Five Takeaways from Biden’s Surprise Meeting With Zelensky in Ukraine

US President Joe Biden made a surprise trip to Kyiv on Monday ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Biden met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Ukrainian capital on his first visit to the country since the start of the conflict. LIVE Updates

Key Takeaways from the Meet:

Comes During Crucial Time in War

Biden vowed ‘unflagging commitment’ to Ukraine on his Kyiv visit. The Ukraine visit comes at a crucial moment in the war as Biden looks to keep allies unified in their support for Ukraine as the war is expected to intensify with both sides preparing for spring offensives, the Associated Press reported. Zelensky is pressing allies to speed up delivery of pledged weapon systems and is calling on the West to deliver fighter jets to Ukraine — something that Biden to date has declined to do.

In Kyiv, Biden announced an additional half-billion dollars in US assistance, including shells for howitzers, anti-tank missiles, air surveillance radars and other aid but no new advanced weaponry. Zelenskyy 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 he did not detail any new commitments.

Firsthand Encounter as Air Raid Sirens Ring

Biden has been eager to visit Ukraine for months, especially after some of his European counterparts braved lengthy train excursions to meet with Zelensky in Kyiv. Visits to the country have been made by French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Through the visit, Biden got a short firsthand taste of the terror that Ukrainians have lived with for close to a year, as air raids sirens howled over the capital just as he and Zelenskyy were exiting the gold-domed St. Michael’s Cathedral, which they visited together. Looking solemn, they continued unperturbed as they laid a wreath and held a moment of silence at the Wall of Remembrance honoring Ukrainian soldiers killed since 2014, the Associated Press reported.

US is Up for the Long Haul, a Boost to Zelensky

Biden’s mission with his visit to Kyiv, which comes ahead of a scheduled trip to Warsaw, Poland, is to underscore that the United States is prepared to stick with Ukraine “as long as it takes” to repel Russian forces even as public opinion polling suggests that US and allied support for providing weaponry and direct economic assistance has started to soften.

For Zelenskyy, the symbolism of having the U.S. president stand side by side with him on Ukrainian land as the anniversary nears is no small thing as he prods the U.S. and European allies to provide more advanced weaponry and to step up the pace of delivery.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday welcomed US leader Joe Biden to Kyiv, hailing the surprise visit as a key sign of support nearly one year after Russia invaded, AFP reported.

“Joseph Biden, welcome to Kyiv! Your visit is an extremely important sign of support for all Ukrainians,” Zelensky said on Telegram in English.

Amid Concerns Over China

The visit also comes after the US said China was was considering arming Russia in its war against Ukraine. However, Beijing denied the reports, as it reiterated a call for dialogue to end the conflict.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Beijing was now “considering providing lethal support” to Moscow ranging “from ammunition to the weapons themselves”.

“It is the United States and not China that is endlessly shipping weapons to the battlefield,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Monday, when asked about the US claims.

“We urge the United States to earnestly reflect on its own actions, and do more to alleviate the situation, promote peace and dialogue, and stop shifting blame and spreading false information,” Wang told a regular briefing.

A Rare Visit

Though Western surface-to-air missile systems have bolstered Ukraine’s defensives, the visit marked the rare occasion where a U.S. president has traveled to a conflict zone where the U.S. or its allies did not have control over the airspace. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the U.S. had given advance notice of the trip to Moscow to avoid any miscalculation that could bring the two nuclear-armed nations into direct conflict.

The U.S. military does not have a presence in Ukraine other than a small detachment of Marines guarding the embassy in Kyiv, making Biden’s visit more complicated than other recent visits by prior U.S. leaders to war zones.

With inputs from Associated Press, AFP

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