Biden’s Kiev visit a ‘symbolic’ gesture to boost Ukraine, likely to ‘trigger fiercer counterstrike from Russia’
Published: Feb 20, 2023 10:09 PM
US President Joe Biden walks next to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as he arrives for a visit in Kive on February 20, 2023. Photo:VCG

US President Joe Biden walks next to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as he arrives for a visit in Kive on February 20, 2023. Photo:VCG

US President Joe Biden made a surprise visit on Monday to Ukrainian capital Kiev, the first time since the Russia-Ukraine conflict began about a year ago. Chinese experts saw the visit as a “symbolic” gesture to pressure Ukraine to make progress during the crisis, so as to gain domestic support for aiding Kiev. 

However, observers called the trip “irrational and selfish,” while disregarding that the visit may trigger a more aggressive counterstrike from Russia.

Biden arrived in Kiev at 8 am local time, CNN cited reporters traveling with him inside Ukraine as saying, and was greeted by the US Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink. His motorcade arrived at the Mariinsky Palace just after 8:30 am local time. He was greeted at the entrance by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife, Olena Zelenska. He departed Kiev in the early afternoon, according to BBC. 

As Russia prepares for a "spring offensive," Biden needs to boost morale for Ukraine and Zelensky, and to ask Western allies to give Ukraine more military aid, said Wang Xiaoquan, an expert from the Institute of Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 

However, he noted that Biden's visit will not only have little impact on the battlefield, it will also trigger a more aggressive counterstrike from Russia. 

Making an unannounced visit to Ukraine on the eve of the first anniversary of the conflict, Biden aims to pressure Ukraine to make progress on the battlefield, so as to convince Americans back home to continue supporting Kiev, Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations at the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times.

Recent polling showed that 48 percent of Americans support sending weapons to Ukraine, a significant drop from the 60 percent of support in May 2022, US media The Hill reported on Sunday.

The year-long conflict has also seen European countries showing fatigue in continuing to stand against Russia. French President Emmanuel Macron suggested over the weekend that Russia should be "defeated but not crushed" and that the conflict in Ukraine would have to be settled by negotiations.

Diao Daming, an associate professor at the Renmin University of China in Beijing, called Biden's visit a largely symbolic one as the US leader had previously avoided visiting Ukraine, partly to prevent Washington from getting bogged down too deeply in the conflict. Now, with declining domestic and international support, Diao said Biden chose the one-year anniversary for his visit to keep adding fuel to the conflict, in the hope that Russia will be weakened. 

Experts said the dangerous signals sent from this trip will escalate the conflict. Apparently, Biden is pushing Ukraine to act as a pawn to defeat Russia, but the goal is dangerous and irrational, said Li, noting that the US is adding fuel to the fire of an already tense situation, and the conflict may further escalate and get out of control. 

In joint remarks alongside Zelensky, Biden announced half a billion US dollars in assistance to Ukraine, saying the package would include more military equipment, including artillery ammunition, more javelins and Howitzers. 

Zelensky added that he and Biden spoke about "long range weapons and the weapons that may still be supplied to Ukraine even though it wasn't supplied before."

Diao said that the aid won't be a game-changer. "There's long way from announcement to the money being delivered to Ukraine, as it has to pass legislation and may face filibusters from Congress and the House of Representatives. How much will actually be delivered remains a question," said Diao. 

Biden's message to Zelensky is that Ukraine has the US' full support, but what we can see right now is that many weapons promised by Western countries to Ukraine have not arrived, thus an abrupt military operation from Ukraine will come at the cost of more Ukrainian soldiers, said  Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator. 

US media outlet Politico reported last week that Ukraine is still waiting for promised deliveries of modern tanks from Western countries. Combat jets, though much discussed, are mired in government hesitation.

Moreover, we know that when the US enters an election cycle, presidents tend to stage shows to respond to voters' requests and attention from domestic audiences, so Biden's Kiev trip can also be seen as a show, according to Diao.