Ukraine president, US lawmakers huddle amid tensions with Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke with more than 20 lawmakers during a video call on Friday amid tensions between Kyiv and Moscow. 

In a statement following the meeting, Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanNew Mexico Democrat tests positive for COVID-19 breakthrough case Warner tests positive for breakthrough COVID-19 case Marjorie Taylor Greene endorses JD Vance in Ohio Senate race MORE (R-Ohio), the co-chairman of the Senate Ukraine Caucus who was on the call with Zelensky, said the conversation touched on Russia’s threat to its borders, Zelensky’s appreciation for the U.S. military’s help and his opposition to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, among other issues.

“Today we had an opportunity to hear directly from President Zelenskyy about the ongoing Russian troop buildup along the Ukraine-Russia border and to express our strong solidarity with the people and the democratically-elected government of Ukraine,” Portman said in the statement.

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Zelensky, in a statement after the meeting concluded, said he briefed the U.S. delegation — made up of both senators and representatives — on steps being pursued to attain peace within existing negotiation formats.

They also reportedly discussed the importance of U.S. involvement in the peace process, expanding sanctions pressure on the Russian Federation, and cooperation between the U.S. and Ukraine in the security field.

Tensions between Moscow and Washington ramped up as Russia amassed a large troop presence on the Ukrainian border. The buildup fueled fear among Western nations that Russia may be planning an attack.

U.S. intelligence earlier this year found that Russia was planning a military offensive against Ukraine that could occur as early as next year. The intelligence document, which was obtained by The Washington Post, said the offensive would involve 175,000 troops being deployed near the border.

Russia, however, has denied having any such plans.

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On Saturday, Reuters reported that more than 10,000 Russian troops were leaving regions near Ukraine and returning to permanent bases. The news service cited the Interfax news agency, which quoted the Russian military.

Zelensky, in his statement on Friday, said, “Now, more than ever, it is not words that matter, but decisive actions,” according to The Associated Press.

“My goal is to stop the bloodshed in the east of Ukraine. It’s impossible to imagine security in Europe without ending the war in Donbas,” he added.

Zelensky also said “not a single third country can have a say in Ukraine’s integration into NATO,” adding that there could be “no agreements on Ukraine without Ukraine,” according to the AP.

Russia has called on NATO to promise that it will not expand the group in the direction of Russia’s borders, according to Reuters. Moscow is also reportedly concerned about Ukraine’s increased association with the alliance.

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President BidenJoe BidenDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors On The Money — Vaccine-or-test mandate for businesses nixed Warner tests positive for breakthrough COVID-19 case MORE spoke with Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinActing U.S. ambassador to Ukraine: Embassy families evacuated out of 'abundance of caution' Overnight Energy & Environment — 'Forever chemical' suits face time crunch US shipment of military equipment, munitions arrives in Ukraine MORE on a video call earlier this month, during which the two leaders discussed Moscow’s tensions with Kyiv.

Biden warned Putin against invading Ukraine, telling the Russian leader that his country would be subject to economic consequences if Moscow mobilized an offensive.

Biden also noted the option of de-escalating the situation by diplomatic means with the U.S. and other European countries.

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Portman and Durbin, the other co-chair of the Ukraine Caucus, organized the conversation.