WASHINGTON – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose hopes for a White House meeting played a central part in former President Donald Trump's first impeachment, will finally get his chance for an Oval Office sit down late next month.
The White House announced in June that President Joe Biden had extended an invitation to Zelenskyy for later in the summer. But the administration decided to publicly announce the exact date of Zelenskyy's visit — Aug. 30 — as a top State Department official confirmed on Wednesday that the U.S. and Germany had come to agreement on a controversial Russia-to-Europe gas pipeline that Ukraine vehemently opposes.
“The visit will affirm the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea, our close cooperation on energy security, and our backing for President Zelenskyy’s efforts to tackle corruption and implement a reform agenda based on our shared democratic values,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Zelenskyy played no small part in Trump's first impeachment.
Trump's 2019 call with Zelenskyy spurred the congressional inquiry after it was revealed that Trump had asked him to “do us a favor” and investigate Biden and his son Hunter’s activity in Ukraine. One of the officials most involved in the effort, Trump’s European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland, said Trump repeatedly insisted there was “no quid pro quo” in his request.
But Sondland also said it was widely understood by both sides that Zelenskyy, at the the time Ukraine’s new president, would only get a meeting with Trump in the Oval Office if he publicly pledged to investigate the Bidens and the Democrats in the runup to the 2020 presidential election.
Trump was acquitted by the Senate and an Oval Office face-to-face between the 45th president never materialized.
The Biden administration also announced Wednesday it has reached a deal with Germany that will allow the completion of the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Europe without the imposition of further U.S. sanctions.
U.S. officials from both parties have long feared that it would give Russia too much power over European gas supplies, potentially shutting off gas to Russian adversaries Ukraine and Poland. But the pipeline is almost completed and the U.S. has been determined to rebuild ties with Germany that were damaged during the Trump administration.
Biden said he renewed his concerns to German Chancellor Angela Merkel when she visited him at the White House last week. Merkel sought to downplay the differences and stressed that the pipeline was in addition to — not meant to displace — Ukrainian pipelines. The U.S. and Germany are expected to make certain concessions to Ukraine and Poland as part of the deal that paves the way for the pipeline to be completed.
The meeting comes at a time of growing concern in Kyiv about the U.S.-Ukraine relationship.
Zelenskyy last month had publicly raised concerns about Biden's decision to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and about the pipeline.
There also appeared to be some differences between the two sides about when the meeting would take place. Zelenskyy tweeted soon after the invitation was extended that Biden had invited him to visit in July.
But a senior administration official, who was not authorized to publicly comment on the private conversation between the two leaders, said the White House “never specified what month it was going to take place.”
Associated Press diplomatic correspondent Matthew Lee contributed reporting.