Ukraine’s president hails US support despite low-key Trump talks

Petro Poroshenko says it was vital to beat Vladimir Putin to White House talks

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has hailed his meeting with US counterpart Donald Trump as an important diplomatic victory over Russia, despite receiving a relatively low-key welcome to the White House on Tuesday.

Mr Trump did not greet Mr Poroshenko upon his arrival at the White House and he was not scheduled to hold separate talks with him. Instead, they spoke when the Ukrainian delegation briefly joined a meeting between the US leader and his national security adviser HR McMaster.

Mr Trump offered vague pleasantries but no strong public message of support for Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression, and he was far less effusive than when welcoming Moscow's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and its envoy Sergei Kislyak to the Oval Office last month.

Describing Ukraine as a place the US was “very much involved in”, Mr Trump said Mr Poroshenko’s visit had included “some very, very good discussions . . . and I think a lot of progress has been made”. He did not offer any details.

Mr Poroshenko told Mr Trump the US was “a reliable supporter and strategic partner of Ukraine” and a “co-sponsor” in his country’s “story of success”.

“I am confident that with our effective co-ordination we can bring peace to my nation, and support our territorial integrity and sovereignty,” he added.

Afterwards, Mr Poroshenko called his meeting with Mr Trump “full and detailed” and insisted he had “received strong support from the US side”.

Crucial symbolism

There was expected to be more substance to Mr Poroshenko's meetings with US vice-president Mike Pence, secretary of state Rex Tillerson and the heads of the defence, energy and commerce departments, but he described the symbolism of his White House meeting as crucial.

“It is very important that my meeting, as Ukrainian president, in the White House will take place before [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s meeting,” Mr Poroshenko declared earlier on Tuesday, saying it would allow him to “provide information and leave no chance for injustice”.

“There has never been such a substantial visit. We will have an opportunity to discuss our co-operation in security, political and economic spheres,” he added.

The US has given strong backing to Ukraine since a 2014 pro-democracy revolution turned it away from Russia and towards the West.

Russia responded by annexing the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and fomenting a conflict in eastern Ukraine, where continued fighting between government troops and Moscow-backed separatists has killed more than 10,000 people and displaced 1.6 million.

Mr Trump's praise for Mr Putin and calls for a rapprochement with Russia alarmed Ukraine and its western allies, but other senior US officials have maintained a tough line on Moscow. On Tuesday, the US treasury department sanctioned another 38 individuals and firms over Russia's actions in Ukraine.

Mr Tillerson said recently that Russia and Ukraine could potentially end their conflict without the current, beleaguered Minsk agreement brokered by Germany and France, fuelling suggestions that Washington may want to play a bigger role in resolving the crisis.