President Joe Biden made a historic and highly secretive visit to Kyiv, Ukraine on Monday, marking the first time since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the country almost a year ago. The visit was a dramatic personal statement of Biden’s commitment to Ukraine and its struggle against Russian aggression as the war enters a critical and uncertain new phase.
The visit came at a crucial time, with Russia reportedly preparing for an expected spring offensive, and Ukraine hoping to retake territory. During his visit, Biden announced a half-billion dollars in new assistance, which includes more military equipment, such as artillery ammunition, more javelins, and Howitzers. He also said new sanctions would be imposed on Moscow later in the week.
The United States and other Western nations have been providing arms, tanks, and ammunition to Ukraine in hopes of changing the trajectory of the war. However, by visiting Ukraine in person, Biden is offering a powerful image of American support for President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has spent the past year attempting to rally the world behind his nation and appealing for greater levels of assistance.
Biden’s visit to Kyiv was shrouded in secrecy, reflecting the steep security concerns. Air Force One departed Joint Base Andrews under cover of darkness at 4:15 a.m. ET on Sunday, and reporters aboard the plane were not allowed to carry their devices with them. Biden’s public schedule didn’t reflect the trip, and White House officials repeatedly said last week that a visit to Ukraine was not in the works.
Biden arrived in Kyiv at 8 a.m. local time and made his way to the Mariinsky Palace half an hour later, where he met with President Zelensky. During their talks inside the presidential palace, Biden laid out his rationale for visiting the Ukrainian capital as the war enters a second year. He emphasized that there was broad, bipartisan support in Washington for the Ukrainian cause, and that the Ukrainian people had stepped up in a way that few people ever have in the past.
Biden was intently focused on discussing the coming months of fighting when he sat down with Zelensky, according to national security adviser Jake Sullivan. “The President was very focused on making sure that he made the most of his time on the ground, which he knew was going to be limited,” Sullivan said. “So he was quite focused on how he was going to approach his conversation with President Zelensky and in part how the two of them were really going to look out over the course of 2023 and try to come to a common understanding of what the objectives are.”
White House officials would not go into details about the logistics of the president’s trip, saying that more details would come once they “got the green light from the security folks.” Biden only decided on Friday to go ahead with the visit after huddling with top members of his national security team in the Oval Office. A few hours before he departed, the United States informed Russia of the plans to visit the Ukrainian capital for “deconfliction purposes,” according to Sullivan.
Ukraine is an active war zone where the US military has no control, making Monday’s visit different from previous presidential trips to Iraq or Afghanistan. White House officials had repeatedly ruled out a visit earlier in the year, and the Friday session in the Oval Office was the culmination of months of work by a tiny handful of Biden’s top aides to plan the trip around the anniversary of the conflict.
Biden’s visit made for a highly symbolic moment, coming a day ahead of a planned speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin marking the anniversary of the war.