For the first time since the Russian invasion began last February, President Joe Biden surprised the world with his unannounced visit to Kyiv on Monday, February 20th.
The trip is a “daring but deliberate” move to signify the U.S.’ commitment to supporting Ukraine as we prepare to mark the one-year anniversary of the outbreak of the war. In many ways, it is said to be unprecedented in modern history for a U.S. president to visit an active warzone where U.S. troops are not currently engaged on the field.
“The security in Kyiv is extraordinarily tight,” an NBC correspondent, presently in the city, said earlier. Roads around the Ukrainian presidential palace have been closed and cell phone signals restricted. Air raid sirens could be reportedly heard around the city as Biden was transported to the palace to meet President Zelensky. “It is President Biden’s way of showing that he’s committed to this story and he’s willing to put himself at physical risk to express solidarity with Ukraine.”
“Joseph Biden, welcome to Kyiv,” posted President Zelensky on his official Telegram page, along with a photo of him shaking the U.S. President’s hand. “Your visit is an extremely important sign of support for all Ukrainians.” On his part, Biden announced the visit on Twitter, saying he is there to “reaffirm our unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.”
But Biden came bearing gifts, too. During the two leader’s joint address in the presidential palace, President Biden announced another half a billion dollars worth of military aid for Ukraine, including artillery shells, howitzers, and javelins.
The president’s visit was undisclosed, although rumors that the visit might happen had been circulating in the previous days. Kyiv citizens were tipped off by roadblocks being set up around the city center and news of Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba’s canceled trip to Monday’s Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels.
One Ukrainian government official told Politico that Ukrainians “have been requesting the visit for a long time,” but it was not easy to set up. The opportunity was finally provided by Biden’s presidential visit to Poland, allowing for the unusual side trip. It had to be prepared “in a very short amount of time,” the official said, “with the utmost level of secrecy.”