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US President Biden makes a surprise visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev

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US President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, on Monday as the country approaches the first anniversary of the Russian invasion.

Biden made remarks and met with Zelensky at the Mariinsky Palace to announce an additional half-billion dollars in US aid and reassure Ukraine of US and allied support as the conflict drags on.

“One year later, Kiev stands. Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,” Biden said.

The visit to Ukraine comes at a crucial moment in the war as Biden looks to keep allies united in their support for Ukraine as the war is expected to intensify as both sides prepare for spring offensives. Zelensky is pressing allies to speed up delivery of pledged weapons systems and calling for the West to deliver fighter jets to Ukraine — something Biden has so far refused to do.

Biden’s mission, with his visit to Kiev – and then Warsaw – is to stress that the United States is ready to stay with Ukraine “as long as it takes” to fend off Russian forces even as public opinion polls indicate that support for the United States and its allies has provided arms and direct economic aid has begun. in retreat. For Zelensky, the symbolism of the US president standing shoulder to shoulder with him on Ukrainian soil as the anniversary approaches is no small feat as he urges US and European allies to provide more advanced weaponry and speed up delivery.

The visit also gives Biden a chance to get a first-hand look at the devastation wrought by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Thousands of Ukrainian troops and civilians have been killed, millions of refugees have fled the war, and Ukraine has suffered tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure damage.

The trip also presents a challenge to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had hoped his army would quickly overrun Kiev within days. A year later, the Ukrainian capital is standing and semblance of normal life has returned to the city as the fighting focused in the east of the country, punctuated by cruise missile and drone attacks against military and civilian infrastructure.

Biden also got a brief taste of the terror Ukrainians have experienced for nearly a year, as sirens blared over the capital as he and Zelensky left the cathedral they visited together. They stood unperturbed in front of a wall in honor of the Ukrainian soldiers killed since 2014.

Although Western surface-to-air missile systems have bolstered Ukraine’s defenses, the visit was a rare occasion in which a US president traveled to a conflict zone where neither the US nor its allies had control of the airspace. It was not immediately clear whether the United States had given advance notice of the trip to Moscow to avoid any miscalculation that could bring the two nuclear-armed nations into direct conflict.

The US military has no presence in Ukraine other than a small detachment of Marines guarding the embassy in Kiev, making Biden’s visit more complicated than recent visits to war zones by former US leaders.

Speculation has been building for weeks that Biden will visit Ukraine on the February 24 anniversary of the Russian invasion. But the White House has repeatedly said no presidential trip to Ukraine has been planned, even after announcing a visit to Poland earlier this month.

At the White House, planning for Biden’s visit to Kiev has been held tightly — with a relatively small group of aides briefed on the plans — because of security concerns.

Asked by a reporter on Friday if Biden might include stops outside Poland, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby replied, “For now, the trip will be in Warsaw.” Moments later—and without prompting—Kirby added, “I said ‘now. ‘ The flight will be in—to Warsaw. I didn’t want to make it sound like I was hinting at a change in it.”

Biden departed quietly from Joint Base Andrews near Washington shortly after 4 a.m. Sunday, stopping at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany before making his way to Ukraine.

Other Western leaders have made the trip to Kiev since the start of the war.

In June, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and then-Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi traveled together by night train to Kiev to meet Zelensky. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak visited Kiev in November, shortly after taking office.

This is Biden’s first visit to a war zone as president. His predecessors, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush, made surprise visits to Afghanistan and Iraq during their presidencies to meet with American forces and the leaders of those countries.

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