US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told a Ukrainian activist at a NATO public forum Wednesday that the “American people deserve a degree of gratitude” for their support of Ukraine after the activist lambasted the decision not to immediately invite Ukraine to the alliance.
The tense exchange echoed frustrations from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, perhaps offering a preview of how US President Joe Biden will respond to Ukraine’s leader later Wednesday as the two leaders are set to meet.
During the question-and-answer portion of the event, Daria Kaleniuk, the director of Anti-Corruption Action Center in Ukraine, pressed Sullivan on what reforms need to be made as she railed against the lack of invitation to join the alliance.
“Please advise me: What should I tell my son? That President Biden and NATO didn’t invite Ukraine to NATO because he’s afraid of Russia? Afraid of Russia losing? Afraid of Ukraine winning? Or the raw backchannel communications with Kremlin, which is terrorist organization, to reach their Minsk 3 deal? Should I prepare my son to be a soldier and fight Russians when he will be 18 years in 7 years?” Kaleniuk asked Sullivan.
Sullivan thanked her for her efforts to advance Ukraine’s democracy and heralded Ukrainian citizens standing up to Russia’s aggression. He went on to point to an “enormous amount of capacity” provided by the US to help Ukraine fight the invasion, plus continued solidarity from the US and other partners.
“President Biden was clear and straightforward in his public comments about his perspective on the question of Ukraine and NATO, and some of what you said in your remarks about motives, I think, was entirely unfounded and unjustified,” Sullivan told Kaleniuk.
He echoed comments from Biden that a Ukraine accession to NATO right now would mean NATO would be at war with Russia, and he pointed to continued reforms Ukraine needs to make.
“The most important thing, in this respect, is for us to be able to have the kind of honesty that was inherent in your question, but also for us to make sure that, in having that honesty, certain insinuations or implications inherent in your question, which are not founded, get checked at the door so that we can talk to one another in good will, in good faith,” he said.
Sullivan went on to call for gratitude.
“The American people have sought – in watching and wanting to stand in solidarity with the brave and courageous people of Ukraine – to step up and deliver. And I think the American people do deserve a degree of gratitude — from us, from the United States, from our government, deserve gratitude for their willingness to step up and from the rest of the world, as well, as do every ally and partner that’s supporting it,” he said.
Sullivan concluded by saying that the people of Ukraine “are the ones really carrying the burden of this, and we have to do what we can to support them. And we will do that, and I will personally do that every single day.”