‘Democracy stands’: Joe Biden makes surprise visit to Ukraine - his first since the Russian invasion

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The US President’s visit comes ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Friday.

US President Joe Biden has made a secret trip to Kyiv to meet Volodymyr Zelensky - his first visit to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion almost a year ago.

Biden arrived in the Ukrainian capital this morning, 20 February, after taking a train from Poland, ahead of the war’s one-year anniversary on Friday. The visit was planned covertly, with the Democrat departing Washington DC without notice after having dinner with his wife on Saturday night.

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The US President had been scheduled to arrive in Warsaw tomorrow, 21 February, for a two-day visit, but officials had repeatedly denied that there were any plans to also visit neighbouring Ukraine. On Sunday, the White House said Biden was still in Washington, when in fact he was en-route to war-torn Ukraine.

Biden spent more than five hours in the Ukrainian capital, consulting with Zelensky on next steps, honouring the country’s fallen soldiers and meeting US embassy staff in the war-torn country. He met Zelensky at Mariinsky Palace to announce an additional £500 million dollars (£416 million) in US assistance, and to reassure Ukraine of American and allied support as the conflict continues.

“One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you and the world stands with you.” he said.

US President Joe Biden (R) walks next to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) as he arrives for a visit in Kyiv. Credit: DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)US President Joe Biden (R) walks next to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) as he arrives for a visit in Kyiv. Credit: DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Joe Biden (R) walks next to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) as he arrives for a visit in Kyiv. Credit: DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Zelensky said he and Biden spoke about “long-range weapons and the weapons that may still be supplied to Ukraine even though it wasn’t supplied before”. But he did not detail any new commitments.

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“Our negotiations were very fruitful,” Zelensky said. Biden’s visit to Kyiv — and then Warsaw — underscores that the United States is prepared to stick with Ukraine “as long as it takes” to repel Russian forces, even as public opinion polling suggests that US and allied support for providing weaponry and direct economic assistance has started to soften, PBS reports.

“I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about US support for Ukraine in the war,” Biden said, and the “brutal and unjust war” was far from won.

“The cost that Ukraine has had to bear has been extraordinarily high and the sacrifices have been far too great,” he said. “We know that there’ll be very difficult days and weeks and years ahead. But Russia’s aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map. Putin’s war of conquest is failing.”

Biden said the Russian leader was counting on the two nations “not sticking together”. “He thought he could outlast us. I don’t think he’s thinking that right now. God knows what he’s thinking but I don’t think he’s thinking that. But he’s just been plain wrong. Plain wrong.”

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The visit gave Biden a firsthand look at the devastation the Russian invasion has caused Ukraine. Thousands of Ukrainian troops and civilians have been killed, millions of refugees have fled the war and Ukraine has suffered tens of billions of dollars of infrastructure damage.

It also marked an act of defiance against Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had initially hoped his military would overrun Kyiv within days. Biden also got a brief first-hand taste of the terror that Ukrainians have lived with for close to a year, as air raids sirens howled over the capital just as he and Zelensky were exiting a cathedral they visited together. Looking solemn, they continued unperturbed to stand in front of a wall honouring Ukrainian soldiers killed since 2014.

CNN reports national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the US notified Moscow that Biden would be traveling to Kyiv in the hours before his departure, "for deconfliction purposes". He would not say how the Russians responded.

Biden’s visit comes after both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer travelled to Kyiv in recent weeks, and Zelensky also visited London and Paris.

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The New York Times reported that Biden told advisers that he wanted to mark the first anniversary of the invasion by reassuring allies that his administration remains committed to supporting Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine is expected to intensify, with both sides preparing for spring offensives. Zelensky has been pressing allies to speed up delivery of pledged weapon systems, and is calling on the West to deliver fighter jets to Ukraine — something Biden to date has declined to do.

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