April 13, 2024
President Joe Biden vowed in a fiery speech Tuesday to continue supporting Ukraine as it enters a second year of war, repeatedly denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin and promising the United States would not waver even as the conflict enters a new, more uncertain phase.

In his second major address in less than a year from the same Polish castle, Biden said before a large, energetic crowd that Western resolve was stiffening in the face of Putin’s assault on democracy.

He used his trip to the Ukrainian capital a day earlier as evidence that the democracies of the world are growing stronger in the face of autocracy, repeatedly noting Kyiv remained in Ukrainian hands despite the early expectations inside the Kremlin.

“One year ago, the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv. Well, I’ve just come from a visit to Kyiv and I can report Kyiv stands strong. Kyiv stands proud, it stands tall and most important, it stands free,” Biden said as a crowd, many waving American flags, cheered underneath cold rain.

In remarkably pointed terms, Biden accused Putin of atrocities and said his attempt to subjugate a sovereign nation wouldn’t succeed.

“President Putin’s craven lust for land and power will fail,” he said, one of the 10 separate times he singled out the Russian leader by name in his address.

By contrast, Putin didn’t name Biden once in a lengthy and belligerent address from Moscow earlier in the day. In other ways as well, the two presidents’ speeches could not have been more different. Biden was introduced to a driving electronic pop anthem; meanwhile in Moscow, some members of Putin’s audience appeared to fall asleep during his one-hour-and-45-minute speech.

White House aides said ahead of time that Biden’s remarks were not timed to act as a rebuttal to Putin’s speech. And Biden made only a single reference to it, denying Putin’s claim that Ukraine and its allies in the West started the war.

“The West was not plotting to attack Russia,” Biden said by way of response in his own speech.

According to senior US and European officials, Putin’s aims have not changed since he launched his invasion a year ago. Despite humiliating setbacks for his military and an apparent power struggle between the mercenary Wagner Group and the Russian defense ministry, Russia has recently made gains in the east. Putin’s troops appear poised to take the city of Bakhmut, the first significant Russian military victory in months.

Visiting the region this week, Biden hoped to again provide a rallying cry for Ukraine, demonstrating to Putin and Russia that Western resolve isn’t weakening. Harkening to the start of the war, Biden said the challenges of the invasion extended beyond Ukraine’s borders.

“When Russia invaded, it was not just Ukraine being tested. The whole world faced a test for the ages,” he said. “Europe was being tested. America was being tested. NATO was being tested.”

Biden appeared to speak almost directly to Putin in much of the remarks, saying, “Autocrats only understand one word: No. No, no. No, you will not take my country. No, you will not take my freedom. No, you will not take my future.”

“Ukraine, Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. Never,” Biden said to applause.

Biden makes the case for ‘the defense of freedom

The war has left an indelible mark on nearly all aspects of Biden’s presidency and he has left his mark on the war, from the billions of dollars in arms shipments to the newly invigorated Western alliance. It has caused convulsions in the global economy and created political problems at home while still providing Biden an opening to demonstrate his oft-recited claim that “America is back.”

White House officials have been looking towards this week’s anniversary for weeks, consistently making the point that one year ago, as Russian troops were massing on the border with Ukraine, there were plenty of people – including inside the Biden administration – who predicted Kyiv would’ fall in a matter of days.

The surprising resilience of the Ukrainian people, along with the unexpected ineptitude of the Russian forces, have prevented a full takeover. Instead, the war has become what NATO’s chief Jens Stoltenberg described last week as a “grinding war of attrition” without a discernible end.

“We have to be honest and clear-eyed as we look at the year ahead,” Biden said Tuesday. “The defense of freedom is not the work of a day. It’s always difficult. It’s always important.”

The United States and other Western nations have been shipping tranches of arms, tanks and ammunition to Ukraine, steadily increasing what they are willing to provide in the hopes of changing the trajectory of the war. It’s not enough for Zelensky, who wants heavier weapons and fighter jets.

US officials have said they hope the massive influx of weaponry to Ukraine – which includes new vehicles, longer-range missiles, and Patriot air defense systems – can help Ukraine prevail on the battlefield and put the country in a stronger position to negotiate an end to the war.

But it remains unclear what parameters Zelensky might be willing to accept in any peace negotiations, and the US has steadfastly refused to define what a settlement may look like beyond stating it will be up to Zelensky to decide.

Meanwhile, new concerns about the available supplies of ammunition and weapons have emerged in the past week, a clear indication the West cannot provide unlimited support forever – neither logistically nor politically – as evidenced by polls showing support for the war effort waning.

In the US, some conservative Republicans have balked at providing any more aid to Ukraine, though the party’s leaders appear unwavering in their support. As Biden prepares to announce his intentions on running for reelection, anxiety is rising in Europe that a change in the White House could herald a shift in policy toward Ukraine.

Clashing with Putin

The last time Biden spoke from the courtyard of the Royal Castle, the content of his 27-minute speech was mostly obscured by what he ad-libbed about Putin at the end: “For God’s sake,” he proclaimed in March 2022, “this man cannot remain in power.”

Nearly a year later, Biden returned to the Royal Castle to mark the anniversary of a war that has increasingly put him directly at odds with the Russian leader, a Cold War dynamic underscored by Biden’s highly secretive visit to Kyiv a day earlier.

In his speech, Biden accused Putin of atrocities and trying to “starve the world” by preventing Ukrainian grain exports.

“When President Putin ordered the tanks to roll in Ukraine, he thought we would roll over. He was wrong,” Biden said.

Yet unlike Biden’s last appearance in Warsaw, which came as Putin’s forces appeared in retreat and observers expected the Russian economy to crumble under the weight of Western sanctions, the war now appears poised to stretch at least another year. There are currently no serious efforts at negotiating an end to the fighting.

If there was ever a point when Biden and his aides hoped to avoid personalizing the Ukraine conflict, it was over long before this week’s anniversary. Biden has declared Putin a “war criminal” and a “pure thug,” accusing Russia of genocide and, in his castle speech, making an implicit call for regime change.

Speaking to reporters ahead of Biden’s speech, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said it was not planned as a direct rebuttal to Putin.

“We did not set the speech up some kind of head to head,” Sullivan said. “This is not a rhetorical contest with anyone else.”

‘Our support for Ukraine remains unwavering’

In meetings with Polish President Andrzej Duda earlier Tuesday, Biden reiterated his commitment to the region’s security.

Biden thanked Duda for his country’s commitment to supporting the people of Ukraine, calling the relationship between the two nations “critical, critical, critical.” Biden said he believes Ukraine is in a “better position than we’ve ever been” and called on NATO countries to “keep our head and our focus.”

“I made it clear that the commitment of the United States is real and that a year later I would argue NATO is stronger than it’s ever been,” Biden said.

“I can proudly say that our support for Ukraine remains unwavering.”

Biden announced Monday he would join European nations in announcing new sanctions on Moscow and unveil another security assistance package on top of the tens of billions already committed this year.

Source: By , CNN

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