Sneaking a President Into a Warzone: Details Behind Secret Plans for Biden’s Ukraine Visit

John Haughey
By John Haughey
February 20, 2023Politics
Sneaking a President Into a Warzone: Details Behind Secret Plans for Biden’s Ukraine Visit
President Joe Biden (L) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) attend a press conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 20, 2023. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden’s surprise six-hour visit to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Feb. 20 was planned by the White House for months but wasn’t “a go” until Feb. 17, administration officials told journalists during a phone conference after Biden left the embattled nation without disclosing when and how he did so.

“This visit was meticulously planned over a period of months, involving several offices in the White House, of course, the Chief of Staff’s office, and the NSC [National Security Council], and the White House Military Office, as well as a small number of colleagues from the Pentagon, the Secret Service, and of course, the intelligence community,” Deputy National Security Adviser John Finer said.

“Only handful of people in each of these buildings was involved in the planning for operation security,” he said, which included threat assessments.

Biden “was fully briefed on each stage of the plan and any potential contingencies and then made the final ‘go’ or ‘no go’ decision after a huddle in the Oval Office, and by phone with some key members of his national security cabinet, on Friday,” Finer said.

Biden departed the White House at 3:30 a.m. He was to be accompanied by an “extremely small” traveling party consisting “basically of a handful of his closest aides”—his Secret Service detail, a military aide carrying the so-called “nuclear football,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon, Oval Office Operations Director Annie Tomasini, a small medical team, the official White House photographer, and two journalists.

Detailed Discussion

“Obviously, this was all worked very closely between the White House and the highest levels of the Ukrainian government, who had become quite adept at hosting high level visitors, although not one quite like this” with a war underway and without U.S. armed forces on the ground, Finer said.

Sullivan said the White House notified the Russians of Biden’s plans for “deconfliction purposes” but did not do so until “hours before his departure.”

“And because of the sensitive nature of those communications, I won’t get into how they responded, or what the precise nature of our message was, but I can confirm that we provided that notification,” he said.

Sullivan told reporters that “coming over, the president was very focused on making sure that he made the most of his time on the ground, which he knew was going to be limited. So, he was quite focused on how he was going to approach his conversation with President Zelensky.”

The officials would not say how Biden arrived in Kyiv but said he got there about 8 a.m. local time and traveled to Mariinsky Palace where he was met by Zelensky and Ukraine’s first lady Olena Zelenska about 8:30 a.m.

NTD Photo
President Joe Biden (R) is greeted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (L) during a visit in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 20, 2023. (Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty Images)

It was later reported by an Associated Press journalist who traveled with Biden that the president and his team had flown on an Air Force C-32—a modified Boeing 757. The team departed Joint Base Andrews at 4:15 a.m and stopped in Germany to refuel, after which the plane’s transponder was turned off for an hour-long flight to Rzeszow, Poland—the airport through which billions of dollars in Western arms and VIP visitors have entered Ukraine.

From there, the team boarded a train for the roughly 10-hour overnight trip to Kyiv.

NTD Photo
U.S. President Joe Biden sits on a train as he goes over his speech marking the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine after a surprise visit to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 20, 2023. (Evan Vucci/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Upon arrival at Mariinsky Palace, Biden and Zelensky conferred for more than two hours.

“The two presidents had a detailed discussion of the battlefield situation of Ukraine’s objectives of the military support and assistance we’ve already provided and capabilities going forward,” Sullivan said. “I not going to get into the specifics of those because we’re not announcing new capabilities today. But what I will say is that there was a good discussion on the subject.

“I think the two presidents both laid out their perspectives on a number of different capabilities that have been thrown around in the press, both recently and over the course of several months. And I will leave it at that.”

Another $500 Million

Before 11:30 a.m., Biden left the palace and traveled to St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv where he and Zelensky laid wreaths at a memorial for those killed in the fighting with Russia since 2014. Biden then went to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv around noon and his motorcade was reported leaving shortly before 1 p.m.

Before 2 p.m. local time, White House officials and journalists accompanying Biden said the president had left Kyiv but would not provide further details. He was reported to be in Warsaw a short while later, where he will kick off a planned trip to Poland with a Feb. 21 speech.

White House officials said the visit was a major show of support days before the anniversary of Russia’s invasion, with Biden declaring “the United States will continue to stand by Ukraine in the conflict.”

During his visit, Biden committed an additional $500 million in aid, the delivery of howitzer shells, anti-tank missiles, and air surveillance radars, but not the new advanced weaponry Kyiv is requesting, including jets.

“He was excited about making the trip,” Sullivan said. “I think he felt it was really important to stand up next to President Zelensky and speak the way that he did today and convey the messages that you heard from him … So frankly, the trip from Washington was a trip filled with real anticipation that this was an important moment, and that the president was rising to the moment and felt he had a mission to undertake and he was eager to do it. He wanted to do it.”

From The Epoch Times

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