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Biden, Zelensky meet at White House amid Ukraine-Russia conflict

The Ukrainian president has been vocal about the U.S. decision not to intervene in the construction of a Russian natural-gas pipeline and about his desire to join NATO.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met at the White House on Wednesday as Ukraine pushes for increased military aid in its war with Russia as well as entry into NATO.

As the two leaders sat down together for their meeting in the Oval Office, Biden reaffirmed that the U.S. continued to be "firmly committed to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and our support for Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic aspiration."

The meeting comes as Ukraine is seeking greater support from Washington seven years after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed separatists in the eastern part of the country. The war has killed roughly 14,000 people, despite a series of shaky ceasefires.

This year, Russia increased the number of troops along its eastern border and in Crimea, raising concern in both Washington and Kyiv.

In a joint statement following their meeting, the two leaders laid out shared goals on a number of issues including democracy and human rights, climate change, the Covid pandemic and defense against Russian aggression.

"Ukraine’s success is central to the global struggle between democracy and autocracy," the joint statement reads. "As we face this challenge together, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder, optimistic about our ambitious common goals to advance democracy, deliver justice, enhance prosperity, and bolster security for Ukraine."

Zelensky has expressed frustration over Western allies' hesitation to approve Ukraine's bid to join he North Atlantic Treaty Organization — which Zelensky has argued would give Ukraine greater protection from Russia — and has disagreed with Biden's comments that the country needs to "clean up corruption" before it can be considered for membership.

Zelensky told reporters in the Oval Office that he wanted to discuss with Biden "Ukrainian's chances to join NATO and the time frame." The joint statement, however, did not provide a timeline or a firm commitment regarding Ukraine's bid to join NATO.

Zelensky has also been critical of the Biden administration's decision not to block the construction of Russia's Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany, which will directly connect Russia to Europe and bypass Ukraine. Zelensky is expected to make another appeal to Biden on Wednesday to intervene with the pipeline.

Ahead of their meeting, Biden announced that the U.S. would give an additional $60 million in military aid to Ukraine. The U.S. has committed $2.5 billion in support of Ukraine forces since the war broke out in 2014, including more than $400 million this year.

The meeting between the two leaders was initially scheduled for earlier this week but was delayed as the Biden administration was focused on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"Please accept my sincere condolences for the tragic death of Americans who tried to save lives in Afghanistan and sacrificed their own," Zelensky said Wednesday. "We are very compassionate since we have been dealing with such tragic losses for eight years in a row."

Zelensky, a former TV comedian who ran for president as a political novice on a campaign promise to weed out corruption, became entangled in the 2019 impeachment inquiry into then-President Donald Trump. Trump was accused of abusing his power in a phone call to Zelensky pressuring him to open an investigation into Biden.

As vice president, Biden was the point person on Ukraine in the Obama administration and pushed the country to take a tougher stance on graft and corruption.

Zelensky had been open about his hopes to meet with Biden before he sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva in June. Biden spoke to Zelensky over the phone before the Geneva meeting, but the two leaders did not meet in person.

Zelensky is the second European leader to meet with Biden in the Oval Office, following German Chancellor Angela Merkel.