Ukraine news: How Biden sneaked into Kyiv undetected

KYIV, Ukraine –

US President Joe Biden’s motorcade left the White House around 3:30 a.m. Sunday. No big, flashy Air Force One for this trip –– the president disappeared into the shadows aboard an Air Force C-32, a modified Boeing 757 often used for flights. domestic trips to smaller airports.

The next time he showed up – 20 hours later – it was in downtown Kiev, Ukraine.

Biden’s surprise 23-hour visit to Ukraine on Monday was the first time in modern history that a U.S. leader has visited a war zone outside the auspices of the U.S. military — an unprecedented feat. analysis that the White House said there was some risk despite Moscow’s prior warning. .

Over the next five hours, the president made several stops around town – traveling in a white SUV rather than the president’s limousine – without any announcement to the Ukrainian public that he was in there. But all of those activities attracted enough attention that information about his presence leaked out before he could return to Poland, which was the original plan. Aides at the White House were surprised that the secret had been kept for so long.

But Russia knows what the Ukrainian public doesn’t. American officials informed Moscow of Biden’s trip.

Since last year, the president has been keen to join the parade of other Western officials who visited Kyiv to pledge support shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the capital.

Biden’s planned trip to Warsaw, Poland and the President’s Day holiday provided clear opportunities for a stop in Kyiv. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said a small group of senior officials at the White House and across the US national security agencies worked secretly for months to make it happen. Biden made the final decision only on Friday.

Sullivan said the trip “requires a security, operational, and logistical effort from experts across the United States government to take what is inherently a risky business and turn it into a possible risk. controllable.”

After Biden was secretly boarded an Air Force jet, the designation “SAM060,” for Special Air Force Missions, was used for the aircraft instead of the usual “Air Force One.” It was parked in the dark with the window blinds down and took off from Joint Base Andrews at 4:15 a.m. ET.

After a refueling stop in Germany, where the president was kept on board, Biden’s plane turned off its transponder for an approximately hour-long flight to Rzeszow, Poland, the airport that was once a cargo gateway. billion dollars in weapons and weapons of the West. VIP guests entering Ukraine. From there, he boarded a train for an approximately 10-hour overnight trip to Kiev.

He arrived in the capital at 8 a.m. Monday, was greeted by Ambassador Bridget Brink, and entered his motorcade to drive to the Mariinsky Palace. Even while he was on the ground in Ukraine, flights of military equipment and other goods continued unabated to Rzeszow from Western cities.

Meanwhile, in Kiev, many main streets and downtown areas were blocked off without explanation. People began sharing videos of long convoys of cars speeding along restricted-access streets – the first clue that Biden had arrived.

Biden was accompanied by a much smaller entourage than usual: Sullivan, deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon and Oval Office chief executive, Annie Tomasini. They included his Secret Service staff, the military aide carrying the so-called “nuclear ball”, a small medical team and the official White House photographer.

There were only two journalists on the plane instead of the usual 13. Their electronic devices were turned off and turned over to the White House during the trip to Ukraine. A handful of Ukraine-based journalists were summoned to a downtown hotel Monday morning to join them, not informed that Biden would be visiting until shortly before his arrival. .

Even as Western surface-to-air missile systems bolster Ukraine’s defenses, it’s rare for an American leader to head into a conflict zone where the United States or its allies have no control. airspace.

There is no US military presence in Ukraine other than a small detachment of Marines guarding the embassy in Kiev, making Biden’s visit more complicated than previous visits by US leaders. to war zones.

“We have informed the Russians that President Biden is going to Kyiv,” Sullivan told reporters. “We did so a few hours before his departure for the sake of de-confliction.” He declined to specify the exact message or to whom it was sent, but said the advance notice was to avoid any miscalculation that could bring the two nuclear-armed nations into direct conflict. next.

While Biden was in Kyiv, US surveillance planes, including the E-3 Sentry airborne radar and the electronic RC-135W Rivet Joint aircraft, were monitoring Kyiv from Polish airspace.

The blockade of Kyiv’s often busy roads has brought an eerie calm to the center of the capital. It was so quiet that crows could be heard as Biden and Zelenskyy walked from their motorcade to St. Michael has a golden dome under a blue sky like the outer walls of the church itself.

“Come in and see,” Biden said, donning his signature anti-glare aviator glasses. Presidents disappeared inside while armed soldiers stood guard outside.

Church bells rang at 11:30 a.m., followed by an air raid alarm, at 11:34 a.m., just before the men reappeared. First, the sirens were a distant howl that rang through the city, then seconds later the alarm bells from mobile phone apps blared from people’s pockets.

Those warnings are voiced by “Star Wars” actor Mark Hamill, and his Luke Skywalker voiceover urges people to take cover, warning: “Don’t be careless. Your overconfidence is your weakness.

The two leaders walked at a moderate pace with no sign of anxiety outside through the cathedral’s arched front gate to the square in front, where destroyed Russian tanks and vehicles were stationed. armored as grim reminders of war.

When the square was not blocked off as during the leaders’ visit, people came to see the cars, many taking selfies.

Biden didn’t seem to mind the giants as he and Zelenskyy followed honor guards carrying two wreaths to the wall commemorating Ukrainian soldiers killed since 2014, the year Russia annexed the peninsula Ukraine’s Crimea and Russian-backed fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine.

Only then did the first pictures of Biden in the capital appear on Ukrainian social networks, and the secret visit became global news.

“He’s like an example of a president who isn’t afraid to show up in Ukraine and support us,” said Myroslava Renova, 23, a resident of Kyiv, after learning of Biden’s visit.

Biden arrived at the U.S. Embassy for a brief stop before leaving the country by train back to Poland in a fully furnished wooden-paneled wagon with closed curtains, dining table and leather sofa.

The apparent announcement, also voiced by Hamill, rang out at 1:07 p.m., as Biden’s train was leaving the station.

“The aerial warning is over,” Hamill said. “May the force be with you.”


Associated Press photographer Evan Vucci covered from Biden’s plane and in Kyiv. Miller reports from Washington. Associated Press writers Aamer Madhani in Washington and Nicolae Dumitrache in Kyiv contributed.

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