One year after Russian tanks rolled into Ukraine with the aim of capturing the capital city, the country is still “independent and free,” President Biden proclaimed Tuesday in Poland.
“Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia — never,” Biden said to a crowd of thousands at Warsaw’s Royal Castle.
In a combative speech on the eve of the grim first anniversary of Russia’s Feb. 24, 2021, invasion of Ukraine, Biden praised NATO allies for rallying behind Kyiv and declared that the defense coalition is stronger than ever.
“There should be no doubt: Our support for Ukraine will not waver, NATO will not be divided, and we will not tire,” he said.
The speech echoed his comments a day earlier in Kyiv, where he made an unannounced visit to show U.S. solidarity and announce $500 billion in new aid for Ukraine. He strolled the streets of the besieged country’s capital city with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as air raid sirens blared, a risky feat that required a covert, predawn flight and a 10-hour, overnight train ride.
Biden last spoke from the courtyard of Warsaw‘s Royal Castle in March when he delivered a rousing speech to signal NATO resolve in Ukraine’s struggle, punctuated by a declaration that President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.”
Nearly a year later, Biden proclaimed that Putin’s aims to overtake the country and fracture the NATO alliance remained out of reach.
Biden’s speech in the Polish capital presented a study in contrasts to a pugnacious address hours earlier by Putin, in which the Russian leader said he was suspending cooperation in the New START nuclear nonproliferation agreement, the sole remaining arms control treaty between Washington and Moscow.
While Biden lauded Western unity in confronting Russia over its unprovoked attack on a smaller neighbor, Putin insisted that Moscow had not initiated the conflict last Feb. 24, when Russian troops poured across the Ukrainian border in a multipronged attack.
“They were the ones who started the war,” the Russian leader said of Ukraine and its Western allies.
Putin accused Washington and its European partners of military and economic aggression, saying Moscow was left with no choice but to respond.
A day after Biden was rapturously welcomed in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, the Russian leader derided the Ukrainian people as pawns, held hostage to their “Western overlords.” In his lengthy state-of-the-nation address to the joint houses of Russia’s parliament, Putin also declared that Russia could never be defeated on the battlefield.
That drew a daylong series of gibes on social media, with Ukrainians pointing out that Moscow had suffered a series of humiliating defeats in the nearly one year since launching the full-scale invasion. Putin’s speech demonstrated his “confusion and irrelevance,” said Mykhylo Podalyak, a senior advisor to President Volodomyr Zelensky.
Even as the Russian leader was speaking, the civilian toll mounted in Ukraine, where authorities reported at least six deaths in the southern city of Kherson, including six people killed at a transit stop. The government in Kyiv has accused Russia of committing hundreds of thousands of war crimes in Ukraine, including the indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas.
Zelensky, in his channel on the Telegram messaging app, accused Russian forces of “again mercilessly killing the civilian population,” posting pictures of crumpled bodies in bloodied civilian garb in Kherson. Ukrainian forces recaptured the strategic city in November, and it has since come under nearly daily shelling.
“The world has no right to forget for a single moment that Russian cruelty and aggression know no bounds,” Zelensky wrote in his Telegram post.