President Joe Biden quietly slipped into Kyiv Monday for an unannounced visit as the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine draws near.
Biden met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, walking together around St. Michael’s Cathedral as air raid sirens sounded around the embattled city. Biden pledged a new aid package that will include more javelins and Howitzers and announced a new round of sanctions on Moscow.
“One year later, Kyiv stands,” Biden said. “And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands.”
Today, President Biden is in Kyiv to reaffirm America’s unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.
The United States of America will stand with the Ukrainian people for as long as it takes. pic.twitter.com/1IJuCcsVJd
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) February 20, 2023
Biden arrived in Kyiv at 8 a.m. Monday, and his motorcade arrived at Mariinsky Palace 30 minutes later.
“Thank you for coming,” Zelensky said, greeting Biden.
The secretive visit came a day before Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to deliver a speech marking the one-year anniversary of the war, which has cost the lives of tens of thousands of soldiers on both sides and wrecked Ukrainian cities.
“Putin thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided,” Biden told reporters. “He thought he could outlast us. I don’t think he’s thinking that right now.”
“He’s just been plain wrong,” Biden said of Putin. “One year later, the evidence is right here in this room. We stand here together.”
Biden said later the visit was intended to underscore U.S. support for Ukraine’s defense.
“I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about US support for Ukraine in the war,” Biden said.
CNN reported that Air Force One left Joint Base Andrews at 4:15 a.m. ET on Sunday, and reporters who accompanied the president were not allowed to carry phones or tablets. Because Ukraine is at war and the U.S. has no military presence there, the trip was shrouded in secrecy. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was among the top aides who accompanied Biden.
Zelensky visited Biden in Washington in December and had reportedly invited Biden to visit Kyiv.
The war began Feb. 24, 2022, when Russia launched its invasion. In November, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley estimated that 100,000 soldiers had been killed on each side and as many as 40,000 civilians had also died. Millions of Ukrainians have fled the country.