Pressure is mounting for President Biden to visit Ukraine after his administration said it is considering sending a senior official to the embattled country.
The U.S. has ramped up lethal military aid as Russia looks to focus its efforts in eastern Ukraine and finally seize Mariupol, which is under siege by Moscow after weeks of attacks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Sunday both expressed an interest in having Biden visit Ukraine; British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited the war-torn country earlier this month.
Zelensky told CNN’s “State of the Union” that he expects the U.S. leader will do so.
“I think he will. And I think he — but it’s not — I mean, it’s his decision, of course. And about the safety situation, it depends. I mean that. But I think — I think he’s the leader of the United States, and that’s why he should come here to see,” Zelensky said.
Kuleba said a visit from Biden “would be an important message of support for us” during an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” and he noted that a meeting between the two presidents could “pave the way” for new supplies, weapons and discussions on a possible political settlement to end the conflict.
But the Biden administration has indicated sending Biden to Ukraine is not on the table. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told “Pod Save America” this week that Biden is “ready to go to Ukraine” but that “we are not sending the president to Ukraine.”
“So no, that is not in the plans for the president of the United States,” Psaki said. “We should all be maybe relieved about that.”
The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment on the latest comments from Ukrainian leaders.
The calls for Biden to visit Ukraine are coming in the seventh week of Russia’s invasion. Russia has taken control of some areas of the country, but its offensive has stalled in a number of regions because of staunch opposition from Ukrainian forces.
Zelensky told CNN on Sunday that Ukraine believes it has lost between 2,500 and 3,000 members of the military since the conflict began. He also said roughly 10,000 individuals have been injured.
Russia now appears to be focusing its efforts on eastern Ukraine and Mariupol, after withdrawing troops from around Kyiv. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan earlier this month said the administration believed Russia was “revisiting its war aims” and repositioning its forces to focus on operations in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Kuleba appeared to confirm that outlook on Sunday, telling CBS that he expects heavy fighting to intensify in the eastern Donbas region in the coming weeks. He also said Russia will attempt to “finish with Mariupol.”
“These are my expectations,” he said. “And, of course, missile attacks on Kyiv and other cities across Ukraine seem to continue.”
Though the U.S. has provided Ukraine with more than $2.6 billion in security assistance since the invasion began, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal on Sunday told ABC’s “This Week” that Kyiv needs more sanctions, ammunition and money to protect itself and European democracy.
“For protection of our country, for protection for the European democratic — democracy, we need more sanctions from our West partners. We need more ammunition to protect our country and the European borders. We need more finances to support our people, our refugees, our internally displaced persons, to save our economy for future recovery — I hope in nearest time — because we are absolutely prepared for this — fight for this Russian attacks,” Shmyhal said.
Despite the expectation that fighting will intensify in the east, Ukraine is refusing to cede territory to put an end to the conflict with Russia. Zelensky told CNN on Sunday that Ukraine is “not going to give up” its own land.
“In the centuries-old history of Ukraine, there is the story that Ukraine has either taken some territory or needs to give up some territory. Ukraine and the people of our state are absolutely clear. We don’t want anyone else’s territory, and we are not going to give up our own,” the president said.
An International Criminal Court prosecutor is already investigating allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in any parts of Ukraine by any individuals.