President Biden made a surprise visit to Ukraine, his first time to the war-torn country of his presidency and to show support ahead of the eve of the one-year anniversary since Russia launching its full-scale invasion.
“Unchecked aggression is a threat to all of us,” Biden said. “One year later, Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands, Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you. Kyiv has captured a part of my heart.”
Biden insisted that the U.S. will remain steadfast in its support of Ukraine, stressing the case for continued spending by the West to support Ukraine’s efforts to oust Russian forces. The President also pledged that the U.S. would continue to stand by Zelenskyy and his country “for as long as it takes.”
“For all the disagreement we have in our Congress on some issues, there is significant agreement on support for Ukraine,” Biden said.
During the nearly 20-minute joint remarks at Mariinsky Palace, Biden pledged $460 million in additional military aid package — the 32nd aid package since the start of Russia’s invasion. The new package includes more military equipment and weapons from a range of munitions, anti-tank Javelin missiles, infantry-support vehicles, communication equipment, and medical supplies. According to a State Department official, $460 million in new support for Ukraine, $450 million dedicated to arms and equipment, and $10 million will be for emergency assistance to maintain Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Biden also said additional sanctions would be announced this week that would target institutions that have sought to evade existing penalties imposed to “back the Russian war machine”.
No F-16 fighter planes were included in this package announced despite Zelenskyy pressing Washington for more advanced fighter jets. Biden has so remained adamant so far in his refusal to provide such weapons out of fear it could escalate the conflict outside Ukraine’s borders. Last month, Biden announced the U.S. would send 31 Abrams tanks after months of initially being reluctant to do so.
So far, almost a year into the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, the U.S. has provided almost $30 billion in military assistance to Ukraine so far from the $113 billion lawmakers authorized in military and economic assistance. In total, Pentagon has so far spent $62.3 billion allocated in the past year on weapons and ammunition as well as training, logistics, and salaries.
After arriving in Ukraine at about 8 am local time Monday, Biden would then spent 5 hours in Kyiv, where he made stops at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and visited the Mariinsky Palace, where he signed a guest book and made brief remarks alongside Zelenskyy. The two leaders visited St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery and then walked to the nearby Wall of Remembrance, which honors Ukrainian soldiers that have died over the past 12 months. Both Biden and Zelenskyy participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Wall of Remembrance for fallen soldiers as a military salute played and the two presidents stood in silence for a few moments.
News of the stop including a meeting with the Ukrainian President was kept tightly sealed and strictly under secrecy until Biden arrived in Kyiv. According to the White House, Biden’s visit to Ukraine was “historic and unprecedented” given that no U.S. President has ever made a trip to an active war embattled country without any military presence.
Once Biden left Kyiv to head back to Warsaw, Poland, details of the trip emerged. Two reporters who would be traveling with the president were sworn to secrecy and were told to look out for an email containing instructions for an early Sunday morning departure from Andrews Air Force Base, with the subject line that read: “Arrival instructions for the golf tourney,” according to the pool report.
On Sunday night, the White House issued its daily public schedule for Monday that reported that Biden would be departing in the evening for the announced planned trip to Poland. However, a covert plan was set in motion that began in the predawn hours Sunday, with Biden boarding an Air Force 2 instead of the official presidential aircraft to kick off the nearly 24-hour journey to Kyiv.
“President Biden felt that it was important to make this trip, because of the critical juncture that we find ourselves at as we approach the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” National security adviser Jake Sullivan said, noting that despite the risk and danger, the image of Biden and Zelenskyy in the Ukrainian capital was all worth it.
The small group departed Andrews Air Force Base at 4:15 am ET on Sunday, arriving at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base at 5:13 pm local time Sunday. After arriving at Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport in Poland, Biden’s motorcade traveled directly to the Przemyśl Główny train station in Poland, arriving at about 9:15 pm local time. From there, the heavily guarded eight-car train commenced a 10-hour overnight journey into Kyiv, Ukraine.
“It’s good to be back in Kyiv,” Biden said after stepping off the train.
“When Putin launched his invasion nearly one year ago, he thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided. He thought he could outlast us. But he was dead wrong,” Biden said in the statement announcing that he made a surprise unprecedented visit to Ukraine. “Today, in Kyiv, I am meeting with President Zelenskyy and his team for an extended discussion on our support for Ukraine. I will announce another delivery of critical equipment, including artillery ammunition, anti-armor systems, and air surveillance radars to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardments.”
The White House had notified the Kremlin of Biden’s visit ahead of time “for deconfliction purposes,” Sullivan told traveling reporters. Biden made the final decision to go to Ukraine after a last-minute huddle in the Oval Office and a phone call with his national security cabinet, according to WH officials.
“We did so some hours before his departure for deconfliction purposes,” Sullivan told reporters on a conference call while declining to provide more details on Moscow’s response to the alert. The trip, according to Sullivan “required a security, operational, and logistical effort from professionals across the U.S. government to take what was an inherently risky undertaking and make it a manageable level of risk.”
While some Republicans have joined Democrats in praising Biden for making the visit and supporting Ukraine, many Conservative Republicans are opposing giving another “blank check.” For those who oppose additional funding to a country known for being involved in the illicit arms trade, the visit drew brutal criticism and a variety of attacks from Conservative Republicans who slammed Biden for neglecting domestic issues, including a train derailment incident that occurred earlier this month in East Palestine, Ohio.
Biden has yet to address the issue, while his administration officials ignored the crisis for over 10 days until public outrage became national news. The small town currently dealing with air and water quality of life issues from toxic chemicals has been denied assistance from FEMA despite the event being considered a disaster. EPA Administrator Michael Regan visited East Palestine site last Thursday, two weeks after the train derailment incident while Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has yet to make a stop.
Biden’s visit comes to Ukraine comes two months after Zelenskyy traveled to Washington D.C. in December where the Ukrainian leader address a joint session of Congress ahead of Republicans taking over the House.
However, the war has stretched on longer than the West had expected and public support back home has weakened. A recent Associated Press-NORC poll showed 48% of American adults were in favor of providing weapons to Ukraine in January, slipping from 60% in favor on May 2o22 — at the time the war was just three months in.KyivPresident BidenRussia-Ukraine WarUkraineVolodymyr ZelenskyyWhite HouseWhite House News