Biden holds first call with Ukrainian president amid Russian buildup

The conversation follows at least three high-level US-Ukraine talks this week between Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chairman of the Joint Chief General Mark Milley, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and their Ukrainian counterparts.

According to someone familiar with their conversation, Ukrainian officials had been pushing for a phone call between Zelensky and Biden for weeks, including a recent call between national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Zelensky leader Andriy Yermak.

Biden had kept Ukraine at a distance while tacitly pushing for further reforms in a country he had known for years as vice president and which plays a crucial role in the West’s efforts to contain Russia.

But Ukrainian officials have spoken out in favor of assisting the US president in renewed fighting between separatists, with Russian support, and Ukrainian soldiers in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, in which four Ukrainian soldiers were killed last week.

The clashes marked the end of a ceasefire in June 2020 and Russian forces have begun building military equipment along the border. The US European Command has raised its alert status to the highest level after the skirmishes.

The Pentagon is on high alert as Russia stepped up its activities in Eastern Europe and the Arctic last week. NATO jets fought ten times on Monday alone to respond to Russian fighter planes and bomber flights near Allied airspace. And last week, three nuclear-armed Russian submarines turned up in the Arctic, a new show of force in a challenging region.

General Glen VanHerck, head of the US North Command, which is responsible for the defense of the homeland, praised the recent surge in Russian aggression and referred to Moscow’s efforts to “re-establish its influence on a global stage”.

Biden’s government recently approved an additional $ 125 million in lethal aid to Ukraine to defend its borders with Russia, including two armed patrol boats and a counter-artillery radar. While the Obama administration sent military equipment to Ukraine, the lethal aid came after the Trump administration. The US has provided more than $ 2 billion in security aid to Ukraine since 2014, including the deployment of Javelin anti-tank missiles.

“We obviously don’t want to see any more violations against Ukrainian territory,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said this week. “We were very aware of the threats we see from Russia in various areas. We take them very seriously.”

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