February 21, 2023

Biden Goes to Kyiv

“U.S. President Joe Biden promised new military aid for Ukraine worth $500 million during a surprise visit to Kyiv on Monday, almost a year to the day since Russia's invasion. In a trip showing solidarity with Kyiv, Biden also said additional sanctions would be announced this week against the Russian elite and companies trying to evade sanctions to ‘back the Russian war machine’. The military aid package will include artillery ammunition, anti-armour systems and air surveillance radars ‘to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardments,’ he said.” Reuters

Many on both sides praise Biden’s visit:

“As President Biden walked the streets of Kyiv on Monday beside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, air raid sirens began to wail. A Russian fighter jet had reportedly taken off from Belarus, carrying the type of hypersonic missile that Ukraine’s defenders cannot shoot down. The two leaders did not flinch. Say what you want about Biden, he lacks neither courage nor resolve. His surprise visit to the Ukrainian capital might be the first time a sitting president has braved an active war zone — with no inviolable U.S. military cordon around him — since 1864, when Abraham Lincoln went to see the fighting at Fort Stevens…

“In Kyiv alongside Zelensky, Biden walked with the cautious gait of an 80-year-old man. Perhaps Russian President Vladimir Putin, in deciding to launch the invasion, thought Biden’s age meant his response would be one of weakness or vacillation. If so, he neglected to take into account Biden’s deep and abiding Roman Catholic faith, his belief in destiny, his commitment to the rules-based international order — and the fact that Biden is rarely more animated than when he talks about drag racing in his Corvette at triple-digit speeds. He is a man with considerable tolerance for risk.”
Eugene Robinson, Washington Post

This is a gut punch to Russia’s leader. The Russians received word of the trip, we are informed—and presumably the threat, stated or implied, that they would get a violent and overwhelming response if they attempted to interfere with it. For a leader obsessed with strength, like Putin, that is a blow. His own people will quietly or openly ask, ‘Why could we not prevent this?’ And the answer, unstated, will have to be, ‘Because we were afraid.’…

“The visual contrast between an American president with his signature aviator sunglasses walking in sunny downtown Kyiv with the pugnacious and eloquent president of Ukraine and a Russian president who has yet to visit the war zone is also striking. Not to mention the difference between an American president who mingles with others, shaking hands, hugging and slapping backs, and a Russian president who keeps his subordinates at a physical distance… No belligerent words from the Kremlin will change those visual images, which will be seen in Russia as well as around the world.”
Eliot A. Cohen, The Atlantic

“Putin thinks that he will win not through technological superiority, and not through better tactics or better-trained soldiers, but simply by outlasting a Western alliance that he still believes to be weak, divided, and easily undermined. He reckons that he has more people, more ammunition, and above all more time: that Russians can endure an infinite number of casualties, that Russians can survive an infinite amount of economic pain. Just in case they cannot, he will personally demonstrate his capacity for cruelty by locking down his society in extraordinary ways…

“Biden’s visit to Kyiv is intended to offer a bracing contrast, and a different message: If the U.S. president is willing to take this personal risk, if the U.S. government is willing to invest this effort, then time is not on Russia’s side after all… Jake Sullivan, the national-security adviser, put it like this during a press-conference call from Kyiv: ‘The visit today was an effort to show, and not just tell, that we will continue to stand strong.’”
Anne Applebaum, The Atlantic

“Make no mistake, there was risk involved in this trip. Traveling to the capital of a nation fighting a shooting war with a great power, the U.S. had no way to choreograph with exactitude the circumstances of his travel or arrival. Neither the U.S. nor Ukraine has total control of the airspace. Neither the U.S. nor Ukraine could guarantee Biden’s security on the ground…

“Symbolism and morale matter to a nation at war… At home, it may often feel like our republic is irretrievably fractured. Abroad, mistakes and wrong turns have tarnished our reputation for competence and steadfastness. But America is still, for all its faults, seen in dark and terrible places as the last best hope. Beyond our shores, people still react to our presidents with hope. We should remember that.”
Mark Antonio Wright, National Review

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“While the pictures of Biden in Kyiv were remarkable, they cannot disguise real questions and uncertainties surrounding the US approach to the war and differences with the Ukrainians. This plays out both in the types of weapons the US is prepared to offer and potentially in divergent scenarios about how the war could end. The phrase ‘as long as it takes’ can mean different things to different people and there is every sign that this war, which Putin cannot afford to lose, could grind on for many bloody more years, testing Western resolve.”

Stephen Collinson, CNN

From the Right

“Biden somehow had time to fly to Ukraine but hasn’t been able to travel 290 miles to visit East Palestine, OH, which is currently in the midst of a major ecological disaster. Again, perception matters, and the perception this puts off is that the president is far more concerned about rebuilding Ukraine than he is about helping American citizens who have found themselves with poisoned groundwater… Those predisposed to love this stuff are going to love it… but I think a lot of Americans see it and feel left behind.”
Bonchie, RedState

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