President Biden arrived Monday for an unannounced visit to Ukraine’s capital, a huge show of support for the country the U.S. and its allies have helped to stave off Russia’s nearly-year-long, unprovoked invasion. Mr. Biden was to spend time in Kyiv with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksyy before heading to neighboring Poland later in the day for meetings with other European leaders.
“I am in Kyiv today to meet with President Zelenskyy and reaffirm our unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity,” Mr. Biden said in a statement released by the White House, confirming his first visit to Ukraine since the war began.
Mr. Biden’s visit to the region comes as the world prepares to mark a full year since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine — and amid concerns first publicized over the weekend by America’s top diplomat that China may be on the brink of providing Russia with weapons to bolster its assault.
Putin ordered the land invasion and the beginning of a devastating aerial bombardment of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. He sent tens of thousands of troops over the border in an attack that appeared aimed at quickly toppling Zelenksyy’s Western-aligned government.
Putin’s forces vastly outnumbered Ukraine’s, and for months the Russians closed in on the capital city of Kyiv from several directions, illegally annexing Ukrainian territory as they went. Many expected Kyiv to fall within just days, but a year later, Ukraine is still locked in a fight for its survival.
Backed by most of the Western world — and crucially bolstered by U.S. and European weapons shipments which continue today — Zelenskyy’s troops managed to turn the tide and start clawing back territory in the second half of last year.
What Putin refers to only as a “special military operation” largely stalled over the winter months, with both sides digging in along a front line that spans hundreds of miles in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, from the north to the south of the country.
“When Putin launched his invasion nearly one year ago, he thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided. He thought he could outlast us. But he was dead wrong,” Mr. Biden said in the statement released Monday by the White House. “Today, in Kyiv, I am meeting with President Zelenskyy and his team for an extended discussion on our support for Ukraine. I will announce another delivery of critical equipment, including artillery ammunition, anti-armor systems, and air surveillance radars to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardments.”
Mr. Biden said his government would announce later in the week “additional sanctions against elites and companies that are trying to evade or backfill Russia’s war machine.”
Over the weekend, the U.S. gave its first public airing of concerns that China could become one of the entities helping to “backfill Russia’s war machine.” Beijing and Moscow are close allies, but China has provided Putin with only non-lethal support during the first year of his war against his neighbors.
Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Beijing could go further.
“The concern that we have now is based on information we have that they’re considering providing lethal support,” said Blinken, without providing further detail.
“To the Chinese, if you jump on the Putin train now, you’re dumber than dirt,” warned U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, who attended a security conference in Munich, Germany over the weekend. “It would be like buying a ticket on the Titanic after you saw the movie. Don’t do this.”
President Biden is said to have warned his Chinese counterpart as early as March last year against arming Russia for its assault on Ukraine, but China dismissed the remarks from Blinken over the weekend, insisting that it has and will play only a “constructive” role in trying to end the Ukraine war.
On Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin took a tougher stance, insisting that the “United States is in no position to make demands of China.”
Wang Wenbin spoke as Beijing’s top diplomat, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, was expected to visit Moscow.
“China’s comprehensive collaborative partnership with Russia is based on the basis of non-alignment, non-confrontation and non-targeting of third parties, and is a matter within the sovereignty of two independent countries,” Wang Wenbin said Monday. “We will never accept the U.S. pointing fingers at Sino-Russian relations or even coercing us.”
The American leader’s trip to the region this week is not only about reassuring allies that the U.S. will continue to stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes, but also about the president convincing Americans it’s the right move.
Over the weekend, the Biden administration formally accused Putin’s forces of committing murder, torture and rape during the war, with Vice President Kamala Harris saying at the Munich conference that “there is no doubt” Russian forces have committed “crimes against humanity.”