U.S. President Joe Biden stands on a podium with flag-waving children after delivering remarks ahead of the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine outside the Royal Castle in Warsaw, Poland, on February 21, 2023.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden addressed a crowd of thousands waving Polish flags in Warsaw on Tuesday to mark the upcoming one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, vowing to support beleaguered Ukraine and frame the war in the wider context of a struggle between authoritarianism and democracy.
“A year ago, the world was preparing for the fall of Kiev,” Biden said in Warsaw’s royal palace gardens. “I have just returned from a visit to Kyiv and I can report that Kyiv is standing firm, Kyiv is proud, it is standing tall and most importantly, it is standing free.”
Biden’s remarks follow a surprise 23-hour visit to the war-weary capital of Ukraine on Monday. Under extreme secrecy, Biden traveled by plane and then overnight by train for 10 hours to stand side by side in solidarity with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Friday is the one year anniversary of the invasion.
Tuesday’s speech was similar in tone to others Biden has given, including one he gave in Warsaw nearly a year ago. Since his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden has presented himself as a champion of democracy, arguing that the US and the world are at a crossroads.
“When President Putin ordered his tanks to roll into Ukraine, he thought we were going to roll over. He was wrong,” Biden said. “He thought NATO would fracture and divide. Instead, NATO is more united, more unified than ever before.”
The remarks further underscored the U.S. commitment to Ukraine, which is aimed at fending off a renewed Russian offensive that began shortly before the one-year anniversary of the conflict.
“After a year of this war, Putin no longer doubts the strength of our coalition, but he still doubts our convictions. He doubts our strength,” Biden said. “But there should be no doubt that our support for Ukraine will not waver. NATO will not be divided and we will not tire.”
US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy meet in Kyiv, Ukraine on February 20, 2023.
Ukrainian Presidency | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Biden, who flew aboard a militarized Boeing 757 before dawn Sunday, arrived in Kyiv about 20 hours later to meet with Zelensky and first lady Olena Zelenska.
“It was a risk that Joe Biden was willing to take,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called the visit “historic” and “unprecedented in modern times.” He said the Kremlin announced in advance that Biden would go to Kiev.
During his stay in Kyiv, the US president announced a new arms package for Ukraine worth about 500 million dollars. The Pentagon said the aid would come directly from its arsenals and include additional munitions for High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, along with javelins, tactical vehicles and anti-armor missiles.
The latest military aid package, the 32nd such installment, brings the US military aid commitment to nearly $30 billion since Moscow invaded Ukraine last February. To date, the US has contributed the lion’s share of Western weapons to Ukraine and has deployed hundreds of thousands of US military personnel to NATO member countries to bolster defenses.
A member of the Ukrainian army holds a new generation light anti-tank weapon (NLAW) at a frontline position in the region of northern Kyiv, Ukraine, March 24, 2022.
Gleb Garanich | Reuters
In addition, the thirty-member group consistently warned the Russian president Vladimir Putin that an attack on one NATO member state would be considered an attack on all, triggering the cornerstone of the Group of 5. Ukraine has been seeking membership in the world’s most powerful military alliance since 2002 and borders four NATO allies: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.
Biden’s speech also came hours after Putin spoke before a joint session of the state parliament. He framed the war caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a fight against the West.
In his speech, Biden refuted Putin’s statement and at one point directly addressed the Russian people.
“Tonight I speak again to the people of Russia: The United States and the people of Europe are not seeking to control or destroy Russia,” Biden said. “The West did not plan to attack Russia. Billions of Russian citizens who only want to live in peace with their neighbors are not the enemy.”
Putin also announced that Russia would suspend its participation in the New START Treaty, the only remaining major nuclear deal between Russia and the US
Increasing crimes against humanity
Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of its former Soviet neighbor, the war has claimed the lives of more than 8,000 civilians and led to nearly 13,300 injuries, according to UN estimates.
“Our data is only the tip of the iceberg,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said in a statement on Tuesday.
“The toll on civilians is unbearable. Amid power and water shortages during the cold winter months, nearly 18 million people are in dire need of humanitarian aid. About 14 million people have been displaced from their homes,” Turk added.
Turk stated that about 90% of recorded civilian casualties were caused by the use of wide-area explosive weapons. He added that the true numbers are likely to be substantially higher because armed conflict can delay reports of deaths.
“Brutality will never break the will of the free,” Biden said Tuesday, “and Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. Never.”
The US and international organizations have also outlined widespread allegations of war crimes committed by Russia in the past year. Vice President Kamala Harris said over the weekend that the US had determined that Russian forces had committed “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine.
“Russian forces are carrying out a large-scale and systematic attack against the civilian population – horrific acts of murder, torture, rape and deportation,” Harris said in remarks before the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.
“We have reviewed the evidence. We know the legal standards. And there is no question. These are crimes against humanity,” Harris said, adding that those responsible and accomplices “will be held accountable.”
A war crimes prosecutor of the Kharkiv region stands with a forensic technician and a police officer at the site of a mass burial in the forest during an exhumation on September 16, 2022 in Izion, Ukraine.
Yevhenii Zavhorodnii | Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images
During his speech on Tuesday, Biden also accused Russia of widespread crimes against humanity.
“It’s been an extraordinary year in every sense,” Biden said. “The extraordinary brutality of Russian forces and mercenaries. They committed depravity, crimes against humanity without shame or remorse. They targeted civilians with death and destruction. They used rape as a weapon of war. Stolen Ukrainian children in an attempt to seal Ukraine’s future.”
Earlier this month, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said regional authorities had recorded more than 65,000 Russian war crimes since Moscow invaded Ukraine almost a year ago.
Kostin said his teams have also documented more than 14,000 Ukrainian children forced into adoption in Russia.
“This is a direct policy aimed at demographic change by removing the Ukrainian identity,” Kostin told an audience at Georgetown Law School in Washington.
“These actions are characteristic of the crime of genocide,” he added.
Russia has repeatedly denied that its troops have committed war crimes or targeted civilians.
Last year, the Biden administration said it suspected that between 900,000 and 1.6 million Ukrainian citizens, including 260,000 children, had been detained and deported from their homes to Russia. At the time, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the behavior could violate international humanitarian agreements and constitute war crimes.
“No one, no one can turn their eyes away from the atrocities that Russia is committing against the Ukrainian people,” Biden said Tuesday. “It’s disgusting. It’s disgusting.”
The Geneva Conventions of 1949 define international legal norms and protections for humanitarian treatment during war and expressly prohibit mass forced transfers of civilians.
Blinken accused Moscow of ordering the “disappearance” of thousands of Ukrainian civilians who do not pass the dehumanizing “filtering” process of deportation procedures.
Filter camps, previously described as large makeshift tents, are the initial reception areas where deported Ukrainians are photographed, fingerprinted, stripped, forced to hand over their mobile phones, passwords and identification details, and then interrogated and sometimes tortured by the Russians . authorities.
Read more: A UN report details horrifying Ukrainian reports of rape, torture and executions by Russian soldiers
Blinken also outlined at the time that there was “accumulating” evidence that Russian forces were deliberately separating Ukrainian children from their parents, abducting children from orphanages, confiscating Ukrainian passports and issuing Russian passports in an “apparent effort to change the demographic makeup of the parts”. of Ukraine.”