President Joe Biden vowed in his 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 dither even as the conflict enters a new, uncertain phase.
In his second major address in less than a year from the same Polish castle, Biden said 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.
In remarkably pointed terms, Biden accused Putin of atrocities and said his attempt to subjugate a sovereign nation wouldn’t succeed.
“President Putin’s weak 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.
The speech came hours after Putin delivered a major speech to the Russian Federal Assembly, again falsely claiming that Ukraine and its associates in the West started the war and offering no signs he is pulling back in his ambitions.
By contrast, Putin didn’t name Biden once in his lengthy and aggressive address from Moscow earlier in the day.
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.”
‘Our support for Ukraine remains unwavering’
In meetings with Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and other eastern European allies Tuesday, Biden reiterated his commitment to those countries’ security.
Biden thanked Duda for his country’s commitment to supporting the people of Ukraine, calling the relationship between the two nations “critical, critical, and 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. The White House said ahead of his trip that Biden would speak by phone over the course of the week with other Western leaders, including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom and President Emmanuel Macron of France.
“Freedom is priceless. It’s worth fighting for, for as long as it takes. And that’s how long we’re going to be with you, Mr. President — for as long as it takes,” Biden told Zelensky in Kyiv on Monday.
The upcoming fight
Yet Biden — nor any other Western leader — has not been able to say exactly how long that will be, making this week as much about the year ahead as it is about the past 12 months.
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, has 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.
“I think it is wise to be prepared for a long war,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who will visit Biden at the White House early next month.
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.