President Biden made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Monday, promising $500 million in new aid to help the country resist Russia's invasion, which started a year ago this week. Biden promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the U.S. would support Ukraine "as long as it takes." The secret trip, which Biden made ahead of a publicly scheduled visit to nearby Poland, came as Ukraine braces for a long-anticipated renewed Russian offensive.
The war has been at a stalemate for months. An unexpectedly strong Ukrainian counteroffensive has reclaimed parts of the south and east that Russia has occupied since early in the war, but Russia has sent wave after wave of missile and drone strikes deep into Ukrainian controlled territory, targeting civilian infrastructure and leaving Ukrainians to endure winter freezes with sporadic electricity and heat. Hours after Biden's stop in Kyiv, Russian President Vladimir Putin used his annual state-of-the-nation address to blame the U.S. and its Western allies for the war, saying Russia was fighting to reclaim its "historic lands." With Russia digging in, will Biden's visit do anything to help Ukraine get the upper hand?
The trip was a 'gut punch' to Putin
Biden's "hazardous trip to Kyiv" was "a strategic move of cardinal importance," said Eliot Cohen in The Atlantic. The U.S. notified Moscow of Biden's travel plans at the last minute, and, in a "gut punch" to Putin, the Russian leader was powerless to keep him away. "Other heads of government preceded him, earning deserved credit," but it is a much more powerful statement when "the leader of the Free World" shows up as air-raid sirens blare.
"Symbols matter: a Kennedy or a Reagan at the Berlin Wall." Biden's decision to take this risky trip — a rare visit to an active war zone that U.S. forces don't control — "matters just as much" as the weapons, gear, training, and intelligence allies are providing to Ukrainian forces. His words, promising America's "unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine's democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity," sent an unprecedented message of comfort to besieged Ukrainians, and a stern warning to Moscow.
What Ukraine really needs are weapons
Despite "all the good feeling created" by the trip, wrote David E. Sanger and Anton Troianovski in The New York Times, a big test from Zelensky's point of view is whether Biden follows his show of support with approval of the F-16 fighters and long-range missiles Zelensky has demanded. Biden has so far withheld the weapons due to concerns that sending them "could provoke a wider, more direct conflict with Russia."
It's true that "Russian media wasted no time casting Mr. Biden's visit to Kyiv as proving Mr. Putin's contention that America is behind the fighting." But with "objections on the far left and far right" of the American political landscape, it's the reaction in the U.S., not Russia, that represents the greatest threat to Biden's commitments to helping Ukraine.
Moscow will get the wrong idea
Biden's secret trip will have "zero" effect on the conflict in Ukraine, or on Putin's war plans, Rebekah Koffler, president of Doctrine & Strategy Consulting, former DIA intelligence officer, and author of Putin's Playbook: Russia's Secret Plan to Defeat America, told Fox News.
If anything, Koffler said, Putin is likely to think Biden used the visit to "urge Zelensky to negotiate with Russia," which will only make Moscow more likely to keep up the intense military pressure to increase its leverage. So now Ukrainians are left behind to brace for what they expect will be "massive barrage of missiles that Russia may launch on Friday, Feb. 24, the one-year anniversary of Putin's invasion."
It's time for Biden to get real
Biden was right to show America's support for Ukraine, said Gerard Baker in The Wall Street Journal. But he also owes Kyiv some "hard-headed realism" — primarily, that Washington won't be able to keep spending billions to support Ukraine indefinitely. "Reports that China may start arming Russia's military only reinforce the risk that Ukraine's heroic battle becomes a protracted stalemate, and it is time to start prodding Kyiv toward a plausible endgame."
Nobody wants to talk about the prospect of making "territorial concessions" to get Russia to make peace. But the reality is that "Russia isn't going to surrender Crimea or, it seems, most of the Donbas, where historically pro-Russian populations lend a patina of legitimacy to some of Moscow's claims." Territorial concessions, "or at least a truce along acceptable front lines, will be needed. It's a messy solution that falls short of Mr. Zelensky's aims but is better than years of war" that would require a blank check from the U.S. to have any chance of succeeding.