WARSAW The sudden appearance of the President of the US, Joe Biden, on Monday morning in the Presidential Palace in Kyiv20, initially aimed to boost the morale of shocked Ukrainians amid a bleak winter due to power shortages and a bitter war of attrition.
But it was also the first of several direct challenges on this journey to the presidency. Wladimir Putinwhich believed a year ago that the Ukrainian capital would become a controlled territory Russia again within days, bringing Putin one step closer to his ambition to restore Peter the Great’s empire.
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“Putin’s war of conquest is failing,” Biden declared from the palace, his mere presence there alongside the president. Volodmir Zelenskyyintended to symbolize Russia’s failure to take over a capital city that is still bustling with life and whose restaurants are packed, even with warning sirens wailing in the background.
“A year later,” he said, “Kiev is on its feet. And the Ukraine Stand. Democracy stands.”
A war in Ukraine it’s about power and the principle of territorial sovereignty, and whether the Westerndesigned world order, which Americans have endured for decades, will actually survive the new challenges from Moscow and Beijing. But it’s increasingly a battle between two aging warriors, one in his 70s and the other just turned 80, who have been circling each other for years and are now engaged in anything but headtohead combat.
On Tuesday, the vastly different worldviews of these two leaders will be clearly visible in a rare splitscreen television moment. Both will make speeches several hours and miles apart, promising to continue the war until the other pulls out.
Putin will be first and score a goal the first anniversary of your illfated invasion with what appears to be a duplication of a strategy that British and American estimates have already resulted in 200,000 Russian casualties and as many as 60,000 Russian dead.
Putin will again argue that he is not only saving Ukraine from “Nazism,” but saving Russia itself from Nazism invasion. NATO a claim that seems ridiculous to Europeans but has become a rallying cry in Moscow. If the past year is any indication, he will almost certainly begin his war as a struggle to restore Russia’s historic lands and thus as the modern day Peter the Great. US intelligence officials say they’re picking up on hints he may soon be mobilizing more Russians for the army, adding hundreds of thousands to the 300,000 already drafted.
Hours later, from the former Warsaw Royal Castle on a hill above the Polish capital, Biden is scheduled to continue his argument put forward in Kiev on Monday morning that the struggle between democracy and autocracy had won the former year of what promises to be a long conflict.
Biden was in Kyiv for less than six hours on Monday before the Secret Service got him out of town. (Notably, the White House briefed the Kremlin on Biden’s upcoming visit ahead of the president’s arrival, not out of diplomatic courtesy but for what Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan called “deconflict purposes” — essentially to avoid an accidental Russian bombing crisis or in other ways. Sullivan added, “I won’t go into how they reacted.”)
The secretive nature of the Kiev visit and the vastly different worldviews the speeches will represent underscore the extent to which the fight between these two men reflects exactly what Biden said he wanted to avoid: a repeat of the worst days of Cold War.
However, it is not a direct parallel. This time the China is a key player, which is why US officials spent the weekend publicly warning Xi Jinping’s government against providing “deadly support” that an increasingly overwhelmed Russian army desperately needs.
Indeed, as soon as Biden arrived in Kiev, China’s top foreign policy Wang Yicame to Moscow for meetings that promise to be far friendlier than his Saturday night showdown Anton Blinken, the Secretary of State. . US officials say Wang and other Chinese officials want to help Putin confront what they see as an arrogant, hypocritical and decadent America. But China says the relationship has its limits to the point that Xi has publicly warned Russia against using nuclear weapons.
Biden has his own clashes with Xi over surveillance, technology, weapon stockpiling in China and Taiwan. But his confrontation with Putin is more direct and visceral, perhaps the most personal confrontation between superpower leaders since Kennedy and Khrushchev. And even in the worst moments of this standoff the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 The two leaders exchanged civil letters and looked for a way out. Finally they found one.
Twentyone months ago, when Biden and Putin met facetoface for the only time since Biden took office, such a cautious relationship seemed possible. They met on the more neutral terrain of Geneva, in a library dominated by a giant globe that seemed to be a reminder that they were once again dividing the world into allies and enemies. Putin praised Biden as “a very eventempered and professional man” and “very experienced.” Biden played with Putin’s ego at the start of the summit by describing the United States and Russia as “two great powers”.
The hope was that they could find common ground and they agreed to hold governmenttogovernment talks on two major sticking points: reducing ransomware attacks on American infrastructure, hospitals and governments, and “strategic stability talks” to address the map the future. of gun control. There were some promising encounters.
They spoke twice over a video link afterwards. The last time, on February 12, 2022, was marked by a warning from Biden that if Putin pulled the trigger and ordered his troops to invade Ukraine’s border, there would be a “quick and heavy cost to Russia.” An aide who witnessed the call said Putin “shrugged, as we’ve heard before” and denied he had any military action in mind.
They have not spoken since, and subsequent talks, which they agreed to in Geneva, have collapsed. Last weekend, Vice President Kamala Harriswho appeared at the Munich Security Conference, accused Russia of “crimes against humanity” and the French President, Emmanuel Macron, warned that the West must brace itself for “protracted conflicts” and arm Ukraine and itself accordingly. There was more discussion about how 155mm howitzers could be made and where to find more Leopard 2 tanks to ship to Ukraine than possible diplomatic solutions.
“Everyone Ukraine, Europe and now countries in Asia want to arm themselves,” Richard Fontaine, executive director of the Center for a New American Security and former Republican national security official, wrote after the Munich conference. And he noted a shudder of concern over whether Western aid to Ukraine could continue at current levels for much longer meaning that “in a protracted war of attrition, Moscow could have the upper hand.”
Zelenskyy, who appeared via video, had a message for his arms suppliers. “We must hurry,” he said. “We need speed.”
And for all the good feelings that Biden’s visit on Monday elicited, Zelenski is unlikely to conclude that Biden is in a hurry. Aides say Biden remains concerned that the F16 fighter and the longrange missiles Zelenskyy calls for could provoke a broader and more direct conflict with Russia because they could penetrate deep into Russian territory. And that, in turn, could prompt Putin to renew his threats to use his arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons.
It is unclear how Biden’s visit will affect Putin’s speech, which is believed to have been written long before the US President’s surprising and somewhat provocative appearance. It was Biden’s eighth visit to Kiev, he remarked as he sat in front of a roaring fire with Zelenskyy.
Joe Biden and Volodmir Zelensky embrace for the first time since the war began as the American arrives in Kiev Photo: Gleb Garanich / Portal
But Putin’s speech will be his first State of the Union address since 2021. Analysts believe he didn’t hold them last year because he didn’t have good news to report amid Russia’s setbacks on the front lines.
But the approaching anniversary of the invasion, coupled with a lack of clarity even among Putin’s supporters about the nature of his precise targets in Ukraine, may have compelled him to act. Now the speech is expected to include sweeping attacks on the West based on Putin’s claim that the United States is using Ukraine to wage a proxy war against Russia.
“I believe that President Putin’s speech will not do the liberals any good,” Konstantin Malofeev, an ultraconservative Russian tycoon and prominent invasion cheerleader, said in a phone interview over the weekend, ruling out the possibility that Putin could use his speech to try to to ease tensions with the West.
Russia, Malofeev continued, will fight until victory in Ukraine “because our own supreme commander understands that we have no other choice now”.
Tatiana Stanovaya, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote that while Putin’s speech was meant to be very aggressive, “additional changes can now be made to make it even more difficult.”
Russian media wasted no time in citing Biden’s visit to Kiev as proof of Putin’s claim that the United States was behind the fighting. Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted an analyst as saying Biden’s visit showed that Zelenskyi’s government is “an instrument of the collective West”.
The sequence of Tuesday’s speeches will also reflect the different constituencies and political vulnerabilities of the two presidents.
Biden’s speech will be open to the public in Poland. Putin will speak in a hall opposite the Kremlin, across from Red Square, in the presence of Russia’s ruling elite regional governors, lawmakers and other officials.
For Biden, it’s the evershifting political winds in the United States that pose the greatest vulnerability to his ability to stay on course in Ukraine there are already objections from the far left and far right, although the Republican core and Democrats have support have postponed. held.
For Putin, the big concern is that Moscow’s various proKremlin elites could step out of line if the Russian military keeps fighting.
But even Russia admits the stakes are high. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, once treated the war as a small operation, a sideshow that the ordinary Russian needn’t worry too much about. Now this fiction can no longer be contained.
“The special military operation affects our whole life, the life of the continent, in one way or another,” Peskov said in an interview with Russian state television on Sunday. “So it’s to be expected that the President will pay a lot of attention to that.”