By Rob Picheta, Olga Voitovych, Vasco Cotovio and Kevin Liptak
February 20, 2023
President Joe Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine sparked anger and embarrassment among many of Russia’s hawkish military pundits on Monday, increasing pressure on Vladimir Putin as the Russian leader prepares to justify his stuttering invasion in a national address.
Biden’s historic visit came days before the one-year anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, providing a symbolic boost to Kyiv at a crucial juncture in the conflict.
But the visit caused fury in Russian pro-military and ultranationalist circles, as it upstages Putin on the eve of a major address in which the Russian president is expected to tout the supposed achievements of what he euphemistically calls a “special military operation.”
“Biden in [Kyiv]. Demonstrative humiliation of Russia,” Russian journalist Sergey Mardan wrote in a snarky response on his Telegram channel. “Tales of miraculous hypersonics may be left for children. Just like spells about the holy war we are waging with the entire West.”
“I guess there are lunch breaks in a holy war,” he said.
Russian army veteran and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer Igor Girkin meanwhile suggested that Biden could have visited the frontlines in eastern Ukraine and escaped unharmed.
“Wouldn’t be surprised if the grandfather (he is not good for anything but simple provocations anyway) is brought to Bakhmut as well, AND NOTHING WILL HAPPEN TO HIM,” Girkin said.
Girkin is among a number of hardline military bloggers – some of whom have hundreds of thousands of followers and provide analysis of the conflict for large swaths of the Russian population – who have repeatedly criticized what they consider a “soft” approach on the battlefield by Putin’s generals.
For many, the secure and skillfully executed visit of a US President was another symbol of a faltering campaign.
A Telegram account managed by Russian army and naval servicemembers, Zapiski michmana Ptichkina, noted ironically that Biden had reached Kyiv before Russian President Vladimir Putin. “Almost a year after the beginning of the special military operation, we are waiting in the Russian city of [Kyiv] for the president of the Russian Federation, but not for the [President of the] United States,” it said.
Biden’s visit was an unprecedented journey by a US leader into an active warzone where the US did not have a large military presence.
A few hours before he departed, the United States informed Russia of the plans to visit the Ukrainian capital for “deconfliction purposes,” according to Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
CNN has reached out to the Kremlin, which has not yet publicly commented on Biden’s trip. But former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev dismissed the trip, accusing the US of warmongering support for Ukraine.
“Biden, having received security guarantees in advance, finally went to Kyiv,” Medvedev said in a statement on Telegram. “And of course, there were mutual incantations about the victory that would come with new weapons and a courageous people. And here it is important to note that the West already delivers weapons and money to Kyiv quite regularly – in huge quantities, allowing the military-industrial complex of NATO countries to earn money and steal weapons to sell to terrorists around the world.”
Medvedev, who currently serves as deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, is known for making belligerent pronouncements in an apparent bid to shore up his nationalist credentials.
The debate over Biden’s visit will be unwelcome to Putin, who will on Tuesday make a major speech to the Federal Assembly in which he will discuss the ongoing invasion.
Participants of what Russia refers to as its “special military operation” will be in attendance but foreign guests or representatives will not be invited, the Kremlin’s spokesperson told reporters Monday.
Putin is expected to launch a renewed offensive in Ukraine in the coming weeks, more than one year after he began Europe’s biggest land war since World War II with a failed assault on Kyiv and central Ukraine.