Just days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, US President Joe Biden unexpectedly landed in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, serving as a ballsy way to reaffirm Washington’s unwavering support.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and US President Joe Biden met in Kyiv on Monday during Biden's unexpected visit. Credit: Presidential Press Office of Ukraine
US President Joe Biden paid a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday, only two days before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. " Joseph Biden, welcome to Kyiv! Your visit is an extremely important sign of support for all Ukrainians," Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on social media.
The trip, which had not been publicised in advance due to security concerns, was Biden's first to Ukraine since Moscow initiated the war. In joint press appearances, Zelenskyy stated that negotiations with Biden brought Ukraine "closer to victory" as the US president committed a fresh military aid package to Ukraine. "Today our negotiations were very fruitful... They were very important and crucial," he remarked.
According to media accounts, Biden's surprise visit to Kyiv lasted almost five hours. He was scheduled to go to Poland later that day. According to US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Moscow was only told of Biden's visit "hours" in advance. "Because of the sensitive nature of those contacts, I won't delve into how they reacted or what the particular substance of our message was," Sullivan said in a conference call with reporters.
What were Biden’s words?
"As the world prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine, I am in Kyiv today to meet with President Zelenskyy and reaffirm our unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine's democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity," Biden said in a statement.
According to the White House, Biden will announce the supply of additional weaponry to Ukraine, including artillery ammunition, anti-armour systems, and air surveillance radars. Biden estimated that the new military aid package would cost $500 million (€468 million). According to the Pentagon, the US has already supplied or pledged about $30 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict.
The United States' military support to Ukraine includes the formidable M1 Abrams tanks, which are due to arrive in few months. Despite Kyiv's pleas, the US has so far declined to supply fighter jets.
The US will announce further sanctions against individuals and firms tied to "Russia's war machine" later this week, according to the White House.
President Biden also held a speech at the Mariinsky Palace in Kyiv. "One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,'' he remarked. "Russia's aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map. Putin’s war of conquest is failing."
During a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023, President Joe Biden goes into St. Michael's Golden-Domed Cathedral. Credit: Presidential Press Office
Why was Biden’s visit so significant?
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's Foreign Minister, called Biden's visit a "success for the Ukrainian people and President Zelenskyy."
"It has been undertaken in spite of everything for the sake of Ukraine's triumph and all the free world. It's a clear signal to the swamp — no one is frightened of you!" he remarked, referring to Russia.
Air-raid sirens wailed around Kyiv soon before Biden's arrival was announced. While air-raid sirens were heard in Kyiv, Ukrainian MP Oleksiy Goncharenko stated Biden was meeting with Zelenskyy.
Biden’s trip to Poland.
The White House revealed earlier this month that Biden would visit Poland for two days on February 20, fuelling anticipation that the US president may also visit Ukraine. Poland hopes to see more US troops on its soil.
On Sunday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated that he and Biden would discuss the idea of US troops being in Poland permanently. "We are in discussions with President Biden's administration about making their [troop] presence more permanent and increasing it," Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told CBS.
In reaction to Russian threats, Biden stated in June that the US would establish a new permanent army headquarters in Poland. During his visit, Biden will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and key Eastern European leaders.
Western leaders in Kyiv
Biden is the most recent Western leader to visit Kiev since Russia's conflict began. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron, and then-Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi came by night train to Kyiv in June to meet with Zelenskyy. Rishi Sunak, the British Prime Minister, also paid a visit to Kyiv immediately after assuming office last year.
Even after the Poland trip was publicised, the White House denied that Biden would go to Ukraine in the weeks leading up to his visit. A reporter asked White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Friday if Biden's tour will include countries other than Poland. "Right now, the trip will be in Warsaw," he said.
This is Biden's first trip to a conflict zone as president. Past US presidents such as Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush paid unexpected visits to Afghanistan and Iraq while in office.
Biden stated that while vice president, he visited Kyiv six times. "I knew I'd be back," he explained.