KYIV, Ukraine (Dispatches) – U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday made a trip to Kyiv organized in strict secrecy, promising $500 million in fresh arms deliveries and “unwavering” American support ahead of the first anniversary of the war.
Air raid sirens rang out across the capital at one point as Biden walked alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during what was the U.S. president’s first visit to the country since the war began on February 24, 2022.
“I thought it was critical that there not be any doubt, none whatsoever, about US support for Ukraine in the war,” Biden said, speaking alongside Zelensky at the Ukrainian president’s official residence, the Mariinsky Palace.
The visit was organized in conditions of strict secrecy.
Biden left Andrews Air Force Base in the early hours of Sunday. After handing over their devices, journalists were made aware of his presence on Air Force One just 15 minutes before the plane took off.
The White House did not report how he eventually reached Ukraine but other foreign leaders have travelled to Kyiv by train from Poland.
It was the first visit by a U.S. president to Ukraine since 2008.
During the trip, Biden promised an additional $500 million (468 million euros) in arms deliveries for Ukraine, mentioning in particular artillery ammunition, howitzers and Javelin anti-tank missiles.
Ukraine is estimated to be burning through thousands more shells each month than the EU defense industry is currently able to produce.
The European Union is weighing up plans to try to speed up its production and delivery of much-needed ammunition to help Kyiv’s fight.
Zelensky said he and Biden also discussed the possibility of supplying “long range weapons” to Ukraine, a long-standing request from Kyiv that has been met with reticence in Washington where there is concern that they could be used to strike deep inside Russian territory.
Biden later visited the U.S. embassy in Kyiv before leaving the capital, according to a White House pool report.
He is expected to arrive in Poland on Tuesday where he is due to give a major speech in Warsaw -- hours after a state of the nation address by Putin in Moscow that will be largely about the conflict in Ukraine.
According to the latest estimates from Norway, the conflict has wounded or killed 180,000 Russian soldiers and 100,000 Ukrainian troops.
Other Western sources estimate the war has caused 150,000 casualties on each side.
On Sunday, More than 1,000 anti-war protesters joined a rally in Washington, D.C demanding an end to U.S. military aid for Ukraine.
In front of the Lincoln Memorial, the protesters shouted slogans and held up signs with messages such as “Not to War, Not to NATO! Diplomacy Not War!” and “Stop blowing people up with our tax money”.
Representatives from the U.S. Liberal Party, anti-war groups and the media made speeches accusing the government of fighting a proxy war for its own interests and undermining world peace, and calling for dialog to end the Russia-Ukraine conflict that began one year ago.
Many protesters said a war under any circumstances should not be happening as dialog is the best solution.
“Military aid is not helping anything. And it has become a proxy war. The United States basically has economic interests, and they see Europe as a big prize, but Ukraine as a stepping stone,” said Alexis, a protester.
A recent poll showed that public support for the USA to provide weaponry and direct economic assistance to Ukraine is dwindling as the war drags on. The poll showed 48 percent of Americans support providing weapons to Ukraine, a drop of 12 percentage points from a previous poll asking the same question conducted in May last year.
Some protesters called for NATO to be disbanded, saying it has become a force for destruction and aggression.
“I feel like NATO has been a force for destruction and aggression since its inception, since the 1950s. And since the collapse of the Soviet Union they have had absolutely no role, no purpose for its existence other than to expand and create a new mandate for its existence. And I think that Americans still don’t understand the danger that NATO poses for the world, including the United States,” said Alex, a protester.
After the rally near the Lincoln Memorial, protestors marched to the White House for a further demonstration.
In the German city of Munich, protesters called for peace talks on the conflict and an end to the supply of arms to Ukraine on the second day of the annual Munich Security Conference.
More than 500 activists gathered at one demonstration spot near the city center, holding signs with messages like “Stop the war”; and “Weapons bring death and destruction”. They opposed the discussions at the conference on further stepping up military support to Ukraine and criticized the United States and NATO for causing the conflict and its escalation.
“The German people want peace over war and they don’t want to supply arms to Ukraine. This is our clear position. And obviously the U.S. is the beneficiary [of the conflict]. From a geopolitical viewpoint, the sphere of interests of the U.S. has been expanded. In terms of economical interests, arms sales and Western sanctions against Russia all benefit the U.S.,” said Petr Bystron, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee under the German parliament, who also joined in the demonstration.
“There were more than 20 protests in Munich today, calling for peace. Some of the prevailing opinions are that the escalation of war cannot bring peace,” said a
At the King’s Square of the city, nearly 10,000 people took part in a another demonstration, many of whom opposed the call of Western leaders to provide more weapons to Ukraine at the conference, and called for peace talks.
“I don’t think they talk much about peace; they just talk about more weapons,” said a demonstrator.