'Historic. Timely. Brave.'
Officials say Biden's wartime visit to Kyiv was sparked by Zelensky's trip to D.C.
President Biden's clandestine visit to Kyiv on Monday started to come together not long after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled to Washington, D.C., in late December, two people with knowledge of the matter told NBC News.
Biden went to the Ukrainian capital to show solidarity with the country and to bolster the Western alliance that is supporting Ukraine. Administration officials said the American public reacted positively to Zelensky and his address to a joint session of Congress, and this showed the importance of Biden making a similarly major move ahead of the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The stop in Kyiv was arranged by senior members of Biden's national security team, NBC News reports, and was incorporated into a trip to Poland that was publicly announced 10 days ago. "Discussions about possibly going have been underway for months and really accelerated in recent weeks," a senior administration official said.
It was understood by everyone involved that it wasn't possible to guarantee Biden's safety in a war zone where the U.S. is not an active partner, and one official told NBC News that many "intense" conversations were had about security measures. Just a few hours before Biden left for Ukraine, a phone call was made to Russia to let them know he was on his way, for "deconfliction" purposes, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Monday. The trip "required a security, operational, and logistical effort from professionals across the U.S. government to take what was an inherently risky undertaking and make it a manageable level of risk," he added. "But, of course, there was still risk and is still risk in an endeavor like this."
Biden did not fly into Ukraine; he got on a train at the Polish border, and embarked on a 10-hour journey to Kyiv. While Biden could have chosen to visit another city closer to the border, he wanted to go to Kyiv to show that it is still standing and wasn't easily toppled by Russia, a person familiar with the matter told NBC News. Zelensky praised Biden for coming to Kyiv, tweeting that his visit is "Historic. Timely. Brave. ... I am thankful to the U.S. for standing with Ukraine and for our strong partnership. We are determined to work together to ensure Ukraine's victory."