President Joe Biden’s surprise six-hour visit to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Feb. 20 was planned by the White House for months, but the decision to go ahead was not made until Feb. 17, according to administration officials. Deputy National Security Adviser John Finer stated that the visit was meticulously planned over a period of months, involving several offices in the White House, the Chief of Staff’s office, the NSC, and the White House Military Office, as well as a small number of colleagues from the Pentagon, the Secret Service, and the intelligence community. Finer further noted that only a handful of people in each of these buildings were involved in the planning for operational security.
Biden was fully briefed on each stage of the plan and any potential contingencies, and made the final decision after a huddle in the Oval Office and by phone with some key members of his national security cabinet on Friday. Biden departed the White House at 3:30 a.m. accompanied by an “extremely small” traveling party consisting of his Secret Service detail, a military aide carrying the so-called “nuclear football,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon, Oval Office Operations Director Annie Tomasini, a small medical team, the official White House photographer, and two journalists.
Sullivan revealed that the White House notified the Russians of Biden’s plans for “deconfliction purposes” but only hours before his departure. He did not divulge the precise nature of the message, but confirmed that notification was provided. Sullivan further mentioned that Biden was very focused on making the most of his time on the ground, which he knew would be limited.
It was later reported that Biden and his team had flown on an Air Force C-32—a modified Boeing 757—departing Joint Base Andrews at 4:15 a.m. and stopping in Germany to refuel. The plane’s transponder was then turned off for an hour-long flight to Rzeszow, Poland, from which the team boarded a train for the roughly 10-hour overnight trip to Kyiv. Upon arrival at Mariinsky Palace, Biden and Zelensky conferred for more than two hours.
Before 11:30 a.m., Biden left the palace and traveled to St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery in Kyiv, where he and Zelensky laid wreaths at a memorial for those killed in the fighting with Russia since 2014. Biden then went to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv around noon, and his motorcade was reported leaving shortly before 1 p.m. White House officials and journalists accompanying Biden said the president had left Kyiv but would not provide further details. He was reported to be in Warsaw a short while later, where he will kick off a planned trip to Poland with a Feb. 21 speech.
During his visit, Biden committed an additional $500 million in aid, the delivery of howitzer shells, anti-tank missiles, and air surveillance radars, but not the new advanced weaponry Kyiv is requesting, including jets.