No phones, 10 hours on a train: How Biden’s surprise Kyiv visit was kept a secret
It was a daring trip, almost unheard of for a president of the United States.
Joe Biden made a surprise and bold trip to Kyiv on Monday, introducing a busy start to an important week and promising increased arms deliveries and persistent support ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
Although the US president had made six visits to the Ukrainian capital while he previously served as vice president, it’s his first trip to Ukraine since the invasion. The trip was kept a secret because of security concerns, although there was widespread speculation among the press corps that Biden was possibly planning a trip to the war-torn nation while he was in neighbouring Poland.
Nevertheless, the visit still took everyone by surprise. The sight of him appearing beside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv and under the sound of air raid sirens makes a much more powerful statement than anything he can deliver in a speech in Warsaw.
“Joe Biden is a leader who takes commitment seriously,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said.
White House officials have described the surprise visit to a war zone under regular attack as “unprecedented in modern times”.
The president had been scheduled to travel to Poland for a two-day trip on Monday evening. Although reporters have been constantly asking about a visit to Ukraine, they were told that there were no stops planned outside Warsaw “right now”.
Even though the surprise Kyiv visit had been planned for months, the final decision to make the trip was only taken on Friday.
Even on Sunday, the official White House schedule showed Biden taking off for Poland on Monday evening. In fact, he took off on Sunday morning at 04:15 EST. On board the Air Force One was a deliberately small team of the president’s closest aides, security officers, a medical team, and just two journalists.
The journalists were not allowed to report the visit until after the president had arrived in Ukraine’s capital, and had their mobile phones taken away from them.
“For deconfliction purposes”, Russia was notified of the unexpected Kyiv visit a few hours before Biden’s departure, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said, without giving any details on what the precise nature of the US’s message was or how Moscow responded.
Biden then spent 10 hours on a train for the surprise trip to the Ukrainian capital, although he could have visited other locations in the war-torn nation that would have been more convenient to get to.