US president Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday in a dramatic show of American commitment to Ukraine ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion.
His stopover, shrouded in secrecy owing to security concerns, comes at a pivotal moment in the war as Ukraine is gearing up for a counteroffensive and is calling on its allies to speed up the delivery of billions of dollars in western weapons. Russia has also increased attacks and preparations for a larger offensive, though progress has been halting so far.
“I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about US support for Ukraine in the war,” Biden said during joint remarks with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Mariinsky Palace, the official residence of the Ukrainian president. “I’m here to show our unwavering support for the nation’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Zelenskyy thanked Biden for coming in “the most difficult time” for Ukraine. “This conversation brings us closer to victory,” he said.
While in Kyiv, Biden announced $500mn in additional security assistance, including artillery ammunition, more javelin missiles and howitzers. The package did not appear to include new capabilities such as fighter jets or longer range missiles Kyiv has long sought. The US has announced about $30bn in lethal assistance since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24 2022.
Zelenskyy said he and Biden discussed the future provision of longer range missiles that Ukraine had not yet received.
Biden said the US would impose more sanctions against Russian elites and companies assisting Russia’s war effort.
The visit is a symbol of American resolve, recalling other clandestine wartime visits of US presidents to Iraq and Afghanistan. Monday’s trip to Kyiv was all the more daring given the lack of US troops on the ground to help support it.
Videos on social media showed Biden walking with Zelenskyy in Kyiv’s St Michael’s Square as air raid sirens blared in the background and sounded throughout much of the country. With the backdrop of the gold-domed St Michael’s Cathedral, Biden laid a wreath at a memorial to fallen Ukrainian soldiers in the centre of the square.
The stark images of Biden and Zelenskyy walking together in downtown Kyiv come as some Republican lawmakers, including Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, have questioned the US’s ability to sustain long-term assistance to Kyiv.
In the coming weeks, Biden is expected to make an additional request for funds to Congress to provide more lethal assistance to Ukraine, which will give some indication of the Republican-controlled House’s stand on the issues and how they might play in the coming 2024 presidential elections.
Later on Monday, Biden is expected to travel to Poland for a two-day trip, during which he will make centrepiece speech on the war and meet Polish president Andrzej Duda as well as the leaders of the so-called Bucharest Nine group of eastern European countries.
Biden left Washington with a small group of aides at 4.15am on Sunday and arrived in Kyiv on Monday at 8am local time after taking an overnight train. Biden left the Ukrainian capital later that afternoon.
Many of Biden’s western counterparts, such as UK prime minister Rishi Sunak, French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Olaf Scholz, have already visited Kyiv. Biden’s visit follows trips by others in his administration including Blinken and US national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
Additional reporting by Max Seddon in Riga