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U.S. concerned about Zelenskyy's trip to Munich

The Ukrainian president hasn’t made a final decision on the visit as Washington worries Russian President Vladimir Putin could exploit his absence.
Image: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, arrives to attend a military drill outside the city of Rivne, northern Ukraine, on Feb. 16, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, arrives to attend a military drill outside the city of Rivne, northern Ukraine, on Feb. 16, 2022.Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is concerned about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s plans to leave his country this weekend to attend the Munich Security Conference, where he’s scheduled to meet in person with Vice President Kamala Harris, according to four people familiar with the matter.

Administration officials are worried that it’s too risky right now for Zelenskyy to leave the country given the potential for conflict, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin could somehow exploit his absence, they said.

Amid those concerns, and on the eve of Zelenskyy’s scheduled departure for Germany, a spokesperson said the Ukrainian president was monitoring the situation and a final decision would be made in the coming hours.

“As of this morning, President Zelenskyy was planning to attend the Munich Security Conference. Now, we are observing the situation, which is getting more and more dramatic,” the spokesperson, Sergii Nykyforov, said. “If there is a dramatic escalation or some worrying messages, then he might change his mind. As of now, we are still waiting to see what is going to happen.”

Asked if anyone in President Joe Biden's administration had conveyed to Zelenskyy's government that U.S. officials don’t believe it’s a good idea for him to leave the country at this time, State Department spokesman Ned Price declined to answer directly. “We have indicated this is a decision for him to make,” Price said on MSNBC’s "Andrea Mitchell Reports."

Harris and Zelenskyy are scheduled to meet Saturday.

A senior administration official briefing reporters before the vice president’s departure for Munich described her meeting with Zelenskyy as “a real opportunity to underscore our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to further coordinate the diplomatic efforts that have been underway to provide economic and defensive security assistance to Ukraine.”

In Munich on Friday, Harris said the Biden administration remains open to diplomacy with Russia but is also prepared to impose severe economic sanctions on Moscow if Putin decides to invade Ukraine.

Biden himself told reporters Friday that Zelenskyy's trip might not be "the wise choice" but that it was "a judgment for him to make" and "his decision."