February 21

By Susan Milligan

President Joe Biden Monday made an extraordinarily high-security and surprise visit to Kyiv, Ukraine, showing support for the embattled eastern European nation while thumbing his nose at Russia nearly a year after the invasion of its western neighbor.

“One year later, Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,” Biden said after meeting with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. “I’m here to show our unwavering support for the nation’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

In joint remarks at the Mariinsky Palace, Biden announced a half billion dollars of additional assistance to Ukraine, saying more details would be revealed in the coming days. The package will include more military equipment, including artillery ammunition for a country running low on ammunition as it continues defending itself against Russia.

Zelenskyy said the two leaders discussed “long range weapons and the weapons that may still be supplied to Ukraine even though it wasn’t supplied before,” but did not provide any more details. Biden also said additional sanctions against Russia would be announced this week.

The historic visit was not entirely unanticipated, since Biden is set to deliver remarks Tuesday in nearby Warsaw, Poland. But it was kept under wraps because of the unusually high security and risk involved with having an American president visit a country under ground and air assault.

In the 10 days since the White House announced Biden’s visit to Poland to mark the one-year anniversary of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the White House has insisted there were no plans to visit Ukraine. But it was also understood that such a visit, were it to happen, would be disclosed only when it was safe to do so.

The Biden administration did notify Russia of the president’s plans hours in advance, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters in a conference call after the meeting. The heads-up was made for “deconfliction purposes,” he said, another way of saying the U.S. wanted to make sure Putin didn’t accidentally harm or even kill the American president by launching a strike aimed at Ukraine.

Sullivan said that due to the “sensitive nature of those communications,” he would not say how Russia responded to the notification or what the precise nature of the message.

Even within the official U.S. community, advance knowledge of the “meticulously planned” visit was kept to a small group, deputy national security adviser Jonathan Finer told reporters. Biden traveled with “a handful of his closest aides, small medical team, photographer, and the security package,” Finer said.

Presidents have visited combat zones before; former President George W. Bush, for example, made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to troops in Iraq in 2003, with even his wife, Laura, and his parents not told of the visit ahead of time. But that visit – the first trip by an American commander-in-chief to Iraq – was to an American military base.