Feb 21, 2023
President Biden Makes Surprise Visit to Ukraine Transcript
President Biden made a historic and top secret trip to Ukraine as the country marks one year since Russia’s invasion. It comes as the U.S. announces another $500 million in military aid. Read the transcript here.
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President Biden makes a historic top secret trip to Ukraine as Russia’s war there nears the one year mark. The president’s trip included a 10 hour train ride from the Polish border into Kyiv. Now, this is Biden’s first visit to Ukraine since the war began and it’s the first from a modern day president to an active war zone with no US military presence on the ground or in the air. Once in Kyiv, Biden announced another $500 million in military aid and promised continued US support.
President Biden (00:32):
One year later, Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands, democracy stands, the Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you. Russia’s aim was to wipe Ukraine off the map. Putin’s war of conquest is failing. Remind us that freedom is priceless. It’s worth fighting 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.
Let’s get more on Biden’s visit from NBC’s Kristen Welker.
Kristen Welker (01:13):
The momentous date starting with President Zelensky and the first Lady of Ukraine greeting Mr. Biden. Uniformed Ukrainian military officer’s lining the streets as the two presidents walked through the Ukrainian capitol, locked down for security. Air raid sirens in the distance. Then this dramatic moment, laying a wreath at The Wall of Remembrance for fallen Ukrainian soldiers, punctuated by a moment of silence.
Tonight we’re learning more about the risky operation that was months in the making, President Biden giving the final sign-off on Friday and leaving in the pre-dawn hours Sunday. These newly released images showing him arriving in Kyiv after a 10 hour train trip across the Ukraine border. The Kremlin was notified hours in advance, all as Russia has begun its major new offensive in the east.
Biden is now in Warsaw, Poland, where he’ll give a speech and he’ll meet with NATO allies. His remarks will come as Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, is set to give his state of the nation address tomorrow in Moscow.
Meanwhile, US officials are closely watching the relationship between China and Russia. There’s growing concern from US officials that China is considering giving Russia lethal aid that could be used in Ukraine. Let’s get right to MSNBS chief correspondent, Ali Velshi. He is live in Ukraine’s capitol of Kyiv. Ali, how have the people in the Capitol responded to President Biden’s visit?
Ali Velshi (02:49):
Very warmly, Simone. This was the little extra push that they needed. There’s certainly no doubt in Ukraine. As I spoke to people a year ago and now, there’s no doubt amongst Ukrainian people that this war is being prosecuted with Ukrainian determination, but with remarkable resolve and assistance and weaponry and training from the west, from America, from NATO. But nobody takes that for granted. And the idea that in a particularly difficult week that Ukrainians are expecting will be tough, that Joe Biden would come here.
That point you noted in the beginning, that this is the first time a president has come to a war zone in which there’s no US military presence, no active military presence on the ground. So he was at the mercy of everybody else doing the right thing, including the Russians taking that deconflicting message and not doing anything while Biden was in town. Remember, there were air raid sirens while he was here. So to see just over here, which is where the two presidents were, to see them walking down the street with air raid sirens, not missing a beat, I think sent a lot of resolve through the Ukrainian people. We spoke to a few people today who did say that. They said, “Look, it’s important to us to see Joe Biden here. To feel the resolve of the American people behind this war did mean something.”
Ali, this trip came after months of planning. Can you tell us how all of this actually unfolded?
Ali Velshi (04:20):
It’s crazy. It not only reads like a thriller how this actual trip was executed, but the idea that it had various different groups involved from the Pentagon, the White House, and the Ukrainians, and it, A, didn’t leak, and B, got carried out in a very, very difficult week, is really something. This 10 hour train ride, you know as well as anyone else, Joe Biden loves the train, but this was fraught with issues all the way through the Ukrainian countryside from Poland through and past Lviv into Kyiv, and then being met at the train station here and brought into a city that was basically under lockdown. That hasn’t even been the case in Kyiv since the beginning of this war. So this was really, really a meticulous piece of planning that was undertaken.
Of course, the president had the final sign-off, but it was clear that even last year in Poland when Joe Biden was there at the beginning of the war, he had wanted to go into Ukraine, and the safety situation was such that it wasn’t doable. So they spent months and months planning on a trip that was doable and it was achieved. The President now back in Poland in safety. But boy, that was a real chapter. If anybody hasn’t read the Pool Reports on how this went down, it’s worth a good read.
Absolutely. Kudos to The Wall Street Journal, Sabrina Sadiki, who was the print pooler on this trip.
Ali Velshi (05:45):
Ali, Friday will be the one year Russia invaded Ukraine. Are people bracing for Moscow to intensify strikes later this week? What is the feeling on the ground there?
Ali Velshi (05:58):
Well, there’s two sorts of things going on. The fighting has intensified in the east, and that was to be expected because we’re coming up to a year and Russia hasn’t made territorial gains since October. Vladimir Putin’s going to make some kind of speech tomorrow and he’d like to have something to show. It’s not clear that that’s going to be the case. But the sharp stick in the eye that Joe Biden coming to Kyiv was to Vladimir Putin is something that is likely to provoke some sort of response from Vladimir Putin. Even here in the cities in Kyiv, which is very far from the front, they are bracing for something to happen.
Remember, the other thing that Vladimir Putin does when he feels backed into a corner is he drops these references to nuclear weaponry, which we have not seen. But again, sometime tomorrow we’re going to get a speech from Vladimir Putin, which is going to be competing with a speech from Joe Biden who’s in Warsaw. So we’re going to hear what’s on the agenda for the rest of the week. But as far as Ukrainians are concerned, they are expecting some sort of retaliation for what happened today.