President Joe Biden made an unannounced incursion into Ukraine on Monday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelensky in a show of Western solidarity with a country still fighting what he called a “brutal and unjust war,” days before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
“One year later, Kiev stands,” Mr. Biden declared after meeting with Mr. Zelensky at the Mariinsky Palace. Sticking a finger on his rostrum for emphasis against a background of three flags of each country, he continued. “And Ukraine is standing. Democracy stands. Americans are with you and the world is with you.”
Mr Biden spent more than five hours in the Ukrainian capital conferring with Mr Zelensky on next steps, honoring the country’s fallen soldiers and seeing US embassy staff in the besieged country.
The visit takes place at a crucial moment. Mr. Biden is trying to keep allies united in supporting Ukraine as the war is expected to escalate with spring offensives. Mr. Zelenskiy has been pressing allies to speed up the delivery of promised weapons systems and has called on the West to provide fighter jets, which Mr. Biden has refused to do.
The US president got a taste of the terror Ukrainians have been living with for nearly a year as air raid sirens howled just as he and Mr Zelensky finished a visit to the golden-domed St Michael’s Cathedral.
Looking solemn, they continued to quietly lay two wreaths and observe a minute’s silence at the Wall of Remembrance, honoring 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 would not elaborate, but national security adviser Jake Sullivan said it notified Moscow of Mr. Biden’s visit to Kiev shortly before he left Washington for “confrontational purposes” to avoid any miscalculations that could bring the two together. countries with nuclear weapons are directly in conflict.
In Kiev, Mr. Biden announced an additional half a billion dollars in US aid for howitzers, anti-tank missiles, air-surveillance radars and other support missiles, but not new advanced weaponry, on top of the more than $50 billion already provided. .
Ukraine is also advancing battlefield systems that would allow its forces to hit Russian targets that have moved back from the front lines, beyond the range of the already delivered HIMARS missiles. Mr. Zelensky said that he and Mr. Biden had talked about “long-range weapons and the weapons that could still be supplied to Ukraine, even though it had not been supplied before.” But he did not detail new obligations.
“Our negotiations were very effective,” Zelensky added. Mr. Sullivan did not elaborate on possible new opportunities for Ukraine, but said there had been a “good discussion” on the topic.
Mr. Biden’s mission, with his visit to Kiev ahead of a planned visit to Warsaw, Poland, should emphasize that the United States is prepared to stay with Ukraine “as long as necessary” to push back Russian forces, even in the face of public opinion. : suggests that US and allied support for arms and direct economic aid has begun to soften. For Mr. Zelensky, the symbol of having the US president stand by his side on Ukrainian soil is no small thing as he forces allies to provide more advanced weapons and speed up shipments.
“I thought it was extremely important that there be no doubt about US support for Ukraine in the war,” Mr Biden said.
Mr Biden’s visit was a blunt rebuke to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had hoped his military would quickly overrun Kiev within days. Mr. Biden, a Democrat, recalled speaking to Mr. Zelensky the night of the raid, saying, “On that dark night a year ago, the world was literally preparing for the fall of Kiev. Maybe even the end of Ukraine.”
One year later, the capital of Ukraine remains under Ukrainian control. Although a semblance of normality has returned to the city, the sounds of regular airstrikes and frequent missile and assassin drone attacks against military and civilian infrastructure across the country are an almost constant reminder that the war is still raging. At the moment, the bloodiest battles are concentrated in the east of the country, particularly around the city of Bakhmut, where Russian attacks are taking place.
In Ukraine, at least six civilians were killed and 17 others were injured in the last 24 hours, according to the office of the President of Ukraine. In the eastern region of Donetsk, the Russian army used aviation to attack the cities on the front line. The governor of Ukraine, Pavlo Kirilenko, said that 15 cities and villages were shelled in the last 24 hours. In the northeastern Kharkiv region, the border towns with Russia were shelled. A rocket attack was made in Kupianski, damaging the hospital, factory and residential buildings.
“The costs that Ukraine has had to bear have been too great,” Mr. Biden said. “And the sacrifices have been too great.” But “Putin’s war of conquest is failing”.
“He hopes we don’t stay together,” Mr. Biden said. “He thought he could outplay us. I don’t think he thinks so now. God knows what he’s thinking, but I don’t think he does. But he was simply wrong. Just wrong.”
Signing the guest book at the presidential residence, Mr. Biden praised Mr. Zelensky and the Ukrainian people, closing with the words “Slava Ukraine.” “Glory to Ukraine”.
The trip gave Mr. Biden a first-hand look at the devastation of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 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.
Mr Biden, wearing a blue suit and sometimes his trademark aviator sunglasses, told Mr Zelenskiy that the US would stand by him “as long as it takes”. Mr. Zelensky answered in English. “We will do it.”
The Ukrainian leader, wearing a black T-shirt as has become his wartime habit, said through an interpreter that Mr. Biden’s visit “brings us closer to victory” this year, he hoped. He expressed gratitude to Americans and “all those who cherish freedom”.
It was rare for a US president to travel to a conflict zone where the US or its allies controlled the airspace.
The US military has no presence in Ukraine other than a small detachment of Marines guarding the embassy in Kiev, making Mr Biden’s visit more complicated than other recent visits to war zones by former US leaders.
While Mr. Biden was in Ukraine, American surveillance aircraft, including the E-3 Sentry airborne radar and the RC-135W Rivet Joint electronic aircraft, monitored Kiev from Polish airspace.
There has been speculation for weeks that Mr Biden would visit Ukraine on the anniversary of the February 24 Russian invasion. However, the White House has repeatedly said that the presidential visit to Ukraine is not planned, even after the visit to Poland was announced.
Since early Monday morning, many main streets and central districts of Kyiv were cordoned off without any official explanation. Later, people started sharing videos of long convoys of cars driving through streets where access was restricted.
At the White House, planning for Mr. Biden’s visit to Kiev was on tight hold, with a relatively small group of aides familiar with the plans due to security concerns. Mr. Sullivan said Mr. Biden gave the final approval for the trip, which has been in the works for months, during an Oval Office meeting on Friday where he was briefed on security plans for the visit.
To maintain secrecy, the president traveled with a typically small entourage of just a few senior aides and two reporters.
Asked by a reporter on Friday whether Mr. Biden might stop beyond Poland, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby replied: A moment later, and without prompting, Mr. Kirby added: “I said ‘right now.’
Mr. Biden quietly departed Joint Base Andrews near Washington at 4:15 a.m. on Sunday, stopping at Ramstein Air Base in Germany before arriving in Ukraine. He arrived in Kyiv at 8 o’clock on Monday morning. He left after 1 p.m
Until Monday, Mr. Biden’s failure to visit made him stand out among Ukraine’s Western counterparts, some of whom are frequent visitors to the Ukrainian capital. White House officials had previously cited security concerns for keeping Mr. Biden from the trip, and Mr. Sullivan said on Monday that the visit was made only when officials believed they had managed the risk to an acceptable level.
In June, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and then Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi traveled together to Kiev on an overnight train to meet with Mr Zelensky. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited Kyiv in November shortly after taking office.
This is Mr. Biden’s first visit to a war zone as president. His recent predecessors, Donald Trump, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, made surprise visits to Afghanistan and Iraq during their presidencies to meet with US troops and the leaders of those countries.
This is reported by the Associated Press. Aamer Madhani and Zack Miller reported from Washington.