Biden makes surprise visit to Kyiv

Biden makes surprise visit to Kyiv
US President Joe Biden has made a surprise visit to Kyiv to meet with his counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy and show US support for Ukraine, and has visited the Wall of Remembrance for fallen Ukrainian soldiers on Mykhailivska Square in Kyiv. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews February 20, 2023

US President Joe Biden landed in Kyiv on a surprise visit on the morning of February 20 in a show of support for Ukraine. He will meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and is expected to announce more support for Kyiv on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the start of the war in Ukraine.

Air raid sirens sounded across Kyiv shortly before the news was confirmed, Deutsche Welle reports, just as Biden and Zelenskiy met.

The unannounced visit is Biden's first trip to Ukraine since Moscow launched the war, but the US president travelled to Kyiv several times while Vice President to Barack Obama, following the Maidan revolution in 2014.

"As the world prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine, I am in Kyiv today to meet with President Zelenskiy and reaffirm our unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine's democracy, sovereignty and territorial integrity," Biden said in a statement.

Zelenskiy hailed Biden's visit to Kyiv, the first by a US president in 15 years, as the “most significant in the history of Ukrainian-US relations”. Bankova has been calling for Biden to visit the Ukrainian capital since the start of the conflict.

Biden highlighted that when Russia launched its invasion nearly a year ago, it thought that Ukraine was weak, and the West was divided. However, he noted that Putin was "dead wrong", as the US has built a coalition of nations from the Atlantic to the Pacific to help defend Ukraine with military, economic and humanitarian support. “And that support will endure,” Biden said.

And Biden chose a particularly auspicious day to visit. Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to give a major policy speech in Russia the following day, where he could expound more explicit war goals, including a surge to complete the total capture of the Donbas region. The end of this week will also mark the first full year of the Russo-Ukraine conflict, so Biden’s presence is intended to signal the US ongoing commitment to supporting Ukraine.

And February 20 is the nineth anniversary of the massacre on Maidan, where former president Viktor Yanukovych’s security forces opened up with live ammunition on the crowd, killing around 100 unarmed protesters. Yanukovych fled the country a few days later. The day is celebrated in Ukraine as testimony to its people’s commitment to freedom and democracy. Biden and Zelenskiy pointedly walked past the Wall of Remembrance where the names of the “Heavenly Hundred” are recorded.

"In difficult and defining moments of history, we never give up and always show courage and selflessness. Ukrainians become brother for brother, and everyone who is Ukrainian becomes a brother. This is the basis of our unity: unity, which gives the future to our state and people; unity, which gives us invincibility. And this is the basis of our connection with the world, with all those who value freedom and who are ready to defend it. The time comes, and the voices of millions merge into a single voice of the people who say: Ukrainians want and will live only in a free state. In their Ukraine, which will certainly be preserved, and which will certainly preserve freedom," Zelenskiy said in an address on the occasion, clearly designed to reflect the current struggle against yet another oppressor.

"The openness of Ukraine to the world and the unity of our state with all of Europe. And, of course, this is the independence of Ukraine. What motivated the Maidans to gather and defend themselves; what motivates now to fight and liberate our land," Zelenskiy added.

More US military and budget aid 

The US government recently announced it will transfer $9.9bn in the coming months to support the budget, according to Daphne Rand, director of the US State Department's Office of International Assistance.

Biden announced an additional package of $500mn of military aid while in Kyiv. The two leaders discussed weapons supplies to Ukraine. Concern has been rising in recent weeks that Ukraine is running out of ammunition and faces possible defeat this summer if more arms are not supplied quickly.

Biden announced additional supplies of long-range weapons as part of a new $2bn package recently approved by the US Congress. Zelenskiy revealed additional details, saying that the package included the supply of Abrams tanks, howitzers and Javelin man-portable anti-tank systems. The US President announced an addition package of $500mn, which will also include crucial 155mm artillery shells, supplies of which have been running low in Ukraine.

President Biden said the United States has already transferred more than 700 tanks, more than 1,000 armoured vehicles, 1,000 artillery systems, 2mn artillery shells, 15 MLRS.

Zelenskiy said that the results of the visit would be “felt on the battlefield,” and help in the liberation of Ukraine's territory. "A powerful package of defence support for Ukraine is expected. Right now, this package is a signal that Russian attempts at revenge will have no chance," Zelenskiy said.

The presidents also discussed scenarios for the post-war settlement. Zelenskiy continues to take a hard line, rejecting any ceasefire talks until Russia has quit the country completely and insists that the Kremlin accept responsibility for the death and destruction it has caused.

Ukraine is predicted to run a $38bn budget deficit this year and will also receive €18bn from the EU. It just signed a staff level meeting with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new $16bn assistance programme, of which the first $5bn-$7bn is expected to be paid out this year. The programme still needs to be approved by the IMF, but that is seen as a formality.

Since the beginning of war with Russia the US has already provided $13bn in macro budget support to the government of Ukraine and at least $40bn in military support.

The US budget money will also provide essential services for Ukrainians and ensure the operation of hospitals, schools, fire services and other public institutions, Rand said, adding there would be assistance to restore Ukraine’s energy sector, which has been bombed by Russia.

The macro package follows on the heels of a new $2.17bn security package, that includes long-range Ground Launched Small Diameter Bomb (GLSDB) missiles for US-provided HIMARS multiple rocket launchers and Javelin anti-tank weapons amongst other things, it was announced on February 3.

Speaking of his discussion with Biden, Zelenskiy said: “We actually have a joint vision for the content of many points in the Peace Formula. The question of restoring justice is extremely important. The aggressor must bear responsibility and compensate for all losses," he said, as cited by Interfax Ukraine.

Zelenskiy also emphasised that Ukraine would play a key role in global food security, announcing that it had delivered 110,000 tonnes of grain to Ethiopia and Somalia, and was sending food to Yemen, Sudan and Nigeria this season. The Famine Prevention Group was joined by experts from the African continent, including former President of Malawi Joyce Banda and former Minister of Education of Nigeria and former Vice President of the World Bank Obiageli Ezekwesili.

Biden is following up from Zelenskiy's visit to Washington DC on December 22 to shore up bipartisan support, where he called on delegates for more financial and military aid.

European unity

The Western allies intend to submit a draft resolution in support of peace to the UN General Assembly on the day of the anniversary of the start of the war. The approval of this resolution would demonstrate that "terrorist force will never break civilised law", Zelenskiy said.

In parallel, the US and the EU are intending to unveil details of the tenth package of sanctions on the anniversary as well.

At the Munich Security conference at the weekend, European leaders also threw their support behind Kyiv. According to the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, the first and most pressing task for Europe is to arm Ukraine, by providing enhanced military support, particularly in terms of ammunition.

Speaking at the conference on February 19, Borrell highlighted the urgent need to step up and accelerate military support to Ukraine. He called for concrete action to be taken, rather than just words, as Ukraine is currently in a critical situation, with a severe shortage of ammunition.

Borrell stressed that Ukraine must win this war against Russia, and all European leaders need to support the country to ensure victory. He called on Europe to provide Ukraine with the military momentum it needs to secure victory and highlighted the need to solve the ammunition crisis quickly.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak also made strident statements of support and stressed the need to increase the military support of Ukraine.

Von der Leyen and Sunak stressed the “powerful alignment of EU and UK support” for Ukraine over the past year that has included record military and economic aid. The EU and UK have both agreed to train Ukrainian troops to use Western tanks and fighter jets, which “will make a real difference on the battlefield.” They also stressed the need to provide Ukraine with the military momentum it needs to win the war against Russia.

The EU is working on joint procurement of ammunition for Ukraine. The countries of the European Union are looking for ways to unite in order to jointly purchase ammunition for Ukraine for it to defend itself against any Russian invasion. According to Reuters, it is expected that the heads of foreign affairs of the EU countries will discuss the procedure for general purchases of the 155-mm artillery shells needed by Kyiv at a meeting in Brussels on February 20.