US president Joe Biden warned transatlantic democracies to steel themselves for a “long fight ahead” and remain united to stop Russia and its president Vladimir Putin from turning Europe back to its war-torn past.
In a speech in Warsaw on Sunday, just over a month after Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden compared the struggle against Moscow’s aggression to the resistance against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
“We must commit now to be in this fight for the long haul. We must remain unified today and tomorrow, and the day after, and for the years and decades to come. It will not be easy,” he said.
“There will be cost but it’s a price we have to pay, because the darkness that drives autocracy is no match for the flame of liberty that lights the souls of free people everywhere,” Biden added.
His remarks capped a three-day visit to Europe that included a summit with Nato, G7 and EU leaders, as well as a visit to US troops stationed in eastern Poland close to the Ukrainian border.
“Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia,” he said. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” he added, referring to Putin. He also warned the Russian president against widening his assault to include Nato members. “Don’t even think about moving on one single inch of Nato territory,” Biden said.
Washington and European capitals have already imposed heavy economic sanctions on Moscow and flooded Ukraine with military aid. Russian forces, bogged down and unable to capture key cities, have increasingly resorted to shelling and bombardment of the civilian population.
The US and its Nato allies face difficult decisions about how to respond to Russia’s threats, including the potential use of weapons of mass destruction. They must also agree on how to defend vulnerable Nato territory, including Poland, and how to co-ordinate further economic sanctions to isolate Russia from the international financial system.
Biden started the day by meeting Ukraine’s foreign and defence ministers Dmitry Kuleba and Oleksii Reznikov to discuss further efforts to bolster their country’s military capacity.
Biden was then hosted by Andrzej Duda, Poland’s president, and emphasised that Washington would honour Nato’s mutual defence guarantee as a “sacred obligation” that applied to every member of the North Atlantic alliance. “You can count on that . . . for your freedom is ours,” he said.
The US president also visited a stadium housing some of the more than 2mn refugees who have arrived in Poland from Ukraine in recent weeks, including some from the besieged coastal city of Mariupol.
“Each one of those children said . . . say a prayer for my dad, for my grandfather, for my brother” who is “back there fighting”, Biden said.
Having already called Putin a “war criminal”, the US president labelled the Russian president a “butcher”.
The Kremlin said the remarks made any improvement in the relationship between the two countries less likely.
“Leaders should keep a sober head,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by the state-run Tass news agency. “Each time, these personal insults narrow the window of opportunity for our bilateral relations [to improve] under the current [US] administration.”
Biden spoke on a clear but cold and windy evening in the courtyard of the Royal Castle at the entrance of the old town of the Polish capital.
Among the audience, which reached up to 1,000 according to White House estimates, was Dmytro Bodnaruk, a 31-year old Ukrainian from the western city of Lviv who works in Warsaw. His wife and child joined him in Poland two days after the war started.
He said he hoped Biden would signal additional help for his country, including weapons. “He has done a good job but maybe he can do more,” he said.
A few hours earlier outside the Hala Mirowska, a Warsaw market, Bartek Ozarowski, a 23-year old engineer, said the main concern for Poles was to be reassured that his country was protected by the west, particularly by its nuclear deterrent.
He said he had feared Biden would be a “weak leader” but he had handled Russia’s war on Ukraine “better than expected” and so far been able to “outplay” Russia.