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Biden stresses American unity behind Ukraine in Warsaw speech

Speech comes day after presidential visit to Ukraine

President Joe Biden delivers a speech Tuesday in Warsaw, Poland.
President Joe Biden delivers a speech Tuesday in Warsaw, Poland. (Omar Marques/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden’s message to the Ukrainian people and to NATO allies on the eastern flank could not have been more clear Tuesday in Warsaw: The U.S. will continue to stand behind the global effort to counter Russia’s aggression.

“The American people are united in our resolve as well. All across my country, in big cities and small towns, Ukrainian flags fly from American homes,” Biden said. “Over the past year, Democrats and Republicans in our United States Congress have come together to stand for freedom. That’s who Americans are, and that’s what Americans do.”

Biden’s speech came at an event that resembled an American-style campaign stop complete with a pre-show playlist, a day after the U.S. president’s daring trip into Ukraine that involved 20 hours of roundtrip train travel in and out of Kyiv.

There have been some attempts, particularly by former President Donald Trump and his supporters, to paint Biden’s steadfast support for Ukraine as against the interest of Americans in some way.

“Biden Puts Ukraine Before America,” read the subject line of one Trump campaign fundraising email sent just before the current president took the stage in Poland, in a far cry from the old adage about politics stopping at the water’s edge.

“Joe Biden chose to spend Presidents’ Day in Ukraine instead of America,” the Trump message said. “He loves sending your taxpayer dollars to secure other countries’ borders, help other countries’ citizens, and keep other countries safe. But if you’re a law-abiding American citizen who can’t do any favors for him, Biden will put you dead last.”

In a phone call made famous during Trump’s first of two impeachments, the former president had in fact asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for a favor.

Public opinion polling in the United States has shown more mixed support for additional support for Ukraine, with a January NBC News poll showing those surveyed roughly split on whether Congress should provide more. The Biden administration is currently drawing from the $45 billion in funds for Ukraine appropriated at the end of 2022.

As for Biden’s handling of Ukraine, just 41 percent approved in the same NBC News survey, conducted well ahead of the president’s surprise visit.

Disunity concerns dismissed

Biden and officials in his administration have thus far largely dismissed concerns about disunity within Congress regarding resources being expended to back Ukraine.

“Yes, there are a small number of members on Capitol Hill, in the House Republicans specifically, that have expressed publicly their concerns about support for Ukraine. But if you talk to the House leadership, you won’t hear that,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Friday. “And you certainly aren’t going to hear it on the Democratic side. And you don’t hear it … in the Senate.”

Some Republican voices in the Senate have been, predictably, even more hawkish about supplying and training Ukrainian forces, including Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who helped lead an annual delegation to the Munich Security Conference last week.

Graham, who joined Trump last month at his first public event since announcing his 2024 candidacy, argued that Russia should be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and that the Ukrainian armed forces should be provided with advanced fighter aircraft. The Ukrainians have asked for American F-16s.

“I am very pleased that President Biden took the time and effort to visit Ukraine, and meet with President Zelensky. This was the right signal to send at the right time,” Graham said in a statement. “A presidential visit to Ukraine, along with the statements made by Vice President Harris at the Munich Security Conference that Russia is committing crimes against humanity in Ukraine, are a powerful combination.”

The vice president’s speech Saturday outlined the formal determination of the U.S. government about the atrocities being committed by the Russian military and affiliates.

“Russian forces have pursued a widespread and systemic attack against a civilian population — gruesome acts of murder, torture, rape, and deportation. Execution-style killings, beatings, and electrocution,” Harris said.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, told reporters the words in the vice president’s Munich speech were “not just a rhetorical flourish.”

“It was an actual substantive determination about the actions of the Russian Federation in Ukraine and the ways in which they have conducted this war: brutally, with attacks on civilians, with efforts to destroy incidents of the Ukrainian culture, and with wanton effort to harm women, children, noncombatants,” Sullivan said.

Atrocities ‘abhorrent’

Biden also echoed those determinations Tuesday.

“No one could turn away their eyes from the atrocities Russia is committing against the Ukrainian people,” Biden said. “It’s abhorrent. It’s abhorrent.”

While Zelenskyy and others in Ukraine continue to push for more weaponry, Biden argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin did not anticipate the West standing together to the extent that it has.

“The democracies of the world have grown stronger, not weaker,” Biden said. “But the autocrats of the world have gotten weaker, not stronger, because in the moments of great upheaval uncertainty, that knowing what you stand for is most important.”

In recalling the country’s struggle to free itself from the grip of the Soviet Union, the president also praised the support of the Polish government and people.

“The people of Poland know that, you know that, in fact you know it better than anyone here in Poland because that’s what solidarity means,” Biden said. “During decades under the iron fist of communist rule. Poland endured because you stood together.”

Biden’s speech at the Kubicki Arcades at the Royal Castle complex in Old Town Warsaw drew an estimated 30,000 attendees, according to the Warsaw mayor’s office. A pool reporter from Polish Radio who was traveling with the president said the U.S. embassy in Poland extended an invitation to members of the general public, who were required to register for the chance to attend on the embassy’s website.

During his speech, Biden also highlighted plans for additional sanctions against Russian entities, some of which the Treasury Department had previewed earlier, and said that the United States would host a NATO summit next year in honor of the 75th anniversary of the transatlantic alliance.

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