Zelensky chastises Biden on Russia: 'I am based here, and I think I know the details'

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky (Office of the President of Ukraine via Twitter)
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky (Office of the President of Ukraine via Twitter)

President Biden had a phone call Thursday night with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and it apparently wasn’t “perfect,” to borrow the term President Trump famously employed to describe a conversation with the Ukrainian leader that Democrats used to impeach him.

CNN reported, citing an unnamed senior Ukrainian official, that Biden’s call with Zelensky over the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine “did not go well.” The CNN story later was deleted from the network’s website without explanation.

Biden, according to the official, told Zelensky a Russian invasion is nearly certain in February, as soon as the ground freezes solid enough for Russian tanks to move. The U.S. president further warned his counterpart, the official told CNN, that Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, could be “sacked” by Russian forces, who may attempt to occupy the city.

A frustrated Zelensky, the official said, told Biden during the call that the invasion threat has been exaggerated.

The Ukrainian official told CNN that Biden said Ukraine would not be offered significantly more military help. Zelensky urged Biden to “calm down the messaging,” warning of the economic impact of panic, according to the official. He also said Ukrainian intelligence sees the threat differently.

The White House disputes that characterization of the phone call.

National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne told CNN: “Anonymous sources are ‘leaking’ falsehoods. President Biden said that there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February. He has said this publicly and we have been warning about this for months. Reports of anything more or different than that are completely false.”

However, on Friday at a press conference in Kiev, Zelensky made it clear he believed Biden did not have a good read on the situation with Russia.

Zelensky began, according to an interpreter, by saying he was “grateful to the United States for their ongoing support to our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“But I am the president of Ukraine, and I based here, and I think I know the details deeper than any other president,” he emphasized.

Zelensky said the “question is not about the U.S. president.”

“We do understand what the risks are,” he said, and it’s “important that [Biden] should know the situation from me and not from the intermediaries.”

The Ukrainian president then became more conciliatory.

“[Biden] knows the situation from me personally, and we are talking with each other, and we will have another conversation as well,” he said.

See Zelensky’s remarks Friday about his conversation with Biden:

Zelensky has said he hopes a ceasefire agreement with rebels in eastern Ukraine will be maintained, pointing to a recent breakthrough in talks with Russia in Paris.

The Pentagon said Thursday that Russia’s military buildup along the Ukrainian border had increased over the previous 24 hours, CNN reported.

The U.S. is awaiting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to written proposals it submitted to Moscow on Wednesday.

“We continue to see, including in the last 24 hours, more accumulation of credible combat forces arrayed by the Russians in, again, the western part of their country and in Belarus,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters at a briefing Thursday.

The spokesman described the buildup as “not dramatic” but “also not sclerotic.”

See CNN correspondent Matthew Chance describe the Ukrainian official’s description of the phone call:

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