8 min read

Biden goes to Kyiv

Biden and Putin deliver dueling speeches as the Ukraine war enters its second year.
Biden goes to Kyiv
President Biden hugs Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky during his trip to Kyiv. (Zelensky’s office)

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Biden, Putin mark Ukraine war’s 1-year anniversary

President Biden and Russian president Vladimir Putin are poised to deliver dueling speeches today as the war in Ukraine approaches its one-year anniversary on Friday.

Biden’s cloak-and-daggers trip

For Biden, his address comes after a surprise weekend voyage to Kyiv, the first presidential trip in modern U.S. history to a war zone without a significant American military presence.

After a secret flight into Poland and then a 10-hour train ride into Kyiv, Biden stood with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday and declared that U.S. support for Ukraine would not waver as the war enters its second year.

“One year later, Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands,” Biden declared. “The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you.”

As Biden and Zelensky strolled the streets of Kyiv, an air-raid siren could be heard blaring throughout the city. (No air strike took place during Biden’s visit; the White House says that it did give Russia advance notice of the trip for “deconfliction purposes.”)

Biden is now back in Poland, where he will deliver remarks on the war’s anniversary at 11:30 a.m. Eastern Time.

Putin pulls back from arms treaty

Meanwhile, in his own speech early this morning, Putin vowed to continue fighting. “They were the ones who started the war,” Putin said, falsely accusing Ukraine and its Western allies of igniting the conflict. “We used force and continue to use it to stop it.”

During his address, Putin announced Russia’s plans to suspend its participation in the New START nuclear nonproliferation treaty, the last remaining arms control agreement between the U.S. and Russia.

Biden will have an opportunity to respond to Putin’s remarks later today, although his aides insist that the president’s address was not designed as a rebuttal to the Russian leader.

“We did not set the speech up [as] some kind of head-to-head,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. “This is not a rhetorical contest with anyone else. This is an affirmative statement of values, a vision for what the world we’re both trying to build and defend should look like.”

However, Biden has grown increasingly personal in his remarks about Putin lately. “Putin’s war of conquest is failing,” he said Monday, claiming that the Russian military “has lost half its territory it once occupied” and that the country’s economy “is now a backwater, isolated and struggling.”

The U.S. also formally accused Russia of committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine for the first time this weekend, an announcement made by Vice President Kamala Harris in Munich.

New offensive expected

Ever fond of symbolism, Putin is widely expected to launch a new ground offensive as the war’s anniversary approaches. That the conflict has even lasted this long is an embarrassment to the Russian strongman and, in the words of the Associated Press, “the biggest threat to his more than two-decade-long rule.”

A “czar with no empire,” as the Washington Post recently called him, Putin appears to be eyeing additional takeovers as he nurses his losses in Ukraine. The president of Moldova is accusing Russia of fomenting a coup to overthrow her government; leaked documents published by Yahoo News on Monday show Putin’s plans to assume full control over his ally Belarus within the decade.

Putin expected to triumph over Ukraine in a matter of weeks; instead, one year later, the war has effectively been fought to a draw. According to NPR, an estimated 200,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in the war, compared to about 100,000 Ukrainians.

“Some analysts say the conflict is showing uncomfortable parallels with World War I, when the combatants settled into entrenched positions and fired countless shells, hoping to break the stalemate,” Bloomberg reports.

Enter China?

One factor the U.S. fears could change the course of the war: possible Chinese aid to Russia. In an unusual move, Secretary of State Antony Blinken went public with those fears this weekend, telling CBS News that the U.S. is “concerned” that China is “considering providing lethal support to Russia in its efforts in Ukraine.”

Blinken added that, in a Saturday meeting with his Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, he telegraphed “the serious consequences that would have for our relationship.”

Although China and Russia have already announced a “no limits” partnership, and state-owned Chinese companies have provided military equipment to Moscow during the war, the government in Beijing has refrained from providing weapons and ammunition to Russia thus far.

“There is no doubt that China’s entry into the war in that manner would transform the nature of the conflict,” the New York Times reported, “turning it into an epochal struggle involving all three of the world’s largest superpowers and their partners on opposing sides: Russia, China, Iran and North Korea aligned against the United States, Ukraine and their European and Asian allies and partners, including Japan and South Korea.”

NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg echoed Blinken’s comments this morning, telling reporters that he is “increasingly concerned” about China’s plans.

A GOP divide

The possibility of China arming Russia comes as the future of U.S. aid to Ukraine is less certain than ever. Biden promised Monday that the U.S. would stand with Ukraine “for as long as it takes” — and announced a new $460 million aid shipment, from the $45 billion package passed by Congress in December  — but eventually the aid currently approved by lawmakers will run out.

When that happens, it will be the first test of newly minted House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s election-year promise not to approve a “blank check” for Ukraine. Already, GOP support for the war effort is fracturing: 40% of Republicans said the U.S. is providing too much assistance to Ukraine in a Pew Research poll last month, a dramatic increase from the 9% who said the same in March 2022.

The emerging Republican divide over Ukraine could be seen in responses to Biden’s trip there. The neocons who once dominated the party applauded the visit: conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt said it was the “finest moment” of Biden’s presidency, while the executive editor of the National Review called it “an example of America in its finest tradition.”

But the more isolationist, and arguably more powerful, faction of the party condemned the trip, with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) calling for Biden’s impeachment and newly elected Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO) declaring that “Biden is in Ukraine before Ohio,” referring to the recent East Palestine derailment.

Former President Donald Trump took the opportunity to brag about his “very good relationship” with Putin. Notably, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — whose positions on national policy are still coming into focus as he gears up for a possible presidential campaign — appeared to side with Trump.

With Biden in Ukraine, “I think I and many Americans are thinking to ourselves: ‘OK, he’s very concerned about those borders halfway around the world. He’s not done anything to secure our own borders here at home,’” DeSantis said in a Fox News interview on Monday.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the leading voice in his party still advocating for Ukraine aid, told attendees of the Munich Security Conference on Friday that “reports about the death of Republican support” for Ukraine have been “greatly exaggerated.”

“Don’t look at Twitter, look at people in power,” he added — but a growing number of Republican lawmakers have broken with his position.

The aid cycle continues

The next round of U.S.-Ukraine aid negotiations are poised to center around F-16 fighter jets. Biden said last month that the U.S. would not be sending any to Kyiv, as Zelensky has requested, but UN ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told CNN this weekend that it was a possibility.

The Biden administration has gone through a similar cycle again and again, refusing to send Ukraine more aggressive forms of weaponry — for example, Abrams tanks or the Patriot missile defense system — before eventually relenting each time.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers urged Biden last week to send the F-16s, writing that the fighters jets “could prove decisive for control of Ukrainian airspace this year.”

More news to know.

  • “Fond remembrances for Jimmy Carter after entering hospice” AP
  • “McCarthy gives Tucker Carlson access to January 6 Capitol security footage, sources say” CNN
  • “U.S., Canada Abandon Search for Downed Objects” WSJ
  • “Rattled by China, U.S. and allies are beefing up defenses in the Pacific” WaPo
  • “On Blinken Visit, Quake Relief Soothes U.S.-Turkey Tensions” NYT
  • “Momentum builds in Congress to crack down on TikTok” NBC

The day ahead.

All times Eastern.

President Biden is in Warsaw, Poland. He will meet with Polish president Andrzej Duda and deliver remarks on the approaching one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine.

Vice President Harris has nothing on her public schedule.

The House and Senate are on recess until Monday.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Gonzalez v. Google, a major case that could lead to the dismantling of Section 230, the landmark 1996 law that protects social media companies from being sued over the content posted on their platforms.

The case was brought by the family of Nohemi Gonzales, a 23-year-old who was killed in the 2015 ISIS attack in Paris. They are arguing that Google’s YouTube abetted ISIS recruitment and helped incite the attack by recommending the group’s videos to users. Google argues that Section 230 protects the company from bearing any liability.

If the justices side with the Gonzales family and choose to limit or even overturn Section 230, the “twenty-six words that created the internet” and the digital world’s “Magna Carta,” there would be major consequences for tech companies and life on the internet.

Before I go...

Here’s a fun story: Late on Saturday afternoon, I was with some friends in the Georgetown student center when I saw a White House pool report that said President Biden had unexpectedly arrived on campus 10 minutes before.

I dashed over. I saw the president’s long motorcade and walked in that direction as if I was just going back to my dorm. I stopped by the door of Wolfington Hall, the building Biden was in, when a police man told me to keep walking.

I did — but not all the way outside of the security perimeter they were setting up. I eventually found the White House press pool, the group of reporters who follow Biden wherever he goes, and quickly pulled on my press pass and did my best to blend in.

As the assembled reporters and photographers waited to capture Biden’s exit, a White House press aide told us that students were now being barred from entering the area. I had arrived just in time. Then, the aide added: “There’s actually a Georgetown undergrad who covers politics who’s gonna hate that he missed this.”

That’s when I stuck my hand out and introduced myself, figuring it was safe. “I’m not missing this,” I said. So surprised to see me there, he graciously allowed me to stay.

Biden didn’t take any questions from reporters when he walked out, although he did stroll over to a group of students who had assembled just outside of the security perimeter. (Several students told me later they couldn’t make out what Biden said due to the vents of the dorm building they were standing near loudly blasting out air.)

Biden was on campus to attend mass, just one of several public stops he made on Saturday — looking back, the Washington Post speculated that they were held to disguise the president’s next moves. Within hours, he would secretly be on his way to Ukraine.

President Biden walking out of a Georgetown building on Saturday. (Gabe Fleisher)

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