After his surprising trip to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, US President Joe Biden is a guest in neighboring Poland today. In the Polish capital Warsaw, Biden is planning, among other things, a meeting with President Andrzej Duda and a speech at the Warsaw Royal Castle on the first anniversary of the start of the war in Ukraine.

Biden’s address in Warsaw is scheduled for early evening – just a few hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s State of the Union speech in Moscow. The two deliver a kind of long-distance duel.

First visit to Ukraine since the beginning of the war

Biden traveled to Kiev yesterday under the strictest security precautions. There he met President Volodymyr Zelenskyj and, accompanied by an air alert, visited various symbolic places in the metropolis together with his colleague. Biden used the dramatic short visit primarily to promise Ukraine continued US support and to send a signal of unity towards Putin. Because of the major security risks, the White House kept the trip a secret until the end.

For Biden, it was the first visit to Ukraine since the start of the war, which marks the first anniversary this Friday. According to the White House, the US government had informed the Russian side about the visit a few hours beforehand.

During his short visit, Biden also brought with him a concrete commitment to new military aid for Kiev: According to the US Department of Defense, the new package is worth up to 460 million US dollars (a good 428 million euros) and primarily includes missiles for the Himars multiple rocket launchers, artillery shells, mortar shells, armor-piercing rockets and other ammunition. Biden also promised further sanctions against Russia.

Stopover in Germany

According to journalists traveling with him, Biden left Andrews Air Force Base near the capital Washington in the early hours of Sunday morning (local time). He did not travel in the US President’s usual plane – a converted Boeing 747 – but in a smaller machine that stood next to the tarmac until departure in the dark. On the way to Poland, the plane landed at the US air force base in Ramstein, Germany. The destination was the Polish town of Rzeszów near the Polish-Ukrainian border.

From there, Biden was taken to the main train station in the city of Przemyśl, around 90 kilometers away, where an unmarked train was waiting. According to unconfirmed information, the train is said to have crossed the border into Ukraine around 10 p.m. (local time). On the approximately ten-hour journey, the train stopped several times, mostly briefly, it said. Around eight o’clock yesterday morning, the train with the US President arrived at the main station in Kiev. “It’s good to be back in Kiev,” Biden is said to have said first after getting off.

Second visit to Poland within a year

Unlike the visit to Kiev, the White House announced the trip to Warsaw well in advance. Biden last visited Poland at the end of March 2022, around a month after the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Even then, Biden gave a well-received speech in front of the historic backdrop of Warsaw’s Royal Castle, in which he assured Ukraine of support and sharply attacked Kremlin chief Putin.

In that speech, a statement about Putin caused a stir, which the White House later put into perspective: “For God’s sake, this man can’t remain in power,” Biden said at the time. The US government headquarters later made it clear that the president had not called for Putin’s overthrow.

For his speech in Warsaw, Biden once again chose a special historical location: the royal castle: the castle is considered a symbol of the city that was largely destroyed by Nazi Germany in World War II and later rebuilt.

From the point of view of the leadership in Warsaw, Biden’s visit underscores the strategic importance of Poland. The EU and NATO country has a border with Ukraine that is more than 500 kilometers long. Not only did Poland take in a good 1.5 million war refugees from there, but in recent months it has repeatedly pushed ahead with initiatives to provide military support for Kiev. Poland hopes Biden will thank him for this, but also concrete commitments for further military support. “Indeed, we expect a permanent presence of troops from our allies, including the US, on Polish soil to ensure effective deterrence,” stressed Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau recently.

A diplomatic offensive for the anniversary

On Wednesday, Biden wants to meet representatives of other Eastern European NATO countries in Warsaw – in the so-called “Bucharest 9” format. In addition to Poland, the group also includes Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – i.e. the states along NATO’s eastern flank.

The trip to Ukraine and Poland is part of a whole series of US foreign policy talks around the anniversary of the start of the war. The White House said Biden was planning various phone calls with partners such as the heads of government of France, Great Britain and Italy in the coming days. On March 3, Biden will also receive Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House in Washington.