ongoing, however, White House press secretary Jen Psaki called “absolutely false” reports that Biden was pressuring Zelensky to “surrender territory to Russia.”
Meanwhile, the Kerch Strait was reportedly closed to civilian traffic as the Russian coast guard was monitoring a Ukrainian naval vessel that approached within 18 nautical miles. The ship eventually changed course, but continued to ignore Russian warnings, the FSB claimed.
The strait separates the mainland from Crimea, which was reabsorbed by Russia in 2014, following a referendum. Kiev and Washington have refused to recognize the outcome of the vote, and maintain that Russia “invaded” and “occupied” Ukrainian territory.