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On Monday, February 20th, 2023, President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city, to show American support for President Volodymyr Zelensky and his efforts in the ongoing war against Russia. The trip was shrouded in secrecy, coming just days before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion, and marks the first time Biden has traveled to Ukraine as president.
Despite American sanctions and the devastating battlefield losses of people and equipment, Moscow continues its assault on Ukrainian defenses. Armed with billions of dollars’ worth of weapons from Western countries and in desperate need for more, Ukraine has fought the Russians to a bloody standstill.
During his visit, Biden walked the streets of downtown Kyiv, with Zelensky at his side, and announced additional weapons deliveries to the embattled nation. “When Putin launched his invasion nearly one year ago, he thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided. He thought he could outlast us. But he was dead wrong,” Biden said in a statement.
Biden’s visit was presented with an array of plans, according to a senior White House official with direct knowledge of the matter. One idea called for a meeting between Biden and Zelensky at an undisclosed location at the Polish-Ukrainian border, while another sought to hold the meeting in Lviv, a Western Ukrainian city that has been hit by Russian airstrikes several times since the war began but remains relatively safe when compared to the heavy fighting on the Eastern front.
However, given the obvious fact that Ukraine is an active battlefield, both the Secret Service and the Defense Department had security objections to some of the plans presented. The Secret Service did not respond to Rolling Stone’s requests for comment, and the Defense Department referred questions to the White House. The senior White House official says the concerns stemmed from the “unpredictability of the environment and the reduced security footprint required to support the movement of the president.”
Ultimately, Biden selected Kyiv, a city that stands as a symbolic gesture of Ukraine’s resolve after Russian forces tried and failed to capture the capital city early in the war last year. Kyiv was seen as a key Kremlin objective when U.S. intelligence warned last year that the 150,000 Russian troops amassed on Ukraine’s border were set to invade. At the time, many in Ukraine and at home viewed the warnings as hype—or warmongering. However, Putin launched his so-called “special military operation” to cleanse the “Nazis” from his neighbor’s ranks.
The war in Ukraine has been ongoing since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and the conflict escalated. Western countries have provided aid packages to Ukraine, including bullets and bombs, Javelin and Stinger missiles, artillery batteries, and even repurposed Soviet tanks. Combat videos of off-the-shelf drones dropping bombs on Russian soldiers and tanks littered social media.
The Russians have tried several counter-offenses, called up conscripts, and changed battlefield leadership over and over again. However, according to retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, who formerly served as head of U.S. Army Europe, “Russia’s much advertised offensive is more of a no-offensive. All they’ve done is add more poorly-trained, poorly-led conscripts to the meat grinder in a broad front approach that is much easier for the Ukrainians to defend than if there was in fact a real offensive where the Russians focused on one of two specific parts of Ukraine’s defense.”
Despite the toll that the war has taken, with an estimated 200,000 Russian and Ukrainian soldiers killed or injured per Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ukraine has remained steadfast in its resistance against Russian aggression. Biden’s visit to Kyiv reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to supporting Ukraine in its fight for sovereignty and territorial integrity.
During his visit, Biden also met with Ukrainian veterans who have fought on the frontlines of the war, thanking them for their bravery and sacrifice. He also spoke with representatives of civil society organizations, recognizing their important role in promoting democracy and human rights in Ukraine.
The timing of Biden’s visit was significant, as it came just days before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion. It served as a reminder of the ongoing conflict and the need for continued international support for Ukraine. The United States has been a key ally of Ukraine in the conflict, providing diplomatic and economic assistance, as well as military aid.
The conflict in Ukraine has had far-reaching consequences beyond the borders of the country. It has strained relations between Russia and Western countries, leading to the imposition of sanctions and the deterioration of diplomatic ties. The conflict has also highlighted the need for greater cooperation among European countries in addressing security challenges in the region.
In his statement, Biden emphasized the importance of finding a diplomatic solution to the conflict, calling on Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. He also expressed support for Ukraine’s efforts to reform its economy and strengthen its democratic institutions.
The visit was met with mixed reactions in Ukraine, with some hailing it as a strong show of support from the United States, while others criticized it as a mere symbolic gesture that falls short of providing the necessary assistance to end the conflict. Regardless of differing opinions, Biden’s visit served as a reminder of the ongoing conflict and the need for continued international support for Ukraine.