US President Pays Surprise Visit to Ukraine Kyiv to Celebrate 1 Year of War, Issues Warning to Russia
President Joe Biden arrived in Kyiv on Monday morning on a surprise days before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and declared that Vladimir Putin had failed in his ‘war of conquest.’
His visit was shrouded in secrecy. He arrived after the hourslong train journey from Poland with a stripped down press pool of just one reporter and a photographer.
Air raid sirens blared across the besieged Ukrainian capital although there were no reports of Russian missile or air strikes.
He met with President Zelensky at the Mariinsky Palace and announced half a billion dollars in extra assistance, including artillery, ammunition, more Javelins and Howitzers, as well as more sanctions on Russia to follow.
In a speech, Biden said: ‘One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands.’
He said Putin had miscalculated.
‘Russia’s aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map,’ he said. ‘Putin’s war of conquest is failing. Russia’s military has lost half the territory it once occupied.
He commended Ukraine’s courage during the war and said he had visited Kyiv six times as vice president.
‘I knew I would be back,’ he said.
The president was due to leave Washington on Monday evening for a two-day visit to Poland where he will meet Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki in Warsaw for discussions over a potential increase in US troops there.
In its official guidance, the White House said he would leave at 7pm on Monday evening.
Instead Air Force One left Joint Base Andrews at about 4:15am on Sunday. The trip was cloaked in secrecy.
Biden was joined only by his closest advisers and a security detail, along with one photographer and a reporter, whose phones were confiscated.
He reached Kyiv at about 8am local time.
Zelensky welcomed Biden to Kyiv, saying: ‘Your visit is an extremely important sign of support for all Ukrainians.’
He is pushing allies to speed up delivery of weapons and is asking for fighter jets, a demand that Biden has so far refused.
‘Our negotiations were very fruitful,’ Zelensky said after their meeting.
From there, the two leaders went on a downtown walkabout to honor fallen Ukrainian soldiers before Biden met U.S. embassy staff. He left the city about five hours after arriving.
While other world leaders had made visits to Kyiv, Biden had been forced to stay away by his Secret Service protectors who were concerned about how the leader of the free world could travel safely to the war-torn country.
‘I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about US support for Ukraine in the war,’ said Biden as he sat for talks with Zelensky. ‘The Ukrainian people have stepped up in a way that few people ever have in the past.’
After their meeting at the palace, the pair stunned crowds in central Kyiv where they visited the St. Michael’s Gold-Domed Cathedral and went on an outdoor walkabout.
They inspected the ‘Walk of the Brave,’ and its name plates honoring those who have supported Ukraine.
With air raid sirens sounding, they laid two wreaths and held a moment of silence at the Wall of Remembrance.
Earlier Biden said: ‘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 Zelensky and reaffirm our unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.
‘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.’
He said he would spend the day in talks about how best to help Ukraine in its fight.
‘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,’ he said.
‘And I will share that later this week, we will announce additional sanctions against elites and companies that are trying to evade or backfill Russia’s war machine.’
At midday he arrived at the U.S. embassy in the city.
Though Ukrainian’s air defenses have been strengthened with U.S. weapons systems, it was still an unusually bold move by a U.S. president to visit an active war zone — where allies do not control airspace or have military bases on the ground.
Officials described it as ‘unprecedented,’ and said they had alerted Moscow of the visit.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on a briefing call: ‘We did notify the Russians that President Biden would be travelling to Kyiv. We did so some hours before his departure for deconfliction purposes.’
The war has already cost hundreds of thousands of lives, driven millions from their homes and reduced a string of cities to rubble in southern and eastern Ukraine.
A day earlier Zelensky said his forces were inflicting ‘extraordinarily significant’ losses on Russian forces around the town of Vuhledar in the eastern Donbas region.
‘The situation is very complicated. And we are fighting. We are breaking down the invaders and inflicting extraordinarily significant losses on Russia,’ he said in his nightly video address.
Aid from the U.S., allies and partners is credited with helping dogged Ukrainian resistance defend its territories.
The U.S. alone has sent more than $100 billion of arms and aid to the country, of which The Pentagon spent $62.3 billion in the past year on weapons and ammunition as well as training, logistics, and salaries.
Yet there has been little change on the vast frontline in recent months. Now both sides are readying for offensives expected in the spring.
In the meantime, U.S. officials have become increasingly worried that China could be about to provide military assistance to Russia’s war machine.
‘We are very concerned that China is considering providing lethal support to Russia in its aggression against Ukraine,’ Secretary of State Antony Blinken told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday morning.
And on Tuesday Putin is due to deliver a major set-piece speech. He is expected to set out a renewed war effort amid signs that Russia has already launched a spring offensive.
Russian analyst Tatiana Stanovaya said she expected last minute edits to strengthen its power.
‘Of course for the Kremlin this will be seen as further proof that the United States has bet on Russia’s strategic defeat in the war and that the war itself has turned irrevocably into a war between Russia and the West,’ she told Reuters.
Speculation has been building for weeks that Biden’s trip to Poland would include a visit to Ukraine. But the White House repeatedly said there were no plans to cross the border.
Kyiv’s residents knew something was up. But streets in the city center were closed off on Monday morning suggesting a VIP visit.
Security was particularly high, even for a war-torn capital, but nobody knew who it might be until Biden was spotted on a walkabout.
The president had been criticised for failing to visit sooner. And even his wife beat him to it.
First lady Jill Biden went over the border last year on Mother’s Day to meet with Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska.
Top Congressional leaders have made the trip too.
The top Senate Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, led a delegation in May.
He was joined by GOP Sens. Susan Collins, John Cornyn and John Barrasso.
Two weeks earlier, then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made the trip.
As has Biden’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Zelensky visited Washington in December, ahead of the Republican takeover in the House of Representatives.
He met with Biden at the White House and then addressed a joint session of Congress, trying to shore up financial support for the war, as House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had suggested his GOP majority may not be as willing to spend taxpayer dollars on Ukraine’s war effort.
White House WARNED Kremlin before Biden’s surprise Kyiv trip: How U.S. reached out to Moscow HOURS before President’s arrival to avoid conflict after – Air Force One took off from D.C. in secret
The White House warned the Kremlin before President Joe Biden made his surprise trip to Kyiv Monday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said.
‘We did notify the Russians that President Biden would be traveling to Kyiv. We did so some hours before his departure for deconfliction purposes,’ Sullivan told reporters on a call Monday after Biden departed from Ukraine’s capital.
Biden left Washington in secret at 4:15 a.m. on Sunday, flying to Poland and then taking a 10-hour train ride so he could stand alongside Ukrainian President Zelensky four days before the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion.
Some MAGA-aligned Republicans back home grumbled that Biden made this journey instead of visiting East Palestine, Ohio, the site of a toxic train derailment earlier this month.
Sullivan didn’t give details on what the U.S. specifically said to the Russians.
‘And because of the sensitive nature of those communications I won’t get into how they responded or what the precise nature of our message was, but I can confirm that we provided that notification,’ he said on the call.