Biden praises Ukrainians as ‘wall of strength’ against Putin

Julia Nikhinson

President Biden began his State of the Union address on Tuesday by praising the Ukrainian people as a “wall of strength” against the invasion launched last week by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated,” Biden said.  

“He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead he met a wall of strength he never imagined. He met the Ukrainian people.” 

The president’s remarks were greeted by a standing ovation by members of Congress waving Ukrainian flags and by the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., Oksana Markarova, sitting in the galley of the House chamber with first lady Jill Biden.

The president singled out Markarova for applause and praised her resolve and the resolve of the Ukrainian people as she was warmly embraced by the first lady. 

“Let each of us here tonight in this chamber send an unmistakable signal to Ukraine and to the world,” the president said and quoted remarks Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky made earlier in the day at the European Parliament: “Light will win over darkness.” 

“Please rise if you are able and show that, ‘Yes, we the United States of America stand with the Ukrainian people,’” Biden added and a standing ovation by lawmakers and officials followed.

The president dedicated a large portion of the first part of his speech to Ukraine and its fight against Putin, a war that has shifted the global balance of alliances more in a week than has occurred in decades. 

The Ukrainian army has staved off a large-scale Russian advance for nearly six days. The assault started after Putin spent months massing troops along Ukraine’s northern, eastern and southern borders.

The Biden administration spent weeks raising the alarm that Putin was poised for invasion, which he ultimately launched on Feb. 21 and 22.  

While the Russian army has slowed its advance amid a myriad of challenges from low morale to logistics, attacks on Ukrainian cities and civilians have had devastating consequences, with hundreds of civilians killed, thousands displaced and more than 660,000 fleeing for Europe.

Biden enforced his administration’s push for unity among allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Union and global partners that have come together to impose an unprecedented coordinated campaign of sanctions on Putin.  

“He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. And he thought he could divide us at home. Putin was wrong. We were ready,” the president said.  

“We are inflicting pain on Russia and supporting the people of Ukraine. Putin is now isolated from the world more than ever.”

Biden further said the Department of Justice was assembling a task force to go after crimes of Russian oligarchs that focuses on seizing their assets.  

“We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts your luxury apartments your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains,” the president warned.

He also said the U.S. was closing off American air space to all Russian flights and said the sanctions imposed so far — including cutting off large Russian banks from the international financial system, imposing export controls and blacklisting elites of Putin’s inner circle — contributed to a 30 percent decline in the ruble and the Russian stock market has losing 40 percent value in less than a week.   

The president expressed U.S. commitment to the Ukrainians, touting a recent announcement of $350 million in military assistance to Ukraine that bought the total direct assistance to $1 billion over the course of the year.  

Still, the president warned the Ukrainians are facing grave threats as Russia continues its onslaught against the country, but urged resolve. 

“When the history of this era is written Putin’s war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger,” he said. 

“This is a real test. It’s going to take time. So let us continue to draw inspiration from the iron will of the Ukrainian people. To our fellow Ukrainian Americans who forge a deep bond that connects our two nations we stand with you. Putin may circle Kyiv with tanks, but he will never gain the hearts and souls of the Ukrainian people.”

Updated at 9:52 p.m.

Tags Jill Biden Joe Biden SOTU State of the Union Ukraine Vladimir Putin

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