Sneaking a president from DC to Kyiv without anyone noticing

Sneaking a president from DC to Kyiv without anyone noticing
Sneaking a president from DC to Kyiv without anyone noticing

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — President Joe Biden’s motorcade slipped out of the White Home round 3:30 a.m. Sunday. No massive, flashy Air Drive One for this journey -– the president vanished into the darkness on an Air Drive C-32, a modified Boeing 757 usually used for home journeys to smaller airports.

The subsequent time he turned up — 20 hours later — it was in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine.

Biden’s surprise visit to Ukraine on Monday was the primary time in trendy historical past that a U.S. chief visited a warzone outdoors the aegis of the U.S. navy — a feat the White Home mentioned carried some threat although Moscow was given a heads-up.

Over the following 5 hours, the president made a number of stops round city — ferried about in a black SUV reasonably than the presidential limousine — without any announcement to the Ukrainian public that he was there. However all that exercise attracted sufficient consideration that phrase of his presence leaked out effectively earlier than he may get again to Poland, which was the unique plan. Aides on the White Home had been shocked the key held so long as it did.

However Russia knew what the Ukrainian public didn’t. U.S. officers had given Moscow discover of Biden’s journey.

The president had been itching since final 12 months to be a part of the parade of different Western officers who’ve visited Kyiv to pledge help standing shoulder to shoulder with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy within the capital.

Biden’s planned trip to Warsaw, Poland, and the Presidents’ Day vacation offered an apparent opening to tack on a cease in Kyiv. A small group of senior officers on the White Home and throughout U.S. nationwide safety companies set about working in secret for months to make it occur, nationwide safety adviser Jake Sullivan mentioned on Monday. Biden solely gave the ultimate sign-off on Friday.

Sullivan mentioned the journey “required a safety, operational, and logistical effort from professionals throughout the U.S. authorities to take what was an inherently dangerous enterprise and make it a manageable threat.”

As soon as Biden was secreted aboard the Air Drive jet, the decision signal “SAM060,” for Particular Air Mission, was used for the aircraft as a substitute of the standard “Air Drive One.” It took off from Joint Base Andrews at 4:15 a.m. Japanese time.

After a refueling cease in Germany, Biden’s plane switched off its transponder for the roughly hour-long flight to Rzeszow, Poland, the airport that has served because the gateway for billions of {dollars} in Western arms and VIP guests into Ukraine.

He arrived in Kyiv at 8 a.m. Monday and was greeted by Ambassador Bridget Brink and entered his motorcade for the drive to Mariinsky Palace. Even whereas he was on the bottom in Ukraine, flights transporting navy gear and different items had been persevering with unabated to Rzeszow from Western cities.

In the meantime, in Kyiv, many major streets and central blocks had been cordoned off without clarification. Individuals began sharing movies of lengthy motorcades of automobiles dashing alongside streets the place entry was restricted — the primary clues that Biden had arrived.

Biden traveled with a far smaller than traditional retinue: Sullivan, deputy chief of employees Jen O’Malley Dillon and the director of Oval Workplace operations, Annie Tomasini. They had been joined by his Secret Service element, the navy aide carrying the so-called “nuclear soccer,” a small medical group and the official White Home photographer.

Solely two journalists had been on board as a substitute of the standard complement of 13. Their digital gadgets had been powered off and turned over to the White Home all through the journey into Ukraine. A small variety of journalists based mostly in Ukraine had been summoned to a downtown lodge on Monday morning to be a part of them, not knowledgeable that Biden was visiting till shortly earlier than his arrival.

Even with Western surface-to-air missile methods bolstering Ukraine’s defenses, it was uncommon for a U.S. chief to journey to a battle zone the place the U.S. or its allies didn’t have management over the airspace.

The U.S. navy doesn’t have a presence in Ukraine apart from a small detachment of Marines guarding the embassy in Kyiv, making Biden’s go to extra difficult than visits by prior U.S. leaders to warfare zones.

“We did notify the Russians that President Biden will probably be touring to Kyiv,” Sullivan informed reporters. “We did so some hours earlier than his departure for deconfliction functions.” He declined to specify the precise message or to whom it was delivered however mentioned the heads-up was to keep away from any miscalculation that might convey the 2 nuclear-armed nations into direct battle.

Whereas Biden was in Kyiv, U.S. surveillance planes, together with E-3 Sentry airborne radar and an digital RC-135W Rivet Joint plane, had been maintaining watch over Kyiv from Polish airspace.

The sealing off of Kyiv roads which are often buzzing with site visitors introduced an eerie calm to the middle of the capital. It was so quiet that crows might be heard cawing as Biden and Zelenskyy walked from their motorcade to the gold-domed St. Michael’s Cathedral beneath skies as blue because the outer partitions of the cathedral itself.

“Let’s stroll in and take a look,” Biden mentioned, sporting his trademark aviator sun shades towards the glare. The presidents disappeared inside as closely armed troopers stood guard outdoors.

Cathedral bells chirped on the stroke of 11:30 a.m. adopted shortly by air raid alarms, at 11:34 a.m., simply earlier than the lads reemerged. The sirens had been first a distant howl rising over the town, adopted seconds later by alarms from cell phone apps wailing from individuals’s pockets.

These alarms are voiced by “Star Wars” actor Mark Hamill, and his Luke Skywalker voice urged individuals to take cowl, warning: “Don’t be careless. Your overconfidence is your weak spot.”

The 2 leaders walked at a measured tempo with no outward indicators of concern via the cathedral’s arched entrance gate onto the sq. in entrance, the place the rusting hulks of destroyed Russian tanks and different armored autos have been stationed as grim reminders of the war.

When the sq. isn’t blocked off, because it was in the course of the leaders’ go to, individuals come to take a look at the autos, many taking selfies.

Biden appeared to pay the hulks no thoughts as he and Zelenskyy adopted behind honor guards carrying two wreaths to the wall of remembrance honoring Ukrainian troopers killed since 2014, the 12 months Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and Russian-backed combating erupted in japanese Ukraine.

It was solely then that the primary photographs of Biden within the capital popped up on Ukrainian social media and the key go to grew to become world information.

The all-clear discover, additionally voiced by Hamill, sounded at 1:07 p.m., lengthy after Biden had headed to the U.S. Embassy for a temporary cease earlier than departing the nation.

“The air alert is over,” Hamill mentioned. “Could the pressure be with you.”


Related Press photographer Evan Vucci reported from aboard Biden’s plane and in Kyiv. Miller reported from Washington. Related Press author Aamer Madhani contributed from Washington.

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