U.S. President Joe Biden has invited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to visit the White House this summer in a show of support for the Eastern European country.
Biden extended the invitation during a phone call with Zelenskiy on June 7, national-security adviser Jake Sullivan said during a press conference. It was the second call between the leaders since Biden took office in January.
In a tweet after the call, Zelenskiy said he “looked forward” to the visit and discussing ways to “expand strategic cooperation” between the United States and Ukraine.
Zelenskiy has sought an Oval Office meeting since coming to power more than two years ago.
An official visit to Washington could help the 43-year-old former comic’s stature at home — where his ratings have been slipping — while also demonstrating U.S. support for Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst said.
“He wants it as a sign of respect but also because of its political value in Ukraine. A meeting in Washington bolsters his image,” said Herbst, who is now at the Atlantic Council think tank.
The call between the two leaders had been planned in advance of the U.S. president’s trip to Europe that culminates with a stop in Geneva for a face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16.
The call comes amid some frustration in Washington and Kyiv about the bilateral relationship.
Washington has been dismayed by management changes at Naftogaz, the Ukrainian state-owned energy company at the heart of the country’s largest corruption scandals, as well as slow progress on reform.
Kyiv, on the other hand, has publicly expressed disappointment that Biden chose to meet one-on-one with Putin first and recently abandoned efforts to stop the completion of Nord Stream 2, a Kremlin-backed natural-gas pipeline to Germany that will deprive Ukraine of billions of dollars in transit fees.
It is also peeved that Ukrainian officials have not been invited to the NATO summit to be held on June 14 in Brussels.
Ukraine is heavily dependent on U.S. support to counter Russian aggression and wants to join the Western military alliance, something the Kremlin strongly opposes.
Russia earlier this year amassed tens of thousands of troops and heavy weapons along its border with Ukrainian and in the occupied territory of Crimea.
Kyiv called the mobilization an attempt at intimidation amid stalled peace talks to end fighting between government forces and Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Zelenskiy told Biden that despite Russia’s announced withdrawal of forces from the border, there was still a “high concentration” of troops and heavy weapons there, according to a readout of the call by the Ukrainian president’s office.
Zelenskiy’s office also said that Biden highlighted “the importance of providing” Ukraine with a NATO Membership Action Plan and taking the country into account during NATO decision making.
The two leaders also discussed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and Zelenskiy’s promise to reduce the political influence of the country’s largest businessmen. The United States has for years called on Ukraine to investigate and prosecute tycoons accused of large-scale corruption.
The Zelenskiy administration has expressed hopes for good bilateral ties under Biden — who had overseen Ukraine policy while serving as vice president from 2009 to 2017.
Zelenskiy was invited to visit the White House by former President Donald Trump shortly after his victory in May 2019.
However, the trip never materialized after Congress launched impeachment proceedings against Trump in September of that year on charges he tried to pressure Zelenskiy to investigate the Ukraine work of Biden’s son Hunter, who served on the board of a Kyiv-based natural-gas company.