President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Monday ahead of the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of the country.
It is Biden’s first visit to the war-torn country since Russia launched its war a year ago this week. It came as he was due to start a three-day visit to Poland.
“Thank you so much for coming Mr. President at a huge moment for Ukraine,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskky said in remarks before a bilateral meeting with Biden. “I really appreciate that President Biden, American society have been from the very beginning … of this war have been together with us.”
Speaking ahead of their bilateral meeting, Biden said he believed it was important to be in Ukraine the day the attack began because he remembers warning the world of Russia’s impending assault.
“I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about U.S. support for Ukraine in the war,” Biden said.
The visit was kept secret because of security concerns, though the White House said it was ”meticulously planned” for months. It was also symbolic because it comes as Ukraine has been intensely lobbying the U.S. for more weapons to help it fight back against Russia’s aggressions as the war enters an uncertain new phase.
”He wanted to demonstrate the strength of his commitment to his strategy of holding the West together, and the united front against Putin,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said in a briefing.
There are few, if any, examples of U.S. presidents traveling to an active war zone where there is no U.S. troop presence.
Ukrainian officials have for weeks been signaling that Russia may be planning a major new offensive timed for around the one-year anniversary of the war.
Arming Ukraine:U.S. has spent billions on Ukraine war aid. But is that money landing in corrupt pockets?
Live updates:Biden’s surprise visit to Kyiv, Putin on trial in ‘people’s court’
Biden announces half-a-billion dollar security package
During the visit, Biden announced half a billion dollars of additional security assistance to Ukraine and said more details would be released in the coming days. He said the package will include more military equipment, including artillery ammunition, more Javelins, an anti-tank missile system, and Howitzers, a long-range artillery weapon. He did not appear to name any new types of equipment that Ukraine has not received before. Biden also said additional sanctions on Russia will be announced this week.
Biden was spotted walking with Zelenskky outside St. Michael’s, a gold-domed monastery in Kyiv. A short while later, air raid sirens blared across Ukraine’s capital. The cathedral’s complex of sky-blue and golden buildings have long been a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. In 2013 its priests gave shelter to pro-Western protesters who had been beaten by police forces under the authority of a Kremlin-backed president.
“You said that you didn’t know when we’d be able to speak again. That dark night one year ago, the world was literally at the time bracing for the fall of Kyiv,” Biden said during joint remarks with Zelenskyy, according to a White House press pool report. “Perhaps even the end of Ukraine.”
“One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,” he continued. “The Americans stand with you and the world stands with you.”
The White House said last week Biden had no plans to cross into Ukraine from neighboring Poland, as part of his visit to that country. His visit to Kyiv came a day before Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to make an address in which he may set out Russia’s aims for the second year of the invasion he launched on Feb. 24 last year.
Dig deeper:They counted the days until they could return to Ukraine. Now, they’re not sure they’ll go back
‘Meticulously planned for months,’ and Russia was notified
Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer told reporters that the visit was “meticulously planned over a period of months,” with the White House, Chief of Staff’s office, NSC, the White House Military Office and members of the Pentagon, Secret Service and intelligence community.
The final decision to go to Kyiv in a huddle in the Oval Office on Friday.
“Obviously, this was all worked very closely between the White House and the highest levels of the Ukrainian government, who have become quite adept at hosting high level visitors, although not one quite like this,” Finer said.