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Biden marks anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine with a speech in Warsaw

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

President Biden is in Poland today, where he'll be giving a speech at the site of the historic Royal Castle.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Biden spoke near this very same site last year at the start of Russia's war in nearby Ukraine. Now he's back and asserting that after a year of war, the cause of democracy has only grown stronger.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid joins us now from Warsaw. Good morning, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: OK. So it's a bit of a strange split screen today. You have the president of the U.S. speaking on democracy in Poland. And then hundreds of miles away in Russia, Vladimir Putin is making a case for Russians to oppose this Western order, right?

KHALID: It is, I will say, a bit of a disconnect, right? I mean, the White House believes that the world is at a critical moment in this big battle between authoritarianism and democracy. Biden himself, last year in Poland, described this as a fight between a rules-based order and brute force. And he sees Putin's invasion of Ukraine as part of that broader struggle. I just got off a call that White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan held with reporters. And he said that the president intends today to put the Ukraine war in a larger context, that the president's speech will make the case that democracies have grown stronger over the course of the last year.

Biden is also expected to touch on Russian brutality in the war. And over the weekend, the U.S. formally accused Russia of committing crimes against humanity in a speech that Vice President Kamala Harris delivered at the Munich Security Conference. You know, I will say it is noteworthy that Biden is returning to the very scene where he tried to rally the world for this fight about a year ago. You know, here we are, back in Poland on the eastern flank of NATO, and the war is continuing to rage on.

FADEL: Yeah. And a year in, the U.S. has provided a lot of support, more than $112 billion to Ukraine. What else is Biden pledging at this point?

KHALID: Well, when he went to Kyiv yesterday, he announced an additional half a billion dollars of military aid. The Biden administration's also announcing new sanctions against Russia. It is worth pointing out that Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, has asked the U.S. for F-16s. But the Biden White House to date has been noncommittal about sending those warplanes. You know, throughout this conflict, the White House has been cautious about supplying more military equipment that it fears could potentially escalate the conflict.

But some experts and some lawmakers say that time is very critical. Yesterday, in fact, South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham issued a statement praising Biden for making that secret trip to Ukraine. He said that it sent the right signal at the right time. But he also said words must be followed by powerful actions. And he called on the White House to provide Ukraine with advanced fighter jets.

FADEL: Now, this trip has been quite the statement, I mean, like you mentioned, Biden just showing up in Kyiv and this surprise visit. Tell us a bit about how that happened and the message he was sending.

KHALID: You know, it was a real logistical challenge. Biden took a train overnight from Poland into Kyiv. It was about some 10 hours each way. And, you know, we're told from the White House that this plan for the trip was going on for some months. One key difficulty is that this covert trip was not like the ones that former presidents have taken into U.S. war zones like Afghanistan or Iraq, you know? The U.S. does not have boots on the ground in Ukraine. It doesn't control the critical infrastructure, so it was risky.

And in an attempt to reduce risk, the White House says it gave Russia a heads up that Biden would make this trip. You know, I will say, fundamentally, that trip to Ukraine, also the big speech here in Poland today, all of this is about sending a message to Russians and Ukrainians, of course. But it's also about sending a message to European allies and American voters at home that the U.S. will stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes.

FADEL: NPR's Asma Khalid in Warsaw. Thanks, Asma.

KHALID: Happy to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.