President Biden on Friday declined to rule out Ukraine having to cede part of its territory to Russia in order to end Moscow’s more than three-month-old invasion.
“Does Ukraine have to cede territory to achieve peace?” a reporter asked Biden after his remarks on the May jobs report.
“From the beginning, I’ve said and I’ve been — not everyone’s agreed with me — nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,” Biden began his answer. “It’s their territory. I’m not going to tell them what they should and shouldn’t do.
“But it appears to me that at some point along the line, there’s going to have to be a negotiated settlement here,” the president added. “And what that entails, I don’t know. I don’t think anybody knows at the time. But in the meantime, we’re gonna continue to put the Ukrainians in a position where they can defend themselves.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Thursday that Russian forces currently occupy roughly one-fifth of his country.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war objectives remain murky, but Biden claimed in February that Putin was attempting “re-establish the former Soviet Union” by seizing territory that Moscow once ruled.
Biden’s subordinates previously expressed an openness to Ukraine giving up land to placate Putin. For example, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said in March that she would not “pre-judge” the matter.
But it’s unclear if Ukraine would actually agree to be carved up.
“The territorial integrity of Ukraine should be guaranteed,” Zelensky said in March as Ukrainian troops successfully fought off a Russian attempt to seize the capital city of Kyiv. “That is, the conditions must be fair, for the Ukrainian people will not accept them otherwise.”
In an interview with Newsmax this week, Zelensky doubled down, saying: “We’re not ready to concede any of our territories, because our territories are our territories: It’s our independence, our sovereignty; that’s the issue.”
“If it’s all about ultimatums and, ‘You have to concede a third of your territory, we’ll leave you calm and we’ve leave you alive,’ this is not something we can agree on,” the Ukrainian leader added.
Although Biden has poured billions of dollars of US aid and military materiel into Ukraine, he’s often been at odds with the country’s pro-Western government.
Russia invaded on Feb. 24, about a month after Biden said at a press conference that the US would respond differently if Russia launched a “minor incursion” — a comment which horrified Ukrainian officials, one of whom told CNN at the time that “Putin senses weakness” and may take the comment as a a “green light” to attack.
Biden also reportedly irked Ukrainian officials in January, when he allegedly told Zelensky to brace for a “sack” of Kyiv. White House National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne described the report as “completely false.” But Zelensky later said he rejected a US offer to fly him to safety with the remark: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”
Since 2014, Ukraine has fought a lower-intensity war against Russia-backed rebels in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which declared their independence from Kyiv after protesters toppled pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
The Obama administration, in contrast with the Biden administration, firmly ruled out Russian territorial expansion — generally referring to Russia’s annexation of Crimea following a disputed 2014 referendum as merely an attempted annexation.