Basking in the afterglow of his well-received, unexpected trip to Kyiv, President Biden spoke from the heart of Eastern Europe on Tuesday, telling Russian President Vladimir Putin that he had profoundly miscalculated the extent of Ukrainian bravery and Western resolve.
"When President Putin ordered his tanks to roll into Ukraine, he thought we would roll over. He was wrong," Biden said in a speech in front of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, as night fell on the Polish capital.
Biden gave the address one day after he made the first visit by a modern U.S. president to a war zone where U.S. troops had not been deployed. In Kyiv, he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and paid tribute to fallen Ukrainian soldiers. The surprise stopover seemed to rebuke Biden's domestic and foreign critics, who have made a point of highlighting his age and verbal stumbles.
To a large extent, Biden's remarks on Tuesday targeted Putin, who ordered the invasion of Ukraine almost exactly a year ago. The Russian autocrat and the war's other architects thought the conflict would last mere days. Instead, Russia now finds itself in a grueling contest it seems incapable of winning outright.
"Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. Never," Biden said.
As an invasion loomed in early 2022, the Biden administration quickly and effectively assembled a coalition that has continued to supply military aid to Ukraine, whose soldiers have proven quick and eager students of Western war fighting techniques. Most recently, the U.S. and Germany announced shipments of their world-class tanks to the front, in what American officials described as a long-term commitment to Ukrainian security.
For some in the West, Ukraine's ability to resist its much larger and stronger neighbor is nothing short of astonishing, as Biden acknowledged in his remarks. "One year ago, the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv," he said. "I've just come from a visit to Kyiv and I can report: Kyiv stands strong. Kyiv stands proud. It stands tall, and most important, it stands free."
Biden spoke just hours after Putin delivered his state of the nation address in Moscow, during which he announced that Russia was pulling out of a key nuclear treaty. Putin also reiterated a litany of anti-Western grievances largely rooted in historical and geopolitical fictions that are mainstays of Russian propaganda.
And while Putin appeared surly and aggrieved, Biden — who is expected to announce his reelection campaign soon, and who will likely use his handling of the Ukraine conflict as evidence of the benefits that seasoned leadership can bring — was energetic and combative.
Time and again, he called out the Russian president by name. "President Putin is confronted with something today that he didn't think was possible a year ago. The democracies of the world have grown stronger," he said. "Not weaker. But the autocrats of the world have grown weaker, not stronger."