Kyiv, Ukraine • President Joe Biden paid an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Monday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a defiant demonstration of Western solidarity with a country still waging a “brutal and unjust war” days before the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion ‘, as he called it.
“A year later, Kiev is there,” Biden said after meeting Zelensky at the Mariinsky Palace. Against a backdrop of three flags from each country, he pinched his finger to emphasize his podium and continued, “And Ukraine is standing. democracy stands. Americans are on your side and the world is on your side.”
Biden spent more than five hours in the Ukrainian capital, consulting with Zelenskyy on next steps, honoring the country’s fallen soldiers and visiting US Embassy staff in the besieged country.
The visit comes at a crucial time as Biden seeks to keep allies united in support of Ukraine as the war is expected to intensify with Spring offensives. Zelenskyy urges allies to speed up delivery of promised weapons systems and urges the West to provide fighter jets – something Biden has refused.
The US president got a taste of the terror Ukrainians have been living with for nearly a year as air raid sirens wailed as he and Zelenskyy concluded a visit to the gold-domed St. Michael’s Cathedral.
Serene-faced, they carried on undeterred, laying two wreaths and observing a minute’s silence at the memorial wall to honor Ukrainian soldiers killed since 2014, the year Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and Russian-backed fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine.
The White House declined to go into details, but national security adviser Jake Sullivan said it briefed Moscow on Biden’s visit to Kiev just before he left Washington “for conflict reduction purposes” to avoid any misperception the two nuclear weapons might bring. armed nations in direct conflict.
In Kiev, Biden announced an additional half-billion dollars in U.S. aid — on top of the more than $50 billion already provided — for howitzer shells, anti-tank missiles, air surveillance radars and other aid, but no new advanced weapons.
Ukraine has also been pushing for battlefield systems that would allow its forces to hit Russian targets that have been moved back from frontline areas, beyond the range of the HIMARS missiles already delivered. Zelenskyy said he and Biden discussed “long-range weapons and the weapons that may still be delivered to Ukraine even though they weren’t delivered before.” However, he did not name any new commitments.
“Our negotiations were very successful,” added Zelenskyy.
Biden’s mission, with his visit to Kiev ahead of a planned trip to Warsaw, Poland, is to underscore that the United States stands ready to hold on to Ukraine “for as long as is necessary” to repel Russian forces, even if opinion polls suggest it US and allied support for providing arms and direct economic aid has begun to wane. For Zelenskyy, the symbolism of the US president standing by his side on Ukrainian soil as the anniversary approaches is no small matter, as he urges allies to provide more advanced weapons and speed up deliveries.
“I thought it was crucial that there was no doubt whatsoever about US support for Ukraine in the war,” Biden said.
Biden’s visit was a brazen rebuke of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had hoped his military would quickly overrun Kiev within days. Recalling a conversation with Zelenskyy on the night of the invasion, Biden, a Democrat, said: “On that dark night a year ago, the world was literally preparing for the fall of Kiev. Maybe even the end of Ukraine.”
A year later, the Ukrainian capital remains firmly under Ukrainian control. Though some semblance of normalcy has returned to the city, regular air raid sirens and frequent missile and killer drone strikes on military and civilian infrastructure across the country are almost constant reminders that the war is still raging. The bloodiest fighting is currently taking place in the east of the country, particularly around the town of Bakhmut, where Russian offensives are underway.
At least six civilians have been killed and 17 others injured in Ukraine in the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s Presidential Office reported. In the eastern Donetsk region, the Russian army used air raids to attack towns on the front line. According to the Ukrainian governor of the region, Pavlo Kyrylenko, a total of 15 towns and villages have been shelled in the last 24 hours. In the north-eastern Kharkiv region, towns near the border with Russia came under fire. A rocket attack hit Kupyansk, damaging a hospital, a factory and residential buildings.
“The costs that Ukraine had to bear were extraordinarily high,” Biden said. “And the sacrifices were far too great.” But “Putin’s war of conquest is failing.”
“He’s counting on us not sticking together,” Biden said. “He thought he could outlive us. I don’t think he thinks that now. God knows what he’s thinking, but I don’t think he’s thinking that. But he was just wrong. Just wrong.”
The trip gave Biden an opportunity to see first-hand the devastation wrought in Ukraine by the Russian invasion. Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have been killed, millions of refugees have fled the war, and Ukraine has suffered tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure damage.
Biden, who wears a blue suit and sometimes his signature aviator shades, said Zelenskyy the US would stand by him “as long as necessary”. Zelenskyy replied in English: “We’ll do it.”
The Ukrainian leader, wearing a black sweatshirt as has become his wartime habit, said through an interpreter that Biden’s visit this year “takes us closer to victory,” he hoped. He thanked the Americans and “everyone who appreciates freedom”.
It was rare for a US President to travel to a conflict zone where the US or its allies had no airspace control.
The US military has no presence in Ukraine apart from a small detachment of Marines guarding the embassy in Kiev, making Biden’s visit more complicated than other recent visits to war zones by previous US leaders.
While Biden was in Ukraine, US surveillance aircraft, including E-3 Sentry airborne radar and an RC-135W Rivet Joint electronic aircraft, monitored from Polish airspace in Kiev.
Speculation has been piling up for weeks that Biden would visit Ukraine around February 24, the anniversary of the Russian invasion. But the White House had repeatedly said that no presidential trip to Ukraine was planned, even after the visit to Poland was announced.
Since early Monday morning, many main streets and central blocks in Kiev have been cordoned off without any official explanation. Later, people began sharing videos of long queues of cars driving through streets where access was restricted.
At the White House, planning for Biden’s visit to Kiev was tightly held due to security concerns — with a relatively small group of aides briefed on the plans. Sullivan said Biden gave final approval to the trip, which had been in the works for months, on Friday during a meeting in the Oval Office where he was briefed on security plans for the visit.
The President traveled with a normally small entourage, with only a few senior advisers and two journalists to maintain secrecy.
When asked by a reporter Friday whether Biden might schedule stops outside of Poland, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby replied, “For now, the trip will be in Warsaw.” Moments later — and without prompting — Kirby added : “I said ‘now’.
Biden quietly departed Joint Base Andrews near Washington at 4:15 a.m. Sunday, making a stopover at Ramstein Air Base in Germany before heading to Ukraine. He arrived in Kiev at 8 a.m. on Monday. He left after 1 p.m
As of Monday, Biden’s non-visit made him a standout partner for Ukraine in the west, some of whom have frequently visited the Ukrainian capital. White House officials had previously cited safety concerns preventing Biden from traveling, and Sullivan said Monday the visit was only conducted when officials believed they had reduced the risk to acceptable levels.
In June, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and then-Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi traveled together by night train to Kiev to meet with Zelenskyy. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited Kiev in November shortly after taking office.
This is Biden’s first visit as President to a war zone. His most recent predecessors, Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, made surprise visits to Afghanistan and Iraq during their presidencies to meet US troops and the leaders of those countries.
Madhani and Miller reported from Washington.
https://www.sltrib.com/news/nation-world/2023/02/20/biden-declares-kyiv-stands/ Biden declares ‘Kiev stands’ on surprise visit to Ukraine