On Surprise Trip to Kyiv, Biden Vows Enduring Support for Ukraine

From a Washington Post story by Missy Ryan, Matt Viser, Cleve R. Wootson Jr., and Alice Martins headlined “On surprise trip to Kyiv, Biden vows enduring support fr Ukraine”:

President Biden made a dramatic, unannounced visit to Kyiv on Monday, in a display of robust American support for Ukraine just four days before the anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion.

The high-risk visit to the historic Ukrainian capital — where air raid sirens blared as Biden walked the streets with President Volodymyr Zelensky — signals continued commitment from the United States, the largest financial and military backer of Ukraine’s effort to repel Russian invaders from its territory.

Biden was spotted with the Ukrainian leader outside St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery shortly before noon local time, his appearance capping hours of speculation during an intense security lockdown that had blocked car traffic and even pedestrians from certain streets.

Following talks with Zelensky and a visit to the U.S. Embassy, Biden departed Kyiv several hours later, according to a reporter traveling with him. Though brief, Biden’s visit represented one of the most remarkable presidential trips in modern history, sending him into a country at war and a city under regular bombardment without the heavy U.S. military presence that provided a protective shield during visits to Iraq or Afghanistan.

In his remarks alongside Zelensky, Biden said the U.S. would provide another half-billion dollars of assistance to Ukraine.

Biden has insisted the United States will continue to back Ukraine against Russia for “as long as it takes” despite flagging support among the American public and no near-term prospect of peace talks.

His administration has provided some $30 billion in security aid since President Vladimir Putin sent Russian forces into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, initiating the largest ground war in Europe since World War II — one that has cost his country and Ukraine hundreds of thousands of casualties.

Under Biden’s leadership, the United States and its NATO allies have gradually expanded the array of weaponry they have pledged to include heavy tanks, but Ukrainian leaders continue to press for more sophisticated weapons as the combatants prepare for renewed offensives this spring.

Biden said his visit was intended to reaffirm American backing for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, which Russia has violated since 2014, when Putin annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and launched support for a separatist campaign in the eastern Donbas region.

Photos showed Biden and Zelensky embracing in front a wall where photos of slain soldiers were displayed.

The White House has attempted to cast the deepening conflict as a high-stakes battle that will determine not only Ukraine’s fate, but also that of democracies and the rule of law everywhere, arguing that if Putin is permitted to seize parts of another nation by force, it will give a green light to other autocrats.

“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,” Biden said in a statement issued by the White House. “But he was dead wrong.”

Video later showed the president, wearing a dark suit and striped tie, seated with Zelensky, who wore his trademark military-style attire.

The visit represented a major boost for Zelensky, whose domestic support has soared, in line with national unity and anti-Russian fury, since Putin’s invasion.

As a wartime leader, Zelensky now faces the formidable task of propelling Ukraine’s fatigued military into Russian-occupied territory while also persuading foreign partners to provide ever greater military support, including fighter jets. U.S. officials have so far declined to provide aircraft to Ukraine.

Biden’s trip comes as questions abound about the longevity of global backing for Ukraine and the cohesion of the U.S.-led coalition that has enabled Kyiv’s military success so far, and China is reported to be actively considering sending military aid to Russia.

While Western nations continue to proclaim strong support, many have grown worried about the economic and political costs of a protracted conflict — and about their ability to keep the money and munitions flowing.

Opinion polls show that Americans are growing weary of the aid effort, mirroring complaints across the globe about billions going to Ukraine instead of other priorities. In recent weeks, the White House has told Kyiv that it could soon see limits in support from the United States and other countries.

The series of massive U.S. aid packages approved to date for Ukraine materialized under a Democratic-controlled Congress. Republicans retook the House in November, and a vocal right-wing minority in the GOP has threatened to curtail support.

Biden’s trip was shrouded in secrecy and, on the ground in Kyiv, involved even greater security than other high-level visits. Biden had been due to leave for an announced visit to Poland from Washington on Monday evening but, according to a small group of reporters who traveled with Biden to Kyiv, actually departed Washington around 4 a.m. Sunday.

Journalists accompanying Biden reported that they had agreed to withhold real-time details of the president’s movements until he departed, including information about how he arrived in the Ukrainian capital. The country’s airspace has been closed for the past year.

While other world leaders have visited Kyiv to meet with Zelensky and tour the war-scarred city over the past year, Biden has stayed away because of security concerns and fears about the possibility of conflict between the world’s two largest nuclear powers. He sent senior aides including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin his place. First lady Jill Biden made a surprise visit to western Ukraine on Mother’s Day.

In contrast, Britain’s Boris Johnson visited Kyiv three times as prime minister in the months following the February invasion.

A reporter traveling with Biden reported around 2 p.m. local time that the president had left Kyiv. No further details about his travel were immediately available.

During the visit, Biden and Zelensky held private talks at the Mariinsky Palace, a ceremonial Baroque structure overlooking the Dnieper River in central Kyiv.

Zelensky said the discussion “brings us closer to victory,” according to a White House pool report.

He noted that his first call as the Russian invasion began on the night of Feb. 24, 2022, was to the United States.

“You told me that you could hear explosions in the background,” Biden said in response. “I’ll never forget that.”

Biden said he had asked Zelensky that night how he could be of help and twice repeated what he said was the Ukrainian leader’s response: “Gather the leaders of the world. Ask them to support Ukraine.”

“You said that you didn’t know when we’d be able to speak again. That dark night one year ago, the world was literally at the time bracing for the fall of Kyiv,” Biden continued. “Perhaps even the end of Ukraine.”

“One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,” he said. “The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you.”

Biden also made a stop at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, which was closed for several months after Russia’s invasion. He was accompanied by aides including national security adviser Jake Sullivan.

It was not immediately clear whether Biden would still make his previously announced trip to Poland, where he had been scheduled to meet with President Andrzej Duda and leaders of the Bucharest Nine, a group of mostly former Eastern bloc nations once under Soviet influence that formed after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and is increasingly wary of its larger neighbor’s expansionist aspirations.

Missy Ryan writes about diplomacy, national security and the State Department for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2014 to write about the Pentagon and military issues. She has reported from Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Peru, Argentina and Chile.

Matt Viser is a White House reporter for The Washington Post. He joined The Post in October 2018, covering the midterms and the 2020 presidential election. He was previously deputy chief of the Washington bureau for the Boston Globe, where he covered Congress, presidential campaigns in 2012 and 2016, and John Kerry’s tenure as secretary of state.

Cleve R. Wootson Jr. is a White House reporter for The Washington Post.

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