Ukraine “will never be a victory for Russia. Never.” US President Joe Biden made this promise on Tuesday in an emotional speech in the gardens of the former royal palace in Warsaw, on the eve of the first anniversary of the war. In his speech, Biden sought to highlight NATO’s united support for Ukraine, as both Russia and Ukraine prepare to launch new offensives.
“There should be no doubt: our support for Ukraine will not waver, NATO will not be divided and we will not tire,” Biden told a crowd of thousands in Warsaw, the Polish capital.
Biden was in his comfort zone. Poland is an avid supporter of NATO, and one of the most ardent advocates of sending arms to Ukraine. It has sent nearly $3.8 billion (about €3.57 billion) in military and economic assistance to its neighboring country. It represents a key link in the defense and humanitarian supply chain: 1.5 million people displaced by the war have passed through Polish territory.
Thousands of people – 30,000 according to the White House, which quoted the Warsaw City Hall – including Polish citizens and Ukrainian refugees, waited for hours before to hear the US president’s speech, despite the rain and low temperatures. Many were dressed in the blue and yellow – the colors of the Ukrainian flag (symbols of sky and grain). These same colors also illuminated the stage at the Kubicki Arcades in the Royal Castle in Warsaw, where the Biden delivered his speech.
“One year ago, the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv. Well, I have just come from a visit to Kyiv and I can report: Kyiv stands strong! Kyiv stands proud. It stands tall. And most important, it stands free,” said Biden, during his second visit and second speech in Warsaw in less than 12 months.
This time, unlike in March last year, Biden did not improvise. His 20-minute speech was shorter and less personal than then, when he called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “butcher” and argued that he should not remain in power. This time, however, Biden did ponder on the consequences that the Ukraine war may have for the future.
“When Russia invaded, it wasn’t just Ukraine being tested. The whole world faced a test for the ages,” he said. “Europe was being tested. America was being tested. NATO was being tested. All democracies were being tested. And the questions we faced were as simple as they were profound. Would we respond or would we look the other way?”
Biden also rejected Putin’s claim that the West wants to destroy Russia – an argument the Russian president made just hours earlier in a televised national address, in which he also announced Moscow’s withdrawal from the START nuclear arms weapons treaty, the last one in force between the two nuclear powers.
“The West was not plotting to attack Russia, as Putin said today [Tuesday]. And millions of Russian citizens who only want to live in peace with their neighbors are not the enemy. This war was never a necessity; it’s a tragedy,” said Biden to applause. “If Russia stopped invading Ukraine, it would end the war. If Ukraine stopped defending itself against Russia, it would be the end of Ukraine.”
The US president also threatened new sanctions against Russia, adding to the rounds of economic measures the West has passed since the beginning of the invasion. According to the World Bank, these measures helped shrink the Russian economy by around 4.5% in 2022. “We’re going to announce more sanctions this week together with our partners,” said Biden.
The place of the speech – the Kubicki Arcades – was also highly symbolic. The 19th century monument – one of the few elements of the former Royal Castle to survive World War II – played an important role during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. It then provided shelter for those who resisted the Nazi occupation, with its corridors allowing resistors to move between buildings and avoid detection by German soldiers. The Kubicki Arcades regained their former splendor thanks to a major renovation that was carried out between 1995 and 2009. Before Biden’s speech, US Ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski said that this restoration embodied what the US hopes to achieve in Ukraine.
Prior to his speech, Biden held a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw, where he argued: “NATO is stronger than it’s ever been.”
“The truth of the matter is: the United States needs Poland and NATO as much as NATO needs the United States,” said Biden at the bilateral meeting, which was aimed at addressing allied efforts to support Ukraine and steps to strengthen the Atlantic Alliance’s deterrence capabilities.
For Poland, Biden’s visit is a monumental event. “This is also a crucially important sign to us, a sign of security,” said Duda. In the streets of Warsaw, Biden’s presence was palpable. In the city center, police cars were stationed every few meters; streets were cut off amid the frequent wailing of sirens; air traffic was delayed; the media, which on Monday followed live the US leader’s surprise whirlwind trip to Kiev, hardly talked about anything else.
The meeting between the two leaders began with a one-on-one conversation, followed by a meeting between the two delegations in full at the Presidential Palace. Both leaders sat in the center of a long table, flanked by the flags of the two nations.
Tuesday’s meeting is part of a series of discussions Biden will hold with allies to prepare for what the White House considers a new phase of the conflict: Russia’s big spring offensive – which has already begun – and Ukraine’s response. Before returning to Washington, Biden is also scheduled to meet on Wednesday in Warsaw with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, and the members of the so-called Bucharest Nine group: the countries of the former Soviet bloc, which ware today members of NATO and generally in favor of more forceful support to Ukraine than other European partners.
During his visit to Kyiv, the US leader discussed with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy the type of equipment Ukraine may need to succeed on the battlefield in the coming months, according to White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who declined to say whether the two leaders reached any agreement on the matter during their conversation. Having obtained the allies’ approval to receive German Leopard tanks and US Abrams, Kyiv is now pressing for its partners to supply it with fighter jets and long-range missile launching systems.
“We have to have security in Europe,” Biden said during the meeting at the presidential palace in Warsaw. “It’s that basic, that simple, that consequential.” For his part, Duda recalled that the Russian invasion is “causing a tragedy and a catastrophe for millions of the inhabitants of Ukraine and causing a huge crisis — both a crisis of security and economic crisis all over the world, and also a humanitarian crisis.”
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