President Biden is set to mark the 1-year anniversary of Russia invading Ukraine with a high-stakes trip to Poland as the war is widely expected to drag on.
Biden will be in the same place he was last year when he told the world from Warsaw that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot “remain in power” after visiting refugees near the front lines.
Since then, the president has maintained his leadership among NATO allies when it comes to aid to Ukraine, totaling in the billions. He also hosted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the White House, a remarkable showing of the two leaders as the world attempts to ice out and thus punish Putin.
But the trip this year also comes with new hurdles facing Biden, namely a divided Congress in which a newly-controlled Republican House may threaten unequivocal aid to Kyiv as the war drags into its second year.
“Biden’s leadership created a European dependency on the United States, which will increasingly raise questions the longer this war goes on about how committed should we be, in terms of what is required to keep the Ukrainian military flush and not only able to defend its gains, but new ones,” said Aaron David Miller, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden intends to send “a strong message of solidarity” during his trip to Poland early in the week.
The president is scheduled to leave Washington on Monday and arrive in Warsaw on Tuesday. He will meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda before delivering remarks on Tuesday evening Polish time, where he will make clear the U.S. will stand with Ukraine for “as long as it takes,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.
On Wednesday, Biden will meet with the Bucharest Nine, which consists of members of NATO’s eastern flank: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
“Helping Ukraine defend itself is clearly one very important objective but President Biden and his administration has a very clear objective to prevent the conflict from escalating further. A war in Ukraine is tragic and horrific, but a wider war in Europe would be truly, totally catastrophic for everyone,” said Sean Monaghan, a visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Kirby said Biden’s only scheduled travel is to Warsaw, appearing to nix the possibility that he will cross the border into Ukraine at any point. The president is expected to thank the Polish government and people for their financial and military commitments over the past year, as well as their welcoming of more than 1 million refugees from Ukraine.
“Last time he was in Warsaw, he was out there meeting Ukrainian refugees and shaking hands. He’s a kind of self-starred man of the people. I think he’s much more comfortable on the frontlines in Warsaw than he is in the back rooms sipping Cava with the elites at the Munich Security Conference,” he said.
During his trip in March, Biden’s meeting with Ukrainian refugees displaced by the Russian invasion were largely attributed at the time to his more angry tone during his landmark speech hours later. When he blasted Putin in his remarks, the White House scrambled to walk back those comments and said it was a human reaction to what he had seen and heard earlier.
Miller noted, though, the security and political implications for the president if he crosses into Ukraine at all.
“The president’s decision to go to Ukraine, to actually go, now that’s a matter of security. It’s also a matter of politics. It would demonstrate a degree of boldness and commitment for an 80-year-old guy who within the next several weeks is going to probably announce his determination to run for a second term,” he said, noting Biden’s expected re-election plans.
Biden last month committed to sending 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, marking a significant turn for the Biden administration that had previously argued they would be of little benefit to Ukraine. Since the start of the war, the U.S. has sent over $24 billion in security assistance to help Kyiv.
Recent polling showed that 48 percent of Americans support sending weapons to Ukraine, a significant drop from 60 percent support in May 2022. When it came to sending government funds to Ukraine, 38 percent said they supported it and 38 percent opposed it.
Monaghan argued that now, with a more “fragile situation in Congress” and an election coming up in 2024, there are “two headwinds” for Biden’s trip to Poland this week – getting Poland and other NATO allies to provide more assistance and also convincing lawmakers at home to continue to support Ukraine.
“So this, for President Biden, should play well in Eastern Europe, it should play well at home. Those are the hurdles he has to tackle,” Monaghan said.
The president’s last visit to Poland was only one month into the invasion. The crux of his major speech — aside from saying Putin can’t remain in power — was that the U.S. will support Ukraine for the “long haul.”
“That’s why I came to Europe again this week with a clear and determined message for NATO, for the G7, for the European Union, for all freedom-loving nations: We must commit now to be in this fight for the long haul. We must remain unified today and tomorrow and the day after and for the years and decades to come,” Biden said last year.
The situation at home, with a divided Congress and waning support for Ukraine, could provoke less forceful comments out of the president this year. But, recent remarks point to a speech this year that is perhaps just as forceful and decisive. Temple University officer responding to robbery fatally shot near Philadelphia campus US, Syrian forces capture ISIS official in helicopter raid
Biden made a point during his State of the Union to stress his support for Ukraine and recognized Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s ambassador to the U.S., in the audience. And, earlier this month, he said that Putin has “already lost Ukraine” and he pushed back on criticism that too much assistance is going to Ukraine.
“If these guys don’t want to help Ukraine, I get it, they don’t want to do that, but what are they going to do to when … Russia rolls across Ukraine or into Belarus or anywhere else?” Biden said.
– Brett Samuels contributed.