Biden’s visit to Europe has been entirely focused on 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 officials from Ukraine during his tour.
As the meeting got underway, Kuleba described an arduous journey from Kyiv to Warsaw that included a train and three hours in a car.
“It’s like flying from Kyiv to Washington with a connecting flight in Istanbul,” Kuleba said. “The good thing is that since the beginning of the war I’ve learned how to sleep under any conditions. So I slept on the train, I slept in the car.”
Biden, on hearing how the ministers had traveled, relayed that he, too, had made many journeys by train.
“You’re looking at a fellow who’s traveled over a million, 200,000 miles on a train. Literally,” Biden said. Biden commuted from his home in Delaware to Washington as a senator and vice president on Amtrak trains.
The group meeting at a hotel in Warsaw, which also included Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, was likely to delve into more substantive issues later. Ukraine has been pressuring the US and NATO to increase the military assistance they are providing to Ukraine, including calls from President Volodymyr Zelensky to establish a no-fly zone.
After talks in Brussels this week, during which Zelensky appeared virtually, it did not appear NATO members had warmed to the idea. Biden has said becoming more directly involved in the conflict could usher in World War III.
That left Ukraine’s leaders dismayed. “We are very disappointed, in all honesty. We expect more bravery. Expected some some bold decisions. The alliance has taken decisions as if there’s no war,” said Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, in a live interview with the Atlantic Council on Friday.
The speech, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a preview on Friday, “will speak to the stakes of this moment, the urgency of the challenge that lies ahead, what the conflict in Ukraine means for the world, and why it is so important that the free world sustain unity and resolve in the face of Russian aggression.”
On Friday, Biden also announced a new initiative intended to deprive Russian President Vladimir Putin of European energy profits that Biden says are used to fuel Russia’s war in Ukraine. And later that day, following his arrival some 65 miles from Poland’s border with Ukraine, the President met with aid workers to hear their accounts of helping alleviate the humanitarian crisis and members of the 82nd Airborne Division, who have been deployed along NATO’s eastern edge to deter potential Russian aggression.
Biden told the service members on Friday, “What you’re engaged in is much more than whether or not we can alleviate the suffering of Ukraine.”
“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 simply sending a message to Russia. Instead, he said, they were acting as a signal to all the world’s autocrats.
While Biden will meet with refugees in Warsaw, he said on Friday that he would have preferred to see the crisis from an even closer perspective.
“They will not let me — understandably, I guess — cross the border and take a look at what’s going on in Ukraine,” he said. The White House has said it did not explore a visit to Ukraine.
For example, Duda has asked the US to speed up and simplify the procedures allowing Ukrainians with family in the US to come to the country.
More than 3.5 million refugees have now fled Ukraine, according to data from the United Nations refugee agency released on Tuesday. A vast majority of those refugees have fled to Ukraine’s western neighbors across Europe.
Poland, which borders Ukraine to the west, has registered more than 2 million Ukrainian refugees crossing into the country, though not all refugees who have entered Poland remain there.
Additionally, the US has continued to reject Poland’s proposal to facilitate the transfer of its MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. And the Polish President has called for a more permanent NATO defense posture in the country along with an international peacekeeping force in Ukraine.
US officials have not warmed to the peacekeeping proposition, suggesting it could violate Biden’s red line of keeping US troops out of the conflict.
During Friday’s meeting with humanitarian workers, Duda said Biden’s “presence here sends a great signal and evidence of unity — unity within NATO.”
The Polish President added that Biden’s visit “demonstrates a huge support and also a big significance attached by the United States to the stability and world peace, to reinstating the peace where difficult situations are happening in places where somebody resorts to acts of aggression against other democratic and free nations — as it is happening today against Ukraine where the Russian aggression, unfortunately, happening for a month now is effect.”
CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Sam Fossum contributed to this report.