Joe Biden's Kyiv visit has 'got to hurt' Vladimir Putin - here's why

The symbolic visit by the US president comes as Ukraine will this week mark the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion

There are times when actions really do speak louder than words. No matter how many times President Biden has stated - and would restate - the West’s long-term commitment to Ukrainian victory, it would never have the impact or the credibility of this visit.

The image of Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskyy walking through Kyiv while air raid sirens wailed across the city told the world, perhaps more importantly told Vladimir Putin, that the US is in this for the long-haul. That none of the attempts to divide the West, to put the frighteners on with his nuclear sable-rattling, have worked or are going to work.

Zelenskyy suggested they meet on the Poland/Ukraine border, or even just inside Ukraine in the western-most city of Lviv. It was Biden who insisted it had to be Kyiv. He understood the symbolism.

Biden and Zelenskyy walked the streets of Kyiv during the surprise visit. Credit: AP

JFK didn’t declare “Ich bin ein Berliner” at a podium in the Rose Garden. He was in Berlin. When Ronald Reagan demanded Mikhail Gorbachev "tear down this wall!" he spoke at the Brandenburg Gate, in front of the wall.

And so in Kyiv Biden declared: “One year later Kyiv stands and Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you and the world stands with you."

It may lack the punchiness of his predecessors, but the message was just as unmistakeable, the more so for being delivered after an overnight flight from Washington followed by a long train ride across an active war zone. Aged 80 years old, at some personal risk. Comparisons with Putin’s paranoid risk-aversion at the far end of 10m long tables barely need to be made.

There were promises of another $500m of military aid, including air defence, anti-armour and long-range artillery systems, adding to the $30 billion in aid already committed. No promises this time on the supply of NATO fighter jets, although there are signals from Washington that the US could soon follow the UK in training Ukrainian pilots to fly F16s.

Just yesterday propaganda mouthpieces on Russian state TV had been taunting Biden that if he really supported Ukraine he would visit Kyiv. So Moscow clearly never believed that such a visit was remotely possible.

Nor, to be honest, did we. It was only late Sunday evening when we were informed of a series of extraordinary security arrangements to be in place Monday morning, that we began to think it may happen. And even then some very senior observers of the international scene were insisting that no, it must surely be Vice-President Kamala Harris.

Putin is known to set great store by anniversaries. He first visited occupied Crimea on the anniversary of VE Day, returning again on the 5th anniversary of its capture. A year ago he’d have been imagining that this week he would be in Kyiv celebrating the anniversary of its restoration to Moscow rule.

Not only is he not here, but Joe Biden is. That’s got to hurt.