Asserting “unwavering commitment” to Kyiv on the eve of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, Biden pledged $ 500 million in addition assistance to the embattled country from a US money spigot that most Americans are finding hard to keep track of.
The White House said the package includes artillery ammunition, anti-armor systems, and air surveillance radars “to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardments.”
Live updates: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
“The United States will stand with the Ukrainian people for as long as it takes,” Biden said, adding, “Kyiv has captured a part of my heart.”
But it turns out what protected Biden in Kyiv, where air raid sirens went off even as he emerged from a historic cathedral with Ukraine’s President Zelensky, was last-hour direct communication with Moscow about his impending visit.
Amid much scheduling subterfuge that involved misleading all but a few close aides, Biden left Washington on Sunday — even as the White House schedule showed him still in the US capital — and flew to Poland where he was to arrive on Tuesday. He then made an unscheduled 10-hour train journey to Kyiv from the Polish border.
US Presidents & their surprise visits to war zones
US officials said the White House alerted Russia to Biden’s visit just hours before he entered Ukraine in order to “deconflict” the situation.
As it turned out, there was a hairy moment during the visit when air raid sirens sounded, reportedly prompted by a Russian Mig-31 fighter jet that was detected taking off in Belarus. A spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force was quoted telling reporters in Kyiv that the jet was equipped with a Kinzhal hypersonic missile that Ukraine does not have the capacity to shoot down.
In Moscow, Russian commentators said the Kremlin had shown magnanimity in not carrying out an attack while the US President was there, while suggesting that Biden’s bravado was aimed at impressing the domestic audience in America.
Many Americans, particularly those on the right, were unimpressed.
“This in incredibly insulting. Today our President chose Ukraine over America while forcing the American people to pay for Ukraine’s government and war,” tweeted Republican lawmaker Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Biden aides and supporters, exulting over the high-risk visit, described it as an “incredible act of bravery,” even as the US President safely exited from Kyiv.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the visit was “not a celebration but an affirmation” of American commitment to Ukraine and to “the resilience of the Ukrainian people.” The president decided that sending that message was worth the risk of traveling to a country at war, he added.
“This was a historic visit unprecedented in modern times to have the president of the United States visit the capital of a country at war where the us military doesn’t control the critical infrastructure,” Sullivan said.
Asserting that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had made a series of mistaken calculations in his invasion of Ukraine, including expecting a rift between US and its allies, Biden said in Kyiv, “He (Putin) thought he could outlast us. I don’t think he is thinking that now.”
The Biden visit to Kyiv came at the same time Beijing sent its top diplomat Wang Yi to Moscow amid concern in US that China will begin supplying arms to Russia to subdue Ukraine.
US officials say Washington has intelligence that China is going down this path and it has warned Beijing against doing so.
“China understands what’s at risk were it to proceed with providing material support of that kind to Russia,” said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
Beijing in turn asked US to stay out of China-Russia relations.