Biden’s Ukraine Visit Had Symbolic, Practical Value, Duke Expert Says

On President Biden’s Visit to Ukraine This Week

“President Biden’s visit to Kyiv was enormously significant. It was significant on a strictly symbolic basis. In international politics, symbols matter. The president of the United States arrived in what is certainly, rightly considered a war zone – and not a war zone in which American troops are fighting like Afghanistan or Iraq – where many presidents before President Biden have made trips. It was a real boost – I’m hearing this from friends and colleagues in Kyiv and elsewhere in Ukraine – to Ukrainian morale. A really public demonstration that the United States stands with them.”

“It was also a pretty clear act of defiance against Vladimir Putin, who has driven his country into further and further depths of pariah status. To show the United States and Joe Biden himself is uncowed by Russia’s current war in Ukraine – that the president won’t let Vladimir Putin dictate where he does and doesn’t go and what he will and will not make a foreign policy priority.”

“Joe Biden did not come to Ukraine empty-handed. He came with some half a billion dollars worth of further aid budgets, including some very sophisticated technical weaponry. But as much as people get really excited talking about sophisticated tanks and things like that, he also pledged more artillery rounds and barrels, replacement barrels, that are really the background of what is enabling the Ukrainian military right now to fend off the Russian invasion.”

On the importance of the aid package

“None of that is symbolic. This is not the early days when there were, frankly, pretty risible statements like the German government donating (5,000) helmets to the Ukrainian war effort. This is lethal munitions and the critical supplies to back them. And that’s what Ukraine needs to stay in this fight and ultimately drive the Russian invasion off Ukrainian territory. These are long-range missiles. These are infantry fighting vehicles. These are artillery shells. This is very much exactly what Ukraine needs.”

“It's not everything that could be done, especially in terms of long-range precision strike weapons, which would be a huge boon to the Ukrainian war effort … but it is an important and not just symbolic contribution.”

On Vladimir Putin’s recent comments on the war

“Vladimir Putin returned to playing his old, worn-out record. A little bit of talking about the war, and then very quickly descending into bizarre conspiracy theories about the atheistic depravity of the west and all sorts of bizarre, culture-war trojan horses. When I listened to Vladimir Putin’s speech earlier today, a huge proportion of it kind of could have been from any speech that he gives. Including, frankly, in 2023, bizarre shout-outs to the grain harvest, which is a metric that no other advanced nation in the world makes a big point of in public policy addresses. He made certain comments about the war effort, trying to inflate this into an existential struggle for Russia, trying to make claims with really no evidence whatsoever, because there is none, about Russia being forced to invade its neighbor to preempt something worse. What that worse thing is, is something Vladimir Putin has always been pretty vague about because there’s no there, there.” 

“When Vladimir Putin took to the podium today, all you had to do … was to look at his audience, which was all of the key players in his inner circle, his cabinet, key figures in Russian politics. And just how extraordinarily unenthusiastic every single person in that room looked.”

On whether Putin’s domestic support is wavering

“In his speech today, Putin claimed the country is 100 percent behind the war effort and it has risen up in a quasi-religious patriotism to take the fight to the Ukrainian menace – whatever that means. This is patently not the case. Russia is an extraordinarily oppressive state, in which any show of dissent or disagreement with the government, especially on the issue of the war in Ukraine … is extraordinarily dangerous.”

“But all you have to do is look at the rise in ticket prices out of Russia, the quantity of Russian citizens who have decamped to places like Serbia, United Arab Emirates and elsewhere, to get a pretty clear picture of that, especially among more educated, more upwardly mobile figures in Russian society who have options, they are voting with their feet. They are leaving Russia to try to make their fortunes wherever they can in order to avoid either being conscripted into the war effort or simply seeing their lies and quality of life dragged down.”

On What Russia will Say on First Anniversary of War, Friday, February 24

“It’s possible that by Friday the Russians will be in a position militarily, for example, to claim that they have taken – or I’m sure they’ll say something absurd like ‘liberated’ – a place like Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine. Bakhmut is not really much of a prize.

The battlefield right now is pretty fluid. Advances … are causing huge losses. A success in a place like Bakhmut is a totally pyrrhic victory. The quantity of forces and expendables like artillery that has poured into Bakhmut in order to obtain a strategically not all-that valuable objective are far outweighed.”

On Russia’s Invasion Interests Outside Ukraine

“We’ve seen such huge, systemic rot uncovered in the Russian military and also in the Russian political system such that I think that when someone like Ramzam Kadyrov, who is the murderous dictator of the Russian region of Chechnya, talks about Poland being next, I think most serious people simply roll their eyes.”

Simon Miles

Assistant Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy

On How This Conflict Ends

“I think the situation right now is extremely fluid. The Russians would have been much better served to wait out a Ukrainian offensive as opposed to launching their own. Hoping, and this is not a pipe dream, that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would sense that, in order to keep the flow of foreign aid going, he needed to show that he could do something with it. He would be the first mover and the Russians could then counter-attack against a tired Ukrainian force. In actual fact, the opposite is going to happen. I think the current Russian offensive is quite underwhelming.”

“At this juncture, the Russian military has no hope of another push on Kyiv or anything along those lines. Holding onto territory in the east and to a lesser degree, the south, is the pretty paltry best they can hope to do. The Ukrainian population and certainly political and military leadership have shown no predisposition toward any kind of negotiated settlement which cedes any of Ukraine’s borders.”

“At this point, I think it’s certainly premature for American or other policymakers to try to goad them into taking that approach. That being said, we know wars tend to end in negotiations. Terminating a war is rarely a clean, precise undertaking. So certainly, it’s wise to start thinking of that next phase, albeit in a position where the Ukrainians clearly have military superiority and the Russians continue to be on the back foot.”