LIVE: President Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv as Russia's war against Ukraine enters 2nd year
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President Biden made an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Monday, a somewhat risky move aimed at expressing solidarity with Ukrainians as Russia's invasion of their country heads into a second year.
Here's what you need to know.
- New aid: Biden announced a half a billion dollars of additional assistance to Ukraine, as well as new sanctions on individuals and corporations that support Russia.
- A successful secret: The White House told reporters they'd been planning this trip for months.Officials even gave Russia a head's up for de-escalation purposes.
- The war, one year on: As sirens wailed around Kyiv, Biden's visit marked a new push by Russian forces to take control of Ukraine's eastern Donbas region, which Russia illegally annexed last September.
- What's next: Biden left Kyiv by early afternoon (local time). He was scheduled for diplomatic talks in neighboring Poland on Tuesday.
Next up: Biden and Putin are expected to give speeches this week
Biden's Kyiv visit kicks off what is expected to be a busy week in the leadup to Friday's anniversary.
Biden is scheduled to be in Warsaw on Tuesday and Wednesday. According to a schedule released on Sunday, Biden's time in Poland is supposed to include meetings with Poland's president, the NATO secretary-general and other NATO allies, as well a speech of his own on Tuesday.
The White House said before Monday's surprise visit to Ukraine that "The President will deliver remarks ahead of the one year anniversary of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, addressing how the United States has rallied the world to support the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom and democracy, and how we will continue to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes."
Ukrainians cheer Biden's visit
KYIV — Kyiv residents expressed astonishment at news that President Biden had traveled to their city, just one year after it came under siege by Russian troops.
“[Biden] is a very brave person who has united the entire Western world around Ukraine,” said Denys Serhiienko as he walked his dog near a medieval monastery that Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had visited a few hours prior.
As the two leaders exited the St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery complex air raid sirens sounded, reminding people that while the ground battles have shifted several hundred miles east, the city is still within range of cruise missiles and drone attacks.
“When the war came, we felt like we had to fend for ourselves, but it turns out we were wrong!” said 70-year-old Nina Albul. "I’m going to sleep well tonight because there can’t be any big booms — if Biden could come here, Ukraine is obviously protected."
“We want peace around the world, and are showing all people in bondage that it’s OK to fight back,” she added.
“The atmosphere was trusting and soulful,” said Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who rushed back to Kyiv from the Munich Security Conference in time for Biden’s visit.
“This visit is a victory for the Ukrainian people [and] a clear signal to the swamps," he added, referring to Moscow. "No one is afraid."
President Biden left Zelenskyy a note of encouragement
President Biden, who left Kyiv a few hours ago, just tweeted a picture of a note he left behind for his Ukrainian counterpart.
"I am honored to be welcomed again in Kyiv to stand in solidarity and friendship with the freedom loving people of Ukraine Mr. President," Biden's note appears to read. "Please accept my dearest respect for your courage and leadership."
Biden signed the note with "Sláva Ukrayíni," meaning "Glory to Ukraine."
In a press conference earlier today, Biden said this was his seventh visit to Kyiv. He visited the city six times as vice president, in large part to address a related issue: Pro-Russian occupation in eastern Ukraine.
Ask NPR reporters your Ukraine questions
This week marks one year since Russia first invaded Ukraine, a moment that, as President Biden put it in a press conference Monday, caused the world to change.
A year later, there's still a lot we don't know. But wading into those unknowns is what our reporters do best.
Let us know what's on your mind by using the question form below. We'll use your questions to guide our reporting throughout this anniversary week and may use them, in part or in full, online or on the air. Should you choose to leave us your email address, a reporter may reach out for follow-up questions.
A year into the Ukraine war, the world's biggest democracy still won't condemn Russia
MUMBAI — Since Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Western democracies have condemned Moscow, slapped wide-ranging sanctions on the country and its leaders, cut back on buying Russian oil and gas and sent unprecedented amounts of arms and ammunition to help Ukraine defend itself.
But the world's most populous democracy — India — hasn't done any of that.
Instead, India has solidified ties with Moscow. Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Vladimir Putin in September and called their countries' friendship "unbreakable." He did tell the Russian president it's "not a time for war," but Modi refuses to assign blame for the violence in Ukraine, and has voiced more concern over the spike in global food and fuel prices triggered by the war.
Meanwhile, as Europe has looked for other sources of energy, India has doubled down on buying Russian oil at bargain prices — much to Washington's chagrin. And India continues to place orders for Russian-made weapons.
All this is a reminder that, a year into this war, condemnation of Russia is far from unanimous. Much of the global south actually sees the West's focus on Ukraine as a distraction from other, more pressing issues — including food security, inflation and mounting debt.
Analysts and political scientists cite four main factors shaping India's policy toward Ukraine and Russia: History, energy, arms and influence.
How will the conflict end? It may not, experts tell NPR
As NPR's Scott Neuman reports, there are few, if any, signs of a way out of the war as its first anniversary arrives this week. A negotiated settlement seems unlikely, as does a total military victory for either side. So where does that leave things?
Experts told him that the most likely outcome is also one "that would satisfy no one" — a conflict that drags on for years and years.
Some Republicans are attacking Biden for this visit
It's still early in the day in Washington — and a federal holiday (Presidents Day) at that. congressional leadership hasn't publicly weighed in on Biden's visit, but some House Republicans took to social media to criticize the president for what they say is putting Ukraine ahead of the U.S.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Georgia, described the trip as "incredibly insulting."
"Today on our President’s Day, Joe Biden, the President of the United States chose Ukraine over America, while forcing the American people to pay for Ukraine’s government and war," she wrote in a tweet.
This is incredibly insulting.— Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene🇺🇸 (@RepMTG) February 20, 2023
Today on our President’s Day, Joe Biden, the President of the United States chose Ukraine over America, while forcing the American people to pay for Ukraine’s government and war.
I can not express how much Americans hate Joe Biden. pic.twitter.com/nHXzG67YOL
Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., also framed Biden's Kyiv visit as poor prioritization, but mentioned immigration explicitly.
"Breathtaking that President Biden can show up in Ukraine to ensure their border is secure, but can’t do the same for America," he wrote on Twitter.
A year into the conflict in Ukraine, congressional support for Kyiv, especially among Republicans, has changed, reflecting both domestic attitudes and the long, drawn-out nature of the conflict.
Last year around this time, Americans were strongly united about giving aid to Ukraine. But A Pew Research Center survey conducted last month showed that, in a shift led mostly by Republicans, about a quarter of Americans say the United States is giving too much aid to Ukraine.
The war dominated this year's Munich Security Conference. Here are 4 takeaways
Biden's visit to Kyiv comes immediately after this year's Munich Security Conference, the world's largest gathering on international security policy and an annual tradition since 1963.
NPR's Esme Nicholson, who covered this weekend's conference, writes:
"Dubbed the Davos of Defense, the Munich Security Conference attracts heads of state, generals, intelligence chiefs and top diplomats from around the world.
"With war raging in Europe, the world's foreign policy elite is on edge, and Russia's war in Ukraine dominated discussions.
"President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine set the tone of the three-day conference by urging Western leaders to act rather than talk, calling via videolink for the speedy deliveries of weapons and warning of dwindling supplies on the battleground.
"This year, the U.S. made its presence at the gathering felt with a record number of delegates, including significant bipartisan and bicameral representation from Congress."
Notably, Russia and Iran were not invited.
Click here to readabout Nicholson's four key takeaways, which include: the U.S. accusing Russia of crimes against humanity in Ukraine, China calling for peace talks in Ukraine and European leaders committing to invest more in weapons.
Looking for more on the state of the war? We've got you covered
Ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion on Feb. 24, Morning Edition co-host Leila Fadel has been talking to NPR journalists, foreign officials, military experts and Ukrainians on the ground about how we got here, where the war stands and what could happen next.
The result is a nearly hour-long special report, which you can read about and listen to here.
It looks at the impact of the war in Ukraine and beyond — from Fadel following up with a Ukrainian teenager she met in a Kyiv hospital last year, to talking to Taiwan's foreign minister about what lessons his country is learning.
She shared more details in a Twitter thread today:
When was Biden originally expected to leave for Europe?
Biden's visit to Ukraine — his first since the war broke out — is a high-stakes, highly secretive one. We don't know much yet about how it came together, but details are starting to emerge about how the White House kept it hidden.
Recent weeks had seen some speculation about whether the president might stop in Ukraine during his previously-announced trip to Warsaw, where the White House had said he would arrive on Tuesday.
But there was no public sign that such a pit stop was likely to happen — quite the contrary, in fact.
When the White House released Biden's Monday schedule at 7 p.m. ET on Sunday night, it showed him leaving D.C. for Warsaw the following evening.
The president and first lady made local headlines for dining out at a D.C. restaurant, the Red Hen, on Saturday night. That was evidently just the first stop on Biden's itinerary.
Biden is expected in Poland for more diplomatic discussions
President Biden will next to head to Warsaw, Poland, where he was previously scheduled for diplomatic talks and a public address on Tuesday. It's unclear how this surprise visit may change those plans.
A top international policy aide for Polish President Andrzej Duda praised Biden's visit to Ukraine, and said it served as a sign of sustained support.
"With his visit to Kyiv, [Biden] confirms the American commitment to continued support for Ukraine and faith in its victory; we welcome declarations of military assistance, because it brings us significantly closer to peace," wrote Marcin Przydacz, according to a translation.
🗨️ @POTUS wizytą w Kijowie potwierdza zaangażowanie amerykańskie w dalsze wsparcie Ukrainy i wiarę w jej zwycięstwo; przyjmujemy z zadowoleniem deklaracje o pomocy wojskowej, bo to znacząco przybliża nas do pokoju – Szef @BPM_KPRP @marcin_przydacz. pic.twitter.com/mtP4x1ouUn— Biuro Polityki Międzynarodowej (@BPM_KPRP) February 20, 2023
The White House has been planning this trip for months
National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on a Monday call that President Biden’s trip to Kyiv was “historic” and “unprecedented” for a sitting president, given that the U.S. does not have a military presence on the ground and only a limited embassy presence there.
Sullivan said the president felt it was an important message of solidarity to send ahead of the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine. While the trip was risky, he said Biden was confident that his security team was able to bring the risk to a “manageable level.”
The plan, which has been in the works for months, was set by the White House and a limited group of people from the Pentagon, the Secret Service and the intelligence community.
The White House would not go into further detail on the logistics of the president’s trip yet for security reasons, but said more information would be shared in the coming days. Biden is scheduled to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and give remarks in Warsaw on Tuesday.
Sullivan, who traveled with Biden to Kyiv, said that the president was excited about the trip, and that during the flight he was focused on making the most of his limited time on the ground. Sullivan said the plane ride was “filled with real anticipation that this was an important moment, and that the president was rising to the moment and felt he had an important mission to undertake and he wanted to do it.”
Biden wanted to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to Ukraine and his commitment to working with allies to continue to support the country against Russian aggression, Sullivan said.
Biden is the latest in a long list of U.S. and foreign leaders to visit wartime Kyiv
President Biden's visit to Kyiv is a momentous one, a year into the war and in the face of a renewed Russian offensive.
It's the first time in modern history that a U.S. president has entered a war zone where there is not an active American military presence, according to NBC News.
And Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, hailed it as "a historical moment for our country."
It's worth noting that this is not the first wartime meeting between the two presidents: They met in Washington in December, when Zelenskyy visited to address members of Congress. And several other U.S. leaders have traveled to Ukraine since the war began last February.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken has been there twice, including once with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi led a delegation of congressional Democrats to Kyiv last May, the same month that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and three other Republican senators met with Zelenskyy there too.
And it's not just U.S. officials who have made the risky trip.
The prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic became the first foreign leaders to visit Kyiv in March 2022, less than a month into the war. Many others have followed since then, including the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and Romania.
Zelenskyy met with Sunak again (and King Charles III) during a rare and unannounced visit to the U.K. last month, which was followed bya stop in Paris to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
The U.S. told Russia about Biden's trip shortly before he left
National security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on a Monday morning call that the White House had notified Russia of President Biden’s trip to Kyiv “some hours” ahead of his departure, for “deconfliction purposes.”
He would not go into details about how the Russians responded or the nature of the U.S. message.
Biden says he has 'every confidence' that Ukraine will prevail
Speaking at a press conference earlier this morning, President Biden recalled a phone call with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskyy one year ago this week.
"It was very late at night in Washington, very early in the morning here in Kyiv. Russian planes are in the air and tanks were rolling across your border. You told me that you could hear the explosions in the background," Biden said. "I'll never forget that. And the world was about to change."
Biden repeated a line that's become a refrain of his since that phone call: The U.S. stands with Ukraine.
As a new measure of U.S. support, Biden pledged a security package valued at half a billion dollars, which will include artillery, ammunition, armor systems and surveillance radar. Biden also said the U.S. planned to announce additional measures against companies and individuals that have skirted previous sanctions.
"The cost that Ukraine has had to bear has been extraordinarily high, and the sacrifices have been far too great," Biden said. "We know that there will be very difficult days and weeks and years ahead. But Russia's aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map, and Putin's war of conquest is failing."
Air raid sirens sounded as Biden and Zelenskyy walked through Kyiv
As the two presidents walked through Kyiv on Monday morning local time, air raid sirens went off. The ominous-sounding alarm highlighted the tension of the moment — a year into Russia's war and amid fears of a renewed offensive — but did not seem to faze either of the leaders, according to videos posted to social media.
Presidents @POTUS and @ZelenskyyUa in the center of Kyiv as an air raid alert sounds in the city.— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) February 20, 2023
Look how calm they are. It seems President Zelenskyy is even pointing some Kyiv sights to President Biden as they walk. pic.twitter.com/jzCZnAfLiW
Newsweek reports that the sirens were triggered by the flight of Russian MiG-31 aircraft that was thought to be carrying Kinzhal hypersonic missiles.
Colonel Yurii Ihnat told reporters at a Monday briefing that he wasn't sure if the flight was related to Biden's visit, Newsweek reports. "Those flights are going on on a daily basis," he said.
Kyiv has been a regular target of Russian missile and drone strikes, NPR has reported, including as recently as Feb. 10.
Zelenskyy says his talks with Biden will bring Ukraine 'closer to victory'
Reporters on the ground were taken to the official presidential residence, a beautiful ornate palace with chandeliers, even though Zelenskyy doesn’t live there.
The press conference was short and to the point, but highly symbolic: After a year of war, Ukraine is still standing. President Biden is standing with the country.
Zelenskyy spoke first, describing the visit as one that would solidify Ukraine's resilience.
"This conversation brings us closer to the victory, and we hope that this year, 2023, will become a year of victory," Zelenskyy said.
"This is the first visit over 15 years," he added. "This is really the most important visit for the whole history of the Ukraine/U.S. relationship."
Zelenskyy reiterated the significance of the U.S. decision to send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, thanked Biden for a new aid package and called for the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute alleged Russian war crimes.
Zelenskyy also said the U.S. will join Ukraine in submitting a U.N. resolution supporting peace in Ukraine at the General Assembly meeting this week in New York.
Biden has left Kyiv
President Biden has left Kyiv after a surprise visit with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Stay with us as we continue to bring you reaction and parse through the significance of the trip.
What we know about Biden's trip to Kyiv so far
The world was expecting President Biden to visit Poland this week to show support for Ukraine on the one-year anniversary of Russia's full-fledged invasion.
It was a little more surprised to see him walking around Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during an unannounced visit on Monday. Details of his trip — including how he got to Ukraine and how long he will stay — are being kept under wraps for security reasons.
Only three officials as well one reporter and one photographer traveled with Biden. A small group of reporters already inside Ukraine — including NPR's Joanna Kakissis — joined Biden after his arrival at 8 a.m. local time.
Biden met with Zelenskyy at Mariinsky Palace. Then, the two leaders walked together outside St. Michael's cathedral in central Kyiv. Air raid sirens were heard across the city as they left the church.
"I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about U.S. support for Ukraine in the war," Biden said, emphasizing bipartisan support in Congress for Ukraine.
Biden also announced half a billion dollars of additional assistance for the country and a new wave of sanctions against Russia, with details to come in the days ahead.