Biden’s weekend: church, dinner, and secret trip to Kyiv
Feb 21, 2023 - 03:21 AM
WASHINGTON — Perhaps the most intensely scrutinized person on the planet, President Joe Biden left the world’s media and the Washington rumor mill in complete darkness as he made his secret trip into wartime Kyiv.
Biden looked at ease as he showed up in the Ukrainian capital Monday to visit President Volodymyr Zelensky. But to get him there had required an extraordinary military, diplomatic and media choreography.
At the heart of the mission was elaborate misdirection.
Biden had long been scheduled to fly late Monday to Poland to mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The modified Boeing 747 he uses as Air Force One on long trips, the 13-member traveling media entourage, the cohorts of aides and security were ready.
So with everything in place for what was already promising to be a hugely symbolic trip, Biden made a public show all weekend of relaxing.
Saturday, he attended afternoon church, followed by a visit to the National Museum of American History with First Lady Jill Biden, then dinner at a cozy restaurant called the Red Hen.
Sunday? The White House declared a day of rest with nothing on his schedule.
Or so the world — including the hundreds of journalists assigned to cover the White House — was led to believe.
By then, 80-year-old Biden, a handful of senior aides and just two journalists, were already on their way to Kyiv, arriving early Monday morning.
Call to the Russians
How exactly they made the journey remains under wraps.
A host of European leaders has traveled to Kyiv from Poland by train but it had long been considered less likely that a US president, accompanied by an aide with the nuclear arsenal codes, would spend hours stuck in a railcar.
Flying has its own complications, given the daily air battles and rocket attacks in the skies over Ukraine.
It remains unknown whether any US forces — air or ground — entered Ukraine to provide cover, or whether the Ukrainian military, which is in close coordination with US counterparts, secured the terrain.
But the White House revealed that direct contact was made with Moscow just before Biden arrived — presumably in the form of a stern warning.
“We did notify the Russians that President Biden will be traveling to Kyiv. We did so some hours before his departure for deconfliction purposes,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said.
“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.”
The White House says full details will be released later, but Sullivan said the mere fact of making the trip was “historic.”
US presidents have visited danger zones before — notably Afghanistan and Iraq during the US-led wars there. However, in those cases, the presidents flew into enormous bases already controlled by the US military.
This was a “historic visit, unprecedented in modern times” into a country at war where there are no US forces on the ground, said Sullivan — one of the few aides accompanying Biden.
Biden left Kyiv under equally mysterious circumstances, according to the reporter designated to stand in for the normal traveling press corps. By the time Americans woke up to the news, Biden, now expected to resurface in Poland for the pre-announced part of his trip, was already tweeting:
“Kyiv has captured a part of my heart.”
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