Biden admin speeds up plans to reopen Kyiv embassy
Biden administration accelerates plans to reopen the US embassy in Kyiv, a senior State Department official told Axios, in an increasingly bold and potentially risky approach to the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Why is this important: Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Ukrainian counterpart that this progress – marked by the visit of Charge d’Affaires from the Kyiv Embassy Kristina Kvien on Sunday to commemorate VE Day – is “a testament to the success of Ukraine”. [and] Moscow’s failure” in the first phase of Vladimir Putin’s war, the senior official told Axios.
- It is the culmination of a behind-the-scenes effort led by Blinken to get US diplomats back to kyiv as soon as possible after their evacuation in the weeks leading up to the Russian invasion on February 24.
- “The secretary relayed to his senior team and [Ukrainian] Minister of Foreign Affairs [Dmytro] Kuleba that our return to Kyiv is a testament to Ukraine’s success, Moscow’s failure, and our effective and enduring partnership with the government and people of a sovereign, democratic and free Ukraine,” the senior official said.
Between the lines: These bold statements by the Biden administration are not without risk.
American officials are well aware that President Putin has his pride and identity at stake with his invasion of Ukraine.
- A humiliating defeat is not an option for him. Senior Biden officials want to avoid a situation in which Putin feels his own survival, or the survival of his regime, is threatened.
- In this “existential” scenario, Putin could resort to the most extreme measures, including the use of nuclear weapons, according to sources close to the sensitive discussions within the administration.
Recent leaks highly sensitive information from the Biden administration has seriously concerned senior officials, including, reportedly, the president himself.
- President Biden was reportedly “livid” about recent articles reporting that US intelligence targeting helped Ukraine kill Russian generals, according to The New York Times. Thomas Friedman.
- And after a NBC News report in which unnamed US officials took credit for helping to sink the Moskva, Russia’s flagship warship, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby slammed leaks as “obviously unnecessary”.
In the wings: When Putin attacked, some senior US officials privately expected kyiv to fall within days. This was not the case.
The Ukrainian army fought bravely and exceeded the expectations of many analysts, making the war increasingly costly for the Russian president.
- When Blinken met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last month in Kyiv, he promised his team would return to the capital soon.
- Blinken “has instructed his team – including Undersecretary for Management John Bass and our diplomatic security team – to work closely with [Kvien] to make it happen, in line with safety and security imperatives,” the senior official told Axios.
- Blinken discussed the plan privately with Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. The logistical conversations have intensified over the past two weeks.
What to watch: Russia’s May 9 holiday commemorating the Soviet Union’s defeat by Nazi Germany is seen as a particularly sensitive time when Putin could dramatically step up his assault on Ukraine.
- Western governments announced new sanctions on Sunday and engaged in a flurry of activity as part of an effort to counter Russian propaganda surrounding Monday’s VE Day celebration.
- In addition to US diplomats visiting kyiv on Sunday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and First Lady Jill Biden made surprise visits themselves.
- Biden traveled to Uzhhorod, Ukraine, where she met Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska. Trudeau visited Irpin, Ukraine.