Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to accuse President Joe Biden of deceiving him into thinking the White House would oppose Russia’s lucrative and highly strategic Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Europe, telling Axios in an interview published Sunday he was “unpleasantly surprised” when Biden did nothing to stop it.
Zelensky described Nord Stream 2 – a proposed natural gas pipeline that will make the European Union more dependent on Russian fuel while boosting leader Vladimir Putin’s economy – as a “weapon in the hands of the Russian Federation” and argued that it was “not very understandable” for the United States not to express concern or attempt to block its allies from allowing Russia greater influence in the West. The remarks were published in English by the Washington-based media outlet Axios, which received an exclusive interview with Zelensky on Sunday.
Under President Donald Trump, routinely maligned by the American left for his alleged friendliness towards Putin, the White House resolutely opposed the construction of Nord Stream 2. Trump sanctioned the company in charge of the project, but Biden recently repealed the sanctions.
“To go ahead and impose sanctions now would, I think, be counterproductive in terms of our European relations,” Biden argued in May, referring to Nord Stream 2. “They know how strongly I feel.”
“Well, to be honest, we were very surprised,” Zelensky said on Sunday, referring to Biden’s decision not to stand in the way of the project. “It still seems to me that Nord Stream 2 … we understand that this is a weapon, a real weapon, and I speak openly about it.”
“A weapon in the hands of the Russian Federation, and it is not very understandable, I feel, and definitely not expected, that the bullets to this weapon can possibly be provided by such a great country as the United States,” Zelensky continued, “Because it is an exemplary civilization, an exemplary democracy in the world.”
Zelensky repeatedly described himself as “surprised” by the decision and claimed that the Biden administration had reached out to Kyiv suggesting it would attempt to prevent the project from going forward, suggesting Biden deliberately misled him.
“You know, we had this first conversation with President Biden, it was a phone conversation, and I received all the signals. They were direct signals, and I was very happy about it,” Zelensky said. “Biden knows Ukraine better than any other previous, former President, and therefore he understands all the issues, and, what’s most important, all the security risks. That is why, again, we were very unpleasantly surprised.”
While suggesting to Zelensky’s administration behind closed doors that the White House would intervene, the Ukrainian president said the Biden administration did not have the courtesy to tell Kyiv it would not challenge Nord Stream 2: “I found out about it, probably, like everybody else, from the briefing.”
Zelensky rejected the logic Nord Stream 2 was too far along for American sanctions on it to make sense. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak told reporters on Sunday that Moscow expects the construction of Nord Stream 2 – which is expected to fuel European Union allies of the United States, most prominently Germany – to be done by the end of the year. It will allow Russia to bypass Ukraine, which sits in between the natural gas’s origin and intended destination, potentially devastating Kyiv’s economy.
“Nord Stream 2 is financed by leading energy companies from France, Germany, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Austria,” the project’s official website claims. “A multi-billion Euro investment in European industry and services, the project involves more than 200 companies from 17 countries worldwide.”
“I believe that even if there was only one percent left, it would still be possible to stop such a serious leverage that Russia will have in the future to influence energy security and Europe in general, including Ukraine,” the president argued. “Even if there was only one percent left, it just needs to be done. Moreover, everything is now in the US President’s hands only, and I am sure that he is aware of that, and his team is aware of that, they know that.”
Zelensky also challenged Biden administration concerns that the American diplomatic relationship with Germany, one of Nord Stream 2’s biggest beneficiaries, was worth not standing in the way of Russian influence.
“I understand that the relationship between the United States and Germany is very important. I wouldn’t want to intervene between these two esteemed countries. However, how many Ukrainian lives does the relationship between the United States and Germany cost?” Zelensky asked.
Ukraine and Russia are currently at war in the eastern regions of the former country, known collectively as Donbass. The Putin regime claims to have no involvement in the Donbass war, instead blaming local pro-Russian rebels with no official ties to Russia. Zelensky, along with his predecessors, have repeatedly blamed Moscow for hostilities there directly. As of 2019, the latest date for when statistics are available, over 13,000 people have died in the Donbass conflict since it began in 2014.
Biden has held phone conversations with Putin twice as many times as with Zelensky and is tentatively scheduled to meet Putin in person on June 16. He has not scheduled any in-person meetings with Zelensky, though the Ukrainian president told Axios he hopes to plan such a meeting before June 16. Axios separately reported that the Biden team has no interest in such a meeting, citing anonymous individuals.
Zelensky told the outlet that Biden’s outsized attention to Putin over himself, who leads a U.S.-allied control, tells the world that Biden sees the world as a two-tiered system: “there are the great powers of the world, and there is everybody else.”
Asked for his feelings on the matter, Zelensky said his “anger” at Biden had subsided, leaving only “disappointment.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Zelensky compared Biden to basketball legend Michael Jordan and expressed optimism that the Washington-Kyiv relationship would survive: “It’s like, written on your money. ‘We trust in God.'”