White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a news briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Friday. Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo
April 29 (UPI) -- White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday reiterated President Joe Biden's calls to expel Russia from the Group of 20 intergovernmental forum after President Vladimir Putin confirmed his interest in attending its summit in November.
Putin had been invited to attend by President Joko Widodo of Indonesia, which is hosting the G20 summit, before the invasion of Ukraine and confirmed his attendance on a call on Thursday, Widodo said in a statement.
"I reiterate the importance of the war ending peacefully and that Indonesia is ready to contribute to the peace effort," Widodo said.
"Indonesia wants to unify the G20, let there be no division. Peace and stability are the key to the recovery and development of the world's economy."
Psaki, who was asked during a press briefing if the United States would welcome Russia's presence at the G20, responded that "there's a lot that could happen between now and then."
"But we certainly haven't seen an indication to date of Russia's plan to participate in diplomatic talks constructively," Psaki said.
"Our hope certainly is that will change because, obviously, diplomatic talks and conversations is the way to bring an end to this conflict, and President Putin could end this tomorrow, could end this right now."
Psaki added that Biden has publicly expressed "his opposition to President Putin attending the G20."
"We have welcomed the Ukrainians attending -- or invitation to attend the G20. It is six months away," Psaki said. "We can't predict at this point what that will look like."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Wednesday that Widodo invited him to join this year's G20 summit in Bali.
During his nightly video message, Zelensky said he was "grateful" after the U.S. House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed the Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022.
The bill, which passed the U.S. Senate earlier this month, gives Biden enhanced authority to lend or lease defense equipment to Ukraine to protect civilians from the Russian military invasion.
"I am grateful to the United States, President Biden and Congress for an analogue of the famous Lend-Lease program, which will be very helpful in the fight against Russia," Zelensky said, adding that such programs "helped a lot in the fight against the Nazis during World War II."
"I am sure that now the Lend-Lease will help Ukraine and the whole free world beat the ideological successors of the Nazis, who started a war against us on our land. Lend-Lease and other programs in support of Ukraine are concrete proof that freedom is still able to defend itself against tyranny."
Zelensky said earlier on Friday that efforts were being made to get civilians safely out of the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, one of the last strongholds of Ukrainian forces in the city.
The steel plant, which has an assortment of underground tunnels, has been under constant attack and bombardment by the Russian military for weeks as Ukrainian forces and civilians hunkered down there.
Moscow has sought to take over Mariupol, a southern port city, due to its strategic location related to Crimea and eastern Ukraine. The Russian military claimed victory in the city last week, although Ukrainian fighters and civilians are still in the plant.
"An operation is planned today to get civilians out of the plant," Zelensky said, according to The Guardian.
U.S. military officials say Moscow has moved a large number of troops from Mariupol and redeployed them to other fighting hot spots. They also noted that Russia has struggled with logistics in eastern Ukraine -- which is home to the separatist-heavy Donbas and is the focus of Russia's current phase of the war -- while making "slow and uneven" progress.
A resident removes leftover belongings from his apartment after it was destroyed by Russian missiles in Borodyanka, Ukraine, on Tuesday. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI
The British Defense Ministry said via Twitter Friday that Russia is still pushing to fully control Donetsk and Luhansk, the regions that make up the Donbas, in eastern Ukraine on Friday. Heavy fighting in the cities of Lysychansk and Severodonetsk was reported.
Russian forces attempted to advance south from Izyum in an effort to encircle Ukrainian forces -- but those efforts have been limited due to strong Ukrainian resistance, British defense officials noted.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's Radio Svoboda said one of its journalists was killed in a Russian missile strike in Kyiv on Thursday -- Moscow's first direct attack on the Ukrainian capital in weeks. The attack surprised many Kyiv residents who'd slowly begun to return to something approaching normal after two months of fighting.
"Radio Liberty journalist and producer Vera Girich died as a result of a Russian missile hitting the house where she lived in Kyiv," Radio Svoboda said according to The Guardian. "The shelling took place on [Thursday]. The body of the deceased was found under the wreckage on [Friday] morning."
The station said Girich had worked in the outlet's Kyiv bureau since 2018. Before that, she was known throughout the country as a journalist on Ukrainian television channels.
The missile attack in Kyiv on Thursday came on the same day that United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited Zelensky there.
"Countries everywhere will recognize they cannot have their U.N. secretary general treated in this disrespectful, casual and frankly dangerous way, by [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and the Russian regime," Malloch Brown, former U.N. deputy secretary general, said according to NBC News.