Presidents Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskyy meet in Kyiv (Dimitar Dilkoff / AFP via Getty Images)
Dear Commons Community,
President Biden made a surprise and historic visit to war-torn Ukraine yesterday, a show of support and solidarity with a democratic nation battling for its survival after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded nearly a year ago.
The visit, including a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, was kept under secrecy until Biden’s arrival. As reported by NBC News.
“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. “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.”
The clandestine nature of the trip points to the dangers of America’s commander-in-chief visiting Ukraine amid continuing bombardment, with Russia firing missiles into the country hoping to break an impasse as the war enters its second year. Air raid sirens sounded while Biden was on the ground.
It is the first time in modern history that a U.S. president has entered a war zone where there is not an active American military presence.
Biden’s appearance in Ukraine is a strong statement that the U.S. stands with Zelenskyy despite growing pressure at home to downsize American aid.
“Joseph Biden, welcome to Kyiv!” Zelenskyy posted on the social media site Telegram along with a picture of the two leaders. “Your visit is an extremely important sign of support for all Ukrainians.”
Biden visited the Mariinsky Palace, where he signed a guest book and made brief remarks alongside Zelenskyy.
“Thank you for coming,” Zelensky said, according to a press pool report.
“More importantly, how are the children?” Biden said. He added, “It’s amazing to see you.”
The two leaders visited St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery and then walked to the nearby Wall of Remembrance, which honors those who have died in the war.
The trip came with risks. Other presidents have visited war zones. Barack Obama traveled to Afghanistan in 2014 and George W. Bush visited American troops in Iraq in 2003. As was the case with Biden, both traveled under strict secrecy.
White House officials had been adamant that Warsaw, Poland, would be Biden’s only stop. On Friday, a White House spokesman answered with a single word when asked if Biden intended to cross the border into neighboring Ukraine: “No.”
Now, the adversary is Russia. If Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military were to intentionally target Biden, or even inadvertently harm the president by way of an errant missile, the U.S. would be obligated to retaliate. That could potentially escalate a regional war into a direct conflict between two nuclear-armed countries.
Still, ahead of the trip, some analysts were hopeful that Poland would not be Biden’s only stop. A trip to Ukraine “would be a powerful demonstration of support and signal a robust change in policy — a more forward-leaning and fulsome approach to Ukrainian support,” said Alexander Vindman, former director of European affairs in the Donald Trump White House’s National Security Council.
Biden has invested considerable political, military and financial capital in the war, keeping overmatched Ukraine viable against larger Russian forces. In addition to American assistance, he has also pressed the rest of the NATO alliance to shore up Ukraine, arguing it is imperative for the democratic world to counter Russian aggression for two reasons. One is to deter Putin from widening the war into NATO countries; another to discourage China’s authoritarian government from launching its own attacks on smaller nations such as Taiwan.
The amount of American military assistance to Ukraine is nearing $30 billion. Polling shows that American support for Ukraine remains strong, though less so as time passes. In May 2022 — three months into the war — 60% of Americans favored supplying weapons to Ukraine. As of January, that number had slipped to 48%, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released last week. The percentage of adults who favored sending taxpayer money directly to Ukraine dropped seven percentage points in that time frame — from 44% to 37%.
The war has stretched on longer than most in the West expected, with initial estimates that Ukraine would be able to hang on only for a few weeks before the Russians seized Kyiv, ousted Zelenskyy and absorbed the country into its orbit. Instead, Ukraine proved to be a more resilient opponent than anticipated.
A war that was expected to end quickly with Ukraine’s surrender and Zelenskyy’s exile will reach its one-year anniversary on Friday.
A great show of solidarity on the part of President Biden!