President Joe Biden’s top national security aides told reporters on Monday that despite the risks it entailed, the president felt it was “really important” to make the surprise trip to Ukraine.
“He was excited about making the trip. I think he felt it was really important to stand up next to President Zelenskyy and speak the way that he did today,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on a conference call with press.
“[He] felt he had an important mission to undertake, and he was eager to do it,” he added.
Another aide on the call said his visit was a demonstration of Biden’s commitment to Ukraine.
“This was a risk that Joe Biden wanted to take. It’s important to him to show up, even when it’s hard, and he directed his team to make it happen, no matter how challenging the logistics,” White House Communications Director Kate Bedingfield said.
“He wanted to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with President Zelensky and remind the world, as we approach the one-year anniversary of the invasion, that Kyiv still stands and the United States will not be deterred from standing with Ukraine,” she added.
Bedingfield also bragged that the trip was “bold and a strong move” in the face of “extreme difficulty.”
“It was logistically complicated and difficult,” she said, calling it “unprecedented” and contrasting it to previous presidential trips to war zones, such as the one President Donald Trump took to Afghanistan.
“A visit from a U.S. President to an active warzone like this is historic and unprecedented and, as I say, required a great deal of careful planning,” she said.
“Unlike previous visits from presidents to warzones, like Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. obviously does not have a military presence on the ground in Ukraine, which made a visit from a sitting President all the more challenging,” she said.
Sullivan acknowledged that the U.S. did inform Russia ahead of time, however, for “deconfliction purposes.” “Deconfliction” usually involves letting another party know to avoid activity over a certain area at a certain time so as to avoid any accidents.
“We did notify the Russians that President Biden would be traveling to Kyiv. We did so some hours before his departure for deconfliction purposes,” he said.
The officials gave few details about the logistics of the trip, other than to say the traveling party was “extremely small,” and “meticulously planned over a period of months.” They said Biden made the final decision to go after a huddle in the Oval Office and over phone with key members of his national security cabinet on Friday.
Sullivan said Biden and Zelensky spent time talking about what Ukraine would need to succeed on the battlefield in the coming months, as well as Ukraine’s needs “in terms of energy, infrastructure, economic support, humanitarian needs.”
Biden during the trip also announced the U.S. would send another military aid package for $500 million. According to the State Department, $450 million consists of military equipment and $10 million would be for Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
Sullivan said Biden was focused on trying to come to a “common understanding” of “what the objectives are, where Ukraine is trying to get and how the United States can most effectively support them alongside our allies and partners in getting to where it wants to get.”
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