Show an ad over header. AMP

I am the FIRST

Ukraine's Zelensky "confused," "disappointed" by Biden not trying to block Russia pipeline

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he learned through the press — not any direct heads-up — that President Biden had decided to stop trying to block a Russian pipeline that Ukraine sees as a dire national security threat.

Driving the news: Zelensky used an hourlong Zoom interview with Axios on Friday to beseech Biden to meet with him face to face before a June 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin — offering to join him "at any moment and at any spot on the planet."


  • The embattled leader spoke of Putin's psychological pressure campaign; his own anger-turned-disappointment at the U.S.; and his hope that Biden, whom he compares to basketball great Michael Jordan, can still outmaneuver Russia and rescue Ukraine.

Why it matters: Russian gas currently flows through Ukraine en route to Europe. Nord Stream 2, a Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline, would allow Russia to circumvent and isolate Kyiv, Ukraine's capital. Zelensky said the U.S. is the only power capable of stopping Russia.

  • "This is a weapon, a real weapon ... in the hands of the Russian Federation," he said. "It is not very understandable ... that the bullets to this weapon can possibly be provided by such a great country as the United States."
  • Putin is already wielding his additional leverage over Ukraine. The Russian president said on Friday that Ukraine must show good will if it still wants Russian gas to pass through the country.

What they're saying: "The State Department has regularly engaged with Ukrainian officials regarding Nord Stream 2. Prior to the transmission of the most recent report to Congress, the State Department notified the Ukrainian ambassador in Washington and senior officials in Kyiv, including the president’s chief of staff, of the contents of the report," a White House spokesperson told Axios. 

  • "The administration is committed to continuing to consult with Ukraine as we press Germany to address the risks Nord Stream 2 poses to Ukraine and European energy security. We also welcome Ukraine’s direct engagement with the German government about their concerns."
  • "When President Biden meets with President Putin in Geneva, he will stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as he has done in both of his earlier calls to President Putin."

Where things stand: Putin announced Friday the first of two lines is complete and said energy giant Gazprom is "ready to start filling Nord Stream 2 with gas."

  • The White House has called the pipeline "a Kremlin geopolitical project that threatens European energy security." But Biden nonetheless backed off U.S. sanctions on the company working to finish the pipeline.
  • Zelensky said he has moved past anger and would now describe his feeling as one of disappointment.

Behind the scenes: Zelensky says Biden had offered him "direct signals" that the U.S. was prepared to block the pipeline. Then came the news that Biden would be waiving the sanctions.

  • Zelensky said he had to listen to a White House press briefing to obtain an explanation: The administration said the pipeline was already nearly complete and cited the importance of good relations with Germany.
  • Zelensky said he understands the importance of that relationship, but he asked: "How many Ukrainian lives does the relationship between the United States and Germany cost?"

Zelensky says he is "positive" Biden could still stop the pipeline. "I still believe, after all, that Biden is a Jordan in politics," he said.

  • He recalled how Michael Jordan would lull opponents into a "false sense of victory" then "grab the victory at the very last minute."
  • "If this is not the case, that will be a great pity, not only for me," he said. "There will be a feeling that in these circumstances Russia will have a great chance to prevail over the United States."

The White House says it proposed the Putin summit to seek a "stable and predictable" relationship with Putin.

  • Biden is hardly the first U.S. president to seek that, Zelensky said. "But, if you ask me, the better scenario would be for the U.S. to make it so that Russia starts aiming to forge the relationship with the United States."

Zelenskyhas not enjoyed stability or predictability from Moscow since taking office in 2019. He thinks Russia's recent military build-up on the borders was an attempt to inflict "psychological pressure" but noted that the threat still looms.

  • Zelensky expressed appreciationfor the support Biden offered during that showdown, but he said the Nord Stream decision could "dampen the confidence" Ukrainians feel in the U.S.
  • He also said he's discussed with the Biden administration a "possible increase in military assistance" to expand security in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov around Ukraine's shoreline. It's unclear whether Biden will follow through on those discussions.

What’s next: A source familar with the U.S. interactions said they had told the Ukrainian side several days ago they would hold a call this week, as early as Monday. It could be a contentious conversation.

Go deeper: Full interview transcript.

Reports: Trump DOJ subpoenaed Apple for records of WH counsel Don McGahn

Apple told former Trump administration White House counsel Don McGahn last month that the Department of Justice subpoenaed information about accounts of his in 2018, the New York Times first reported Sunday.

Why it matters: Although it's unclear why the DOJ took the action, such a move against a senior lawyer representing the presidency is highly unusual.

Keep reading... Show less

Pelosi demands Barr and Sessions testify on data subpoenas she says go "beyond Richard Nixon"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told CNN Sunday that former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions should testify before Congress on reports that the Trump-era Department of Justice seized Democrats' and journalists' data records.

Driving the news: DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced Friday an internal investigation into the matter, and Pelosi expressed disbelief to CNN's Dana Brash at assertions that neither Barr nor Sessions knew of probes into lawmakers.

Keep reading... Show less

Shipping giant CEO says business have to avoid global politics

The CEO of the world's largest container-shipping company cautions that international firms have to be careful of taking political stances.

  • What they're saying: "We cannot run a global business if we start to have views on politics in every single country that we are in," Maersk CEO Søren Skou tells "Axios on HBO."
Keep reading... Show less

Chamber of Commerce CEO Suzanne Clark defends overture to Democrats

U.S. Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Suzanne Clark told me on "Axios on HBO" that the business group was right to endorse vulnerable House Democrats last year, despite the flak that resulted from Republicans.

  • Clark, who took over the top job in March, said those House Democrats "had really helped push business's number one priority, which was the free trade agreement with Canada and Mexico, over the finish line."
  • "All of the Republicans that we work with on tax, on regulation — those people are really, really important to us," she added: "So we have to be willing to have a different coalition on every issue."
Keep reading... Show less

Nuclear watchdog: “Essential” to have deal with Iran

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency tells "Axios on HBO" that it's "essential" to have a nuclear deal with Iran because otherwise "we are flying blind."

Driving the news: Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi sat down with "Axios on HBO" at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, ahead of Iran's June 18 presidential election and a June 24 extension on negotiations seeking to restore curtailed surveillance of Iranian nuclear sites and salvage the 2015 deal.

Keep reading... Show less

U.N. ambassador Thomas-Greenfield sees tough Putin summit

Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told me on "Axios on HBO" that President Biden will be candid, frank — and tough — during this week's summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • "The president will make clear to the Russians that they cannot harbor cyber terrorists and criminals in their country and not be held accountable for it," she added. "And they need to take the responsibility for dealing with this issue."
Keep reading... Show less

Dems’ go-it-alone approach faces big hurdles as left’s frustrations spill over

If a bipartisan group of lawmakers fails to strike a deal on the infrastructure proposal it's negotiating with the White House, ramming through a package using the partisan reconciliation process isn't a guaranteed solution.

Why it matters: Getting 51 Democratic votes would be a long, uphill battle. And moderates within the party are balking at the cost of President Biden's spending — even as progressives openly lament that the "transformational" change they seek is slipping out of reach.

Keep reading... Show less

America's U.N. ambassador: "I will always push for women to be part of negotiation teams"

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., has argued over her 39-year diplomatic career that educating and empowering women and girls is an investment in peace and security for their nations.

  • "I will always push for women to be part of negotiation teams," she told me in the State Department Treaty Room, during an interview for "Axios on HBO."
  • "I notice ... when they're not in the room. ... Sometimes I'm the only one," she added with a laugh. "And I will call it out."
Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories