Biden meets with Ukrainian officials in Poland as he begins final day of high-stakes foreign trip

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Biden’s visit to Europe was all about the war. But the talks with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov were the first time Biden was able to meet face-to-face with Ukrainian officials during his tour.

At the start of the meeting, Kuleba described an arduous journey from kyiv to Warsaw that included a train and a three-hour drive.

“It’s like flying from kyiv to Washington with a connecting flight in Istanbul,” Kuleba said. “The good thing is that since the start of the war, I learned to sleep in all conditions. So I slept on the train, I slept in the car.”

Biden, on learning how the ministers had traveled, said he, too, had taken many train trips.

“You’re looking at a guy who’s traveled over a million 200,000 miles on a train. Literally,” Biden said. Biden shuttled between his Delaware home and Washington as a senator and vice president on Amtrak trains.

The meeting of the group at a hotel in Warsaw, which also included Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, was likely to delve into more substantive issues later. Ukraine has pressured the United States and NATO to increase the military assistance they provide to Ukraine, including calling on President Volodymyr Zelensky to establish a no-fly zone.

After talks in Brussels this week, at which Zelensky appeared virtually, it doesn’t appear NATO members have warmed to the idea. Biden has said becoming more directly involved in the conflict could usher in World War III.

This left Ukrainian leaders appalled. “We are very disappointed, in all honesty. We expect more bravery. We expected bold decisions. The alliance made decisions as if there was no war,” said Andriy Yermak , head of the office of the Ukrainian president, in a direct. meeting with the Atlantic Council on Friday.

In Warsaw, Biden is holding a bilateral meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda to discuss how the United States and its allies are responding to the post-war refugee crisis and he will meet with Ukrainian refugees. Before returning to Washington, the president will also deliver a speech described by the White House as a “major speech”.

The speech, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Friday, “will address the issues of this moment, the urgency of the challenge ahead, what the conflict in Ukraine means to the world and why it is so important that the free world maintain its unity and resolve in the face of Russian aggression.”

Biden’s multi-day stint through Europe began in Brussels, where he spoke with key U.S. allies about the global response to the war. The trip is expected to end in a country bordering Ukraine, where regional security issues and the ongoing humanitarian crisis will be at the forefront.
At snap summits in Brussels, Biden announced new sanctions on Russian members of parliament, revealed US plans to take in 100,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine, and spoke with leaders about how how the world would react if Russia deployed a chemical, biological or nuclear weapon during the war. .

On Friday, Biden also announced a new initiative to deprive Russian President Vladimir Putin of European energy profits that Biden says are being used to fuel Russia’s war in Ukraine. And later in the day, after arriving about 65 miles from Poland’s border with Ukraine, the president met with aid workers to hear their stories of helping to ease the humanitarian crisis and members of the 82nd Airborne Division , which were deployed along NATO’s eastern edge to deter possible Russian aggression.

Biden told service members on Friday, “What you’re committing to is much more than whether or not we can alleviate Ukraine’s suffering.”

“We’re in a new phase, your generation. We’re at an inflection point,” he said. And he told the troops that their mission was more than just sending a message to Russia. Instead, he said, they were acting as a signal to all autocrats around the world.

While Biden will meet with refugees in Warsaw, he said Friday he would have preferred to see the crisis from an even closer perspective.

“They won’t let me – understandably, I guess – cross the border and take a look at what’s going on in Ukraine,” he said. The White House said it was not considering a visit to Ukraine.

The visit to Ukraine’s western neighbor comes as Poland has on several fronts urged the United States to do more in the war.

For example, Duda called on the United States to speed up and simplify procedures for Ukrainians with family in the United States to come to the country.

Russia invades Ukraine

More than 3.5 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, according to data from the UN refugee agency released on Tuesday. A large majority of these refugees have fled to Ukraine’s western neighbors across Europe.

Poland, which borders Ukraine to the west, has recorded more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees entering the country, although not all of the refugees who entered Poland stayed there.

Moreover, the United States continued to reject Poland’s offer to facilitate the transfer of its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. And the Polish president called for a more permanent NATO defense posture in the country, as well as an international peacekeeping force in Ukraine.

US officials have not warmed to the peacekeeping proposal, suggesting it could violate Biden’s red line of keeping US troops out of the conflict.

During Friday’s meeting with aid workers, Duda said “Biden’s presence here sends a great signal and proof of unity – unity within NATO.”

The Polish president added that Biden’s visit “demonstrates enormous support and also a great importance attached by the United States to stability and world peace, to restoring peace where difficult situations arise in places where someone is resorting to acts of aggression against other democracies and free nations – as is happening today against Ukraine where Russian aggression, unfortunately, which has been happening for a month now, is in vigor.”

CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Sam Fossum contributed to this report.

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