Hollywood could not have delivered more heroic images and a more dramatic soundtrack – and sounds. US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy walk through central Kiev to the sound of the air raid alarm, which has been a part of everyday life for the capital's residents for almost exactly a year now. The lightning visit of the American head of state can hardly be surpassed in terms of symbolic power - above all because excursions are usually meticulously prepared for months by the strictly shielded US President. Apparently, it was a lot of work to get Biden to Kiev at all.
At the heart of the mission is a sophisticated deception of the public. Biden's flight to Poland on Monday night to mark the upcoming anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine has long been planned. The Boeing 747, which he uses as Air Force One for long-haul flights, a team of 13 journalists and the cohort of helpers and security forces are ready.
While everything is being prepared for an already historic trip, Biden is publicly demonstrating a relaxing weekend. Afternoon service on Saturday, followed by a visit to the National Museum of American History with First Lady Jill Biden, then dinner at a cozy restaurant named "Red Henne".
On Sunday, the White House speaks of a rest day with an empty appointment calendar. At least that's what everyone should think - including the many hundreds of journalists responsible for reporting on the White House.
The 80-year-old Biden, a handful of senior employees and just two journalists are already on their way to Europe from 3.30 a.m. First, a machine that is otherwise used for domestic aircraft takes seven hours towards Ramstein in Germany. After a refueling stop at the US base, the convoy flies on to Poland. Without a transponder signal so as not to give away the flight.
Once there, Biden, a self-confessed train fan, switches to the train towards Kiev. According to the journalists accompanying him, the ten-hour journey takes place under the strictest security measures, and the train stopped a few times during the night before reaching the Ukrainian capital at 8 a.m. in the morning.
A flight was out of the question given the daily air raids on Ukraine. It is unclear whether any US units traveled to Ukraine by land or air to protect the president, or whether the Ukrainian army, which is in close contact with relevant US contacts, secured Biden's route.
In Kiev, Biden is met by the US ambassador and driven in a motorcade to the Marienpalast, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky works. Many main roads and central intersections in the city will be closed for this purpose, without public explanations. The visit of the American head of state lasts five and a half hours. At 11:30 a.m. the bells rang, shortly afterwards the air-raid alarm sounded. Biden and Zelenskyj are visiting a cathedral.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said this was a "historic visit, unique in modern times," in a country at war, with no US troops on the ground. US Presidents have visited danger zones before, most notably during the US-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In these cases, however, the presidents ended up in huge military bases already controlled by the US Army.
The White House announced afterwards that contact had been made with Moscow shortly before the trip. Presumably, this happened in the form of a warning. "We have notified the Russians that President Biden is going to Kiev," said National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who was accompanying the president. The notification was made "a few hours" before Biden's departure to avoid conflicts.
The US President also took the train for his return journey. At 8.30 p.m. on Monday evening he arrived at the Przemysl train station in south-eastern Poland, according to the Polish news agency PAP. Biden will meet Polish President Andrzej Duda there on Tuesday and give a speech at Warsaw Castle.
Sources: DPA, AP