KYIV, April 2 - U.S. President Joe Biden used a first official phone call with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Friday to offer staunch support in Ukraine's standoff over Russian troops near its border, Reuters reported.
Although Washington has been Ukraine's most powerful ally since Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, Biden has delayed his phone call with Zelenskiy for two months to step up pressure on Kyiv to combat corruption.
The ongoing Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine has spurred international concerns that Russian attack might be imminent, prompting a flurry of phone calls from senior U.S. officials over the past week to reassure Ukraine of support.
Western nations and transatlantic military alliance NATO voiced concern over the Russian troop movements near the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions where Ukrainian troops are in conflict with Russian-backed forces.
"President Biden affirmed the United States' unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's ongoing aggression in the Donbass and Crimea," a U.S. statement said.
The call lasted about 50 minutes, according to Zelenskiy's chief of staff.
"We discussed the situation in Donbass in detail. President Biden assured me that Ukraine will never be left alone against Russia's aggression," the Ukrainian president said in a video statement afterwards.
Russia said this week that an escalation in Donbass could "destroy" Ukraine and warned against any NATO deployment.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that the situation at the contact line in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatist forces was quite frightening and that multiple "provocations" were taking place there.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart, Andrii Taran, and "condemned recent escalations of Russian aggressive and provocative actions in eastern Ukraine," the Pentagon said.
Ukraine, Western countries and NATO accuse Russia of sending troops and heavy weapons to prop up proxies in Donbass who seized a swathe of eastern Ukraine in 2014. Russia says it only provides political and humanitarian support to separatist fighters in what it casts as an internal conflict.
"We stand shoulder to shoulder when it comes to preservation of our democracies," Zelenskiy wrote on Twitter after the call. (rt/tl/ez)