The unannounced trip, days ahead of first anniversary of the war, underscores ‘unwavering’ commitment Ukraine, US says.
United States President Joe Biden has made an unannounced visit to Kyiv, days before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Biden’s trip on Monday was the first to Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into the neighbouring country on February 24, 2022.
Air raid sirens rang out as he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Ukrainian capital, but there were no major attacks.
The visit was to “reaffirm our unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity”, a White House statement said.
“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,” the statement quoted Biden as saying.
As we approach the anniversary of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, I’m in Kyiv today to meet with President Zelenskyy and reaffirm our unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.
— President Biden (@POTUS) February 20, 2023
“Later this week, we will announce additional sanctions against elites and companies that are trying to evade or backfill Russia’s war machine,” the statement added.
Biden said the US would provide Ukraine with additional assistance worth $500m that will include artillery ammunition, anti-armour systems and air surveillance radars. He also promised further sanctions against Russia.
Zelenskyy, who in December 2022 travelled to Washington, DC and addressed US Congress on his first trip abroad since the war began, wrote on Telegram that Biden’s visit was an “extremely important sign of support for all Ukrainians”.
The Ukrainian leader said he and Biden spoke about “long-range weapons and the weapons that may still be supplied to Ukraine even though it wasn’t supplied before”, but did not detail any new commitments.
Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel-Hamid, reporting from Kyiv, said the US president’s trip will be “very well received” by Ukrainians.
“[Russian] President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to give a speech tomorrow,” Abdel-Hamid said.
“People here are talking about a new offensive … a new buildup on the border in Russia and Belarus. So, certainly having the [US] president here pledging support, pledging weapons will make the Ukrainians feel that they can go ahead with this.”
The trip allowed Biden to witness the damage that the Russian invasion has caused in Ukraine.
Thousands of Ukrainian troops and civilians have been killed in the past year, while millions have fled the fighting into neighbouring countries.
Meanwhile, Sergei Markov, a Russian political scientist and former spokesman of Putin, claimed that Moscow had guaranteed Biden’s safety during the trip.
“Joe Biden came to Kyiv only with personal guarantee for security from Vladimir Putin, that there will be no rocket and aviation strikes … during the visit,” Markov said.
Al Jazeera was unable to verify his claim.
Markov added the timing of the trip was significant as it comes before Putin’s state-of-the-nation address on Tuesday and days before the first anniversary of the invasion on Friday.
But he argued that Biden had a lot to gain from the visit, in terms of domestic politics.
“Leaders inside the [US] Democratic Party believe he’s not physically and mentally able” to carry out presidential duties, Markov said, adding that the trip was a “big victory” for Biden against his political opponents.
Other Western leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, have also visited Kyiv in the past year.