Joe Biden has condemned Russia’s “murderous assault” on Ukraine after his first visit since the invasion, but said the West’s support for the war-torn nation remained “rock hard”.
The US president spoke from the Polish capital of Warsaw on Tuesday, after a secret trip to Kyiv to meet Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday - ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion this week. He promised £412m worth of military aid to Ukraine, and additional sanctions against Russian elites.
Russian president Vladimir Putin also gave a State of the Nation speech on Tuesday morning, where he laid the blame for the war on Ukraine and the West, and suspended Russia’s participation in its last nuclear arms pact with United States.
Biden said just one year ago, the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv. “Well I’ve just come from a visit to Kyiv, and I can report Kyiv stands strong. Kyiv stands proud, it stands tall, and most important, it stands free,” he said.
“When president Putin ordered his tanks to roll into Ukraine, he thought we would roll over. He was wrong,” the president said. “Instead of the easy victory he perceived and predicted, Putin left with burnt out tanks and Russian forces in disarray. He thought he’d get the Finland-isation of Nato, instead he got the Nato-isation of Finland and Sweden.”
He reiterated that the US and the West’s support for Ukraine would not waver, and said Ukraine would never be a victory for Russia.
“[Putin] thought autocrats like himself were tough, and leaders of democracy were soft. And then he met the iron will of America, and the nations everywhere that refuse to accept a world governed by fear and force,” he said.
He praised the Ukrainian president as well, saying Putin “found himself at war with a nation led by a man whose courage would be forged in fire and steel - president Zelensky”.
Russia no longer doubted the strength of their coalition, Biden said, but he still doubted their conviction, staying power, and continued support for Ukraine. “But there should be no doubt. Our support for Ukraine will not waver. Nato will not be divided, and we will not tire,” he said.
“President Putin’s craven lust for land and power will fail, and the Ukrainian people’s love for their country will prevail.”
The past year had shown the “extraordinary brutality” of Russian forces, Biden said. “They’ve committed depravities - crimes against humanity - without shame… They’ve targeted civilians with death and destruction, used rape as a weapon of war, stolen Ukrainian children in an attempt to steal Ukraine’s future.”
“No one can turn away their eyes from the atrocities Russia has committed against the Ukrainian people. It’s abhorrent,” he said.
But Biden said equally extraordinary was the response of the Ukrainian people, and the world. “One year after the bombs began to fall, [and] Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine, Ukraine is still independent and free.”
Speaking to the people of Russia, Biden said: “the United States and the nations of Europe do not seek to control or destroy Russia. The West was not planning to attack Russia, as Putin said today.”
The millions of Russian citizens who only wanted to live in peace with their neighbours were not the enemy, he said. “This war was never a necessity, it’s a tragedy. President Putin chose this war. Every day this war continues is his choice, he could end the war with a word.”
“It’s simple - if Russia stopped invading Ukraine, it would end the war. If Ukraine stopped defending itself against Russia, it would be the end of Ukraine,” Biden said.