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The Ukrainian leader is traveling to the United States this week in the hope of strengthening security ties with Washington and persuading the administration to step up sanctions against a new Russian gas pipeline that is bypassing his country.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called Washington’s failure to block construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany a serious political error, and he is expected to raise the issue again during his talks with US President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

Zelenskyy described the new pipeline as a powerful geopolitical weapon for Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 after the former friendly president was ousted from the Kremlin and supported a separatist insurgency in eastern Russia. Ukraine.

Washington has strongly opposed the construction of Nord Stream 2, but the Biden administration has chosen not to punish the German company overseeing the project while announcing new sanctions against Russian companies and ships.

Zelenskyy warned that Nord Stream 2 would mark a major victory for Moscow and a “personal loss” for Biden. Undiplomatic comments reflect Ukrainian fears that the new pipeline will deprive it of $ 3 billion (2.5 billion euros) in annual transit fees for pumping Russian gas to Europe, erode its importance strategic and make it more vulnerable to pressure from the Kremlin.

“We will be very, very loud”

Yuriy Vitrenko, the head of Ukrainian oil and gas company Naftogaz, told The Associated Press that Ukraine will urge the United States to slap Nord Stream 2 with tougher sanctions.

“We will be very, very loud, because it is a matter of national security for Ukraine, for the region, and we believe for the United States too,” Vitrenko said.

Ukraine has urged the United States and Germany to pressure Moscow to extend the current Russian gas transit contract through Ukraine which expires in 2024. Russian President Vladimir Putin has left the door open for an extension , but noted that it would depend on the European Union demand for Russian gas.

Ukrainian officials argued that a US-German deal offering Ukraine compensation was not enough.

“We continue to stress that Nord Stream 2 is not some sort of compensation program,” said Vitrenko. “It is a threat to the security of Ukraine, because if there is no physical transit of gas through Ukraine, it increases the risk of a full-scale war between Russia and the ‘Ukraine and it is not in the interest of Ukraine, and it is not in the interest of Europe, not in the interest of the United States “

The Biden-Zelenskyy meeting, initially set for Tuesday, has been postponed for a day due to developments in Afghanistan.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba expressed hope that the talks would help “bring the strategic partnership between Ukraine and the United States to a higher level”. He told The Associated Press that Ukraine’s pressure for stronger US security assistance “will be absolutely crucial and absolutely central in all discussions.”

NATO membership

A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany helped end large-scale battles in eastern Ukraine, but regular skirmishes have continued and political settlement efforts are in focus dead. More than 14,000 people have been killed in the fighting since 2014.

Earlier this year, increasing ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine and a large build-up of Russian troops near the border fueled fears from Kiev and Western powers of a resumption of unrest. hostilities. Next month’s massive Russian-Belarusian war games in western Russia, which will involve 200,000 troops, are likely to raise further concerns.

In the midst of the standoff with Moscow, Ukraine strongly insisted on being allowed to join NATO.

“Ukraine has a very clear strategic objective of becoming a member of NATO,” Kuleba told the PA.

Observers, however, are skeptical of Ukraine’s ability to secure a roadmap for NATO membership amid the spiraling conflict in the east and its continuing tensions with Russia.

“The United States understands that its European partners are against giving Ukraine an action plan for membership because they fear a conflict with Russia,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, group leader. Penta Center think tank. “The United States wants to strengthen its partnership with Europe, and Germany in particular, so it must take into account the position of its European partners.”

The United States and its Western allies have warned Ukraine that the pace of its integration into Euro-Atlantic structures will depend on its efforts to tackle endemic corruption and carry out reforms. When Biden visited Ukraine as vice president in 2015, he urged Ukrainian authorities to step up the fight against corruption.

“The demand to fight corruption has become a familiar issue in talks between Ukraine and the United States over the past decades,” said Vadim Karasev, an independent political analyst based in Kiev. “Many in Kiev accuse the United States of turning the fight against corruption into a screen to hide their reluctance to step up relations with Ukraine.

“No sensations or breakthroughs”

Prior to Biden’s election, Zelenskyy became an unwitting player in the US political scene amid the investigation against US President Donald Trump that led to his impeachment in 2019. The motion was sparked by a phone call in which Trump pushed Zelenskyy to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter, who at the time was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Karasev noted that after Zelenskyy and two of his predecessors were all featured in US political scandals, “the toxic nature of the Ukraine issue prompts any US leader to act with extreme caution.”

Fesenko said Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington was part of Ukraine’s long-term strategic diplomacy.

“There won’t be any thrills or breakthroughs, but putting our military-technical cooperation with the United States on a systemic legal basis would undoubtedly be a significant result,” Fesenko said. “The United States is a major geopolitical partner and ally of Ukraine and a very important factor in the confrontation with Russia.”


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