Zelensky Prioritizes Ukraine’s ‘Financial Stability’ in Biden Call as Russia Panic Threatens Economy

In this Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, file photo, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to media during his press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP, File)
Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told American counterpart Joe Biden to place emphasis on the “economic and financial stability” of the country during a phone call Thursday following multiple public statements urging the Ukrainian public not to fall prey to panic about a potential Russian invasion fueled by Biden.

Zelensky’s office published an extended readout of the conversation between the president and Biden on Friday, Kyiv time, after an anonymous report in CNN fueled rumors – not diminished by Zelensky’s dour, infuriated expressions in government photos of the call – that the two leaders struggled to see eye-to-eye.

An initial CNN anonymous report claimed that a hysterical Biden warned Zelensky that Russian leader Vladimir Putin could “sack” Kyiv, hundreds of miles from the Russian border, while an exasperated Zelensky urged Biden to “calm down.”

Both the White House and the government of Ukraine denied the CNN account. The emphasis on “financial stability” over any fears of another Russian invasion indicate, however, that Zelensky’s priorities for his country at the moment do differ from the White House’s interpretation of them.

“The President of Ukraine stressed the importance of supporting the economic and financial stability of our country in the current situation,” the Kyiv readout read. “The leaders discussed concrete steps by the United States to increase financial support for Ukraine, both bilaterally and by involving international financial institutions.”

The readout repeatedly stated that Zelensky thanked Biden and “expressed gratitude to the United States and personally to Joseph Biden” for sending military and humanitarian aid to the country. It also celebrated the alleged “good dynamics” between the United States and Ukraine under the two leaders.

The White House readout emphasized America’s alleged resolve to “respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine” over helping Ukraine remain financially stable and, thus, less vulnerable to foreign threats.

“President Biden noted the United States has provided Ukraine with over half a billion dollars in development and humanitarian assistance in the last year, and is exploring additional macroeconomic support to help Ukraine’s economy amidst pressure resulting from Russia’s military build-up,” the White House asserted.

America’s support for longtime ally Ukraine against a potential Russian invasion came into question last week, when Biden told reporters that he saw no need to aid Ukraine in the event of a “minor incursion.”

“Russia will be held accountable if it invades. And it depends on what it does. It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do, et cetera,” Biden said, during the same event in which he predicted that Putin would formally invade eastern Ukraine in the near future.

The Russian government invaded Ukraine in 2014 and colonized the Crimea region; Russia continues to illegally occupy the area today. Extensive evidence also shows a significant Russian presence in Donbas, where pro-Russia “separatists” have waged a violent war against Kyiv for eight years. Russia’s invasions that year followed months of protests in Kyiv that resulted in the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. His successor, Petro Poroshenko, lost the presidency to Zelensky, a comic actor with no prior political experience, in 2019 after the Ukrainian public lost patience with his mounting corruption scandals.

Zelensky’s initial response to Biden’s panicked predictions of an imminent Russian invasion was a nationally televised speech in which he asked the public, “Didn’t the invasion start in 2014?”

“These risks have existed for more than a year, and they haven’t increased,” Zelensky said last week. “What has increased is the hype around them. … Take a deep breath. Calm down.”

Zelensky’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov issued a nearly identical message in remarks to the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, on Friday, stating that intelligence on the ground near the Russian border does not indicate that Moscow will try to invade the country in the near future.

“At present, there are no events or actions of military nature, which would differ significantly from what happened last spring,” Reznikov said, according to Ukrainian state media outlet Ukrinform. “The only difference in military terms that we are following is the situation in Belarus. What is radically different is the intensity of hybrid measures, primarily information ones, as well as the impact of these measures on the macroeconomic situation.”

Reznikov attributed the discrepancy between the White House messaging and the tone of the Ukrainian government to “the fact that Ukraine uses data on the area of ​​Russian military concentration of up to 200 km. These data more accurately reflect the trends,” Ukrinform paraphrased Reznikov as saying.

Ukrainian officials have also consistently emphasized that a collapse in the currency or similar economic devastation triggered by Russia panic would be a necessary precursor to any successful invasion.

“Today, according to all intelligence reports that coincide with those of the United States, Britain, and other partners, internal destabilization is No. 1 issue,” National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov said on Tuesday. “Without internal destabilization, the Russians have nothing to do here. They bet on the issue of internal destabilization.”

Danilov pointedly said at the time that the Russian troop movements near the Ukrainian border were “a big issue” for Washington but “not news for us.”

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