President Joe Biden is set to consult with allies from NATO’s eastern flank in Poland on Tuesday as the Russian invasion of Ukraine edges toward an even more complicated stage.
After paying an unannounced visit to Kyiv, Biden made his way to Warsaw on Monday on a mission to solidify Western unity as both Ukraine and Russia prepare to launch spring offensives. The conflict – the most significant war in Europe since World War II – has already left tens of thousands dead, devastated Ukraine’s infrastructure system and damaged the global economy.
“I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about US support for Ukraine in the war,” Biden said as he stood with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv before departing for Poland. “The Ukrainian people have stepped up in a way that few people ever have in the past.”
Biden is scheduled to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda and deliver an address from the gardens of Warsaw’s Royal Castle on Tuesday, where he’s expected to highlight the commitment of the central European country and other allies to Ukraine over the past year. On Wednesday, he’ll consult with Duda and other leaders of the Bucharest Nine, a group of the easternmost members of NATO military alliance.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Biden would underscore in his Warsaw address that Russian President Vladimir Putin wrongly surmised “that Ukraine would cower and that the West would be divided” when he launched his invasion.
“He got the opposite of that across the board,” Sullivan said.
While Biden is looking to use his whirlwind trip to Europe as a moment of affirmation for Ukraine and allies, the White House has also emphasized that there is no clear endgame to the war in the near term and the situation on the ground has become increasingly complex.
The administration on Sunday revealed it has new intelligence suggesting that China, which has remained on the sidelines of the conflict, is now considering sending Moscow lethal aid. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it could become a “serious problem” if Beijing follows through.
Biden and Zelenskiy discussed capabilities that Ukraine needs “to be able to succeed on the battlefield” in the months ahead, Sullivan said. Zelenskiy has been pushing the US and European allies to provide fighter jets and long-range missile systems known as ATACMS – which Biden has declined to provide so far. Sullivan declined to comment on whether there was any movement on the matter during the leaders’ talk.
With no end in sight for the war, the anniversary is a critical moment for Biden to try to bolster European unity and reiterate that Putin’s invasion was a frontal attack on the post-World War II international order. The White House hopes the president’s visit to Kyiv and Warsaw will help bolster American and global resolve.
“It is going to be a long war,” said Michal Baranowski, managing director of the German Marshall Fund East. “If we don’t have the political leadership and if we don’t explain to our societies why this war is critical for their security ... then Ukraine would be in trouble.”
In the US, a poll published last week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows that support for providing Ukraine with weapons and direct economic assistance is softening. And earlier this month, 11 House Republicans introduced what they called the “Ukraine fatigue” resolution urging Biden to end military and financial aid to Ukraine, while pushing Ukraine and Russia to come to a peace agreement.
Biden dismissed the notion of waning American support during his visit to Kyiv.
“For all the disagreement we have in our Congress on some issues, there is significant agreement on support for Ukraine,” he said. “It’s not just about freedom in Ukraine. … It’s about freedom of democracy at large.”
Some establishment Republicans say it’s now more important than ever for Biden and others in Washington to hammer home why continued backing of Ukraine matters.
“The bottom line for me is this is a war of aggression, war crimes on steroids, on television every day. To turn your back on this leads to more aggression,” said Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C. “Putin won’t stop in Ukraine. I’m firmly in the camp of it’s in our vital national security interest to continue to help Ukraine and I can sell it at home and will continue to sell it.”
Former US Ambassador John Herbst, who served as the top diplomat to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006, said Biden’s White House can do better making the case to a domestic audience that “at minimum keeping Putin bottled up in Ukraine” is in US economic and foreign policy interest and lessens the chance that Russia can turn the conflict into a wider war.
“The smart play is to give Ukraine the substantial assistance to make sure that the Putin problem is solved,” said Herbst, senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. “If this were something laid out clearly from the Oval Office and then repeated constantly by the president, his senior foreign policy and national security team, I don’t have any doubt the American public will embrace it.”
Ahead of the trip, the White House spotlighted Poland’s efforts to assist Ukraine. More than 1.5 million Ukrainian refugees have settled in Poland since the start of the war, and millions more have crossed through Poland on their way to other countries. Poland has also provided Ukraine with $3.8 billion in military and humanitarian aid, according to the White House.
The Biden administration announced last summer that it was establishing a permanent US garrison in Poland, creating an enduring American foothold on NATO’s eastern flank.
The US has committed about $113 billion in aid to Ukraine since last year, while European allies have committed tens of billions of dollars more and welcomed millions of Ukrainian refugees who have fled the conflict.
“We built a coalition from the Atlantic to the Pacific,” Biden said. “Russia’s aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map. Putin’s war of conquest is failing.”
For the second time in less than a year, Biden will use Warsaw as the backdrop to deliver a major address on the Russian invasion. Last March, he delivered a forceful and highly personal condemnation of Putin at the Royal Castle just weeks after the start of the war.
Duda said Biden’s presence on Polish soil as the war’s anniversary approaches sends an important signal about the US commitment to European security.
“In Warsaw, the president will deliver a very important address – one that a large part of the world, if not the whole world actually, is waiting for,” Duda said.
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