Biden meets Zelenskyy in Kyiv as Ukraine war nears 1 year; U.S. giving half-billion dollars

President Biden made a surprise visit to the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv Monday, walking with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy through the heart of the city and promising fresh military aid in a dramatic illustration of U.S. support just days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

Mr. Biden left early for a scheduled visit to Poland and secretly took a train into the war-wracked country to meet with Mr. Zelenskyy and other top Ukrainian figures.

“I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about U.S. support for Ukraine in the war,” Mr. Biden said.

“He’s counting on us not sticking together,” Biden said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. ”He thought he could outlast us. I don’t think he’s thinking that right now. God knows what he’s thinking, but I don’t think he’s thinking that. But he’s just been plain wrong.”

Noting that many predicted Russia would prevail quickly and easily when Mr. Putin launched his invasion Feb. 24, 2022, Mr. Biden told reporters during his five-hour visit, “One year later, Kyiv stands.”

Standing with Mr. Zelenskyy on a podium decorated with U.S. and Ukrainian flags, Mr. Biden added, “And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you.”

SEE ALSO: Biden’s surprise trip to Ukraine was months in the planning: White House

The Reuters news agency said the two leaders discussed a fresh $500 million military aid package set to be unveiled Tuesday, a package that would include artillery, ammunition, anti-armor systems and air defense radars. It did not include the F-16 fighter jets that Mr. Zelenskyy says are critical to winning the war. 

In announcing the package, Mr. Biden noted that some in Congress have called for the U.S. to reduce aid to Ukraine. Despite those calls, Mr. Biden said there is broad support for Ukraine’s cause in Congress. 

“It’s not just about freedom in Ukraine. … It’s about freedom of democracy at large,” the president said.

Mr. Zelenskyy said he was “grateful” for the strong U.S. support and said the result of the Biden visit will “surely have a reflection on the battlefield.”

With popular support for Ukraine in the U.S. and Europe showing some signs of weakening, Ukrainian officials had been anxious for the symbolism of an American presidential stop, the first by a U.S. president since George W. Bush in 2008.

“This visit is the victory of the Ukrainian people and President Zelenskyy,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a statement. “It has been conducted in spite of everything for the sake of Ukraine’s victory and all the free world. It is a clear signal to [Mr. Putin] – no one is afraid of you!”

SEE ALSO: Far-left, libertarian activists protest U.S. support for Ukraine

There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin, where Mr. Putin is preparing to host top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi for talks.

Air defense sirens could be heard while Mr. Biden was on the ground in Kyiv, but Ukrainian military officials said they were set off by Russian fighter jets taking off in neighboring Belarus, a regular late-morning occurrence.

Mr. Biden arrived as Ukrainians were marking the “Day of the Heavenly Hundred Heroes,” commemorating the protesters killed in the clashes that drove pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych from power in 2014.

The trip comes after multiple denials from the White House that Mr. Biden would visit Ukraine during his European trip. 

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Sunday there were “no plans” for Mr. Biden to step over the border into Ukraine while he was in Poland. 

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. notified the Russians hours ahead of time that Mr. Biden would be traveling to Kyiv, citing “de-confliction purposes.” He said the nature of the communication was sensitive so he could not detail how the Russians responded or the precise nature of the discussions.

Mr. Sullivan was reluctant to talk about other logistics until he got the all-clear from other officials.

On the plane, Mr. Sullivan said Mr. Biden was focused on his message to Mr. Zelenskyy and objectives for the second year of the war.

“He was quite focused on how he was going to approach his conversation with President Zelenskyy,” Mr. Sullivan said. “He was excited about making the trip.”

“The trip from Washington was a trip filled with real anticipation that this was an important moment and the president was rising to the moment,” he added.

• Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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