| 19 May 2024, Sunday |

Biden in Kyiv: How US managed to keep the historic trip a secret

Almost everyone who had been following the developments in Ukraine was taken by surprise, When news broke that US President Joe Biden was in Kyiv Monday. Absolutely no one knew that Biden was flying to Kyiv, all thanks to a handful of senior aides involved in the preparations of the trip that was reportedly being planned for months. They made sure that Biden’s trip was kept under wraps till the very last minute, which was obviously not an easy task. So how did they pull it off?

As the Ukraine war nears the one-year mark, senior US officials understood the importance of a visit by Biden to the war-torn nation. They understood that it isn’t merely symbolic, and Biden’s presence in Ukraine as the war enters its second year will send a loud message to the world-that the repercussions of the war are not limited to Ukraine.

So to ensure a safe and successful trip, those involved in the planning made sure that no one had an inkling of Biden visiting Ukraine until well after he had landed. White House officials continuously denied the possibility that Biden might ever visit Ukraine. The position was reinforced till the very last minute before Biden finally landed in Kyiv. Further, while the officials who had been planning the trip were slowly becoming confident that it was possible to send the president of the US to a warzone, they understood that the trip could fall apart any time due to logistical reasons. So the denials were in part to maintain secrecy over the trip while knowing that it might not happen at all.
It wasn’t until Friday that the trip was given the go-ahead by Biden. What followed the confirmation were a string of actions, such as notifying Russia about the trip in order to avoid a conflict and any disaster situation while Biden was in Ukraine. However, the trip was kept under wraps, with reporters not being told that Biden was no longer in Washington. The official White House schedule that was released Sunday evening listed his departure for Poland at 7 pm ET on Monday.

On Sunday morning, Biden’s top national security spokesman, in an interview, denied that there was a possibility the president would visit Ukraine. “We’re going to continue to use our convening power, to marshal the world, to galvanize support for Ukraine, but there are no plans for the president to enter Ukraine on this trip,” NSC spokesman John Kirby said in an interview on MSNBC’s “The Sunday Show with Jonathan Capehart.”

But by that time, Biden was already on the plane to Ukraine. He did not take the usually used Air Force One, but instead flew in a smaller Air Force C-32. Just a couple of senior advisers, one reporter and one photographer accompanied Biden, and none of them was allowed to carry any electronic devices.
Biden landed in the Polish town of Rzeszow from where Biden and his contingent boarded the train to Kyiv, which was roughly a 10-hour journey.
During the planning stage, Biden was given several options for the Ukraine visit, but Biden wanted to visit only Kyiv. He once raised concerns over the safety of the trip, not for himself but what his visit might lead to for others. “This was a risk that Joe Biden wanted to take,” said White House communications director Kate Bedingfield. “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.”
Biden sported his trademark aviator sunglasses while walking side-by-side with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in green battle fatigues. They walked to a gold-domed cathedral while air raid sirens sounded in the background. The two seemed unbothered by the air raid sirens as they walked out of St Michael’s cathedral which has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. During his first trip tp Ukraine ever since the invasion by Russia on February 24 last year, Biden pledged unwavering support to the war-torn country, along with new arms deliveries.

“When (Russian President Vladimir) Putin launched his invasion nearly one year ago, he thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided. He thought he could outlast us. But he was dead wrong,” Biden said.

“The cost that Ukraine has had to pay is extraordinarily high. Sacrifices have been far too great. … We know that there will be difficult days and weeks and years ahead.”

Zelensky termed Biden’s visit as one of the most important visits in the history of the two countries.

“This visit of the US president to Ukraine, the first for 15 years, is the most important visit in the entire history of Ukraine-US relations,” Zelensksy said.

The US State Department announced a further $460 million in US aid to Ukraine, including $450 million worth of artillery ammunition, anti-armour systems and air defence radars, and $10 million for energy infrastructure.

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