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Biden and Putin both gave speeches for the anniversary of Russian invasion

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There were dueling speeches today as Russia's war in Ukraine hits the one-year mark. President Vladimir Putin gave a State of the Union-type address earlier today in Moscow where he talked about the war. And then in Warsaw, President Biden said the past year should leave no doubt about the resolve of the West to counter Russian aggression.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Our support for Ukraine will not waver. NATO will not be divided, and we will not tire.

CHANG: NPR's Asma Khalid was there in Warsaw, and NPR's Charles Maynes was in Moscow, and they join us now to compare notes on both leaders' speeches. Hey to both of you.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Hi there.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Hi there.

CHANG: All right. Let's start with you, Asma. Biden spoke today, I understand, from the same place in Warsaw where he gave an address last March near the start of the war. What did he have to say today?

KHALID: Well, the president was here in Poland, as you mentioned, to mark the anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. You know, I will say it was a very different atmosphere from the speech that he delivered in March here in Poland - March of last year. At that point, you know, there were concerns that Kyiv would fall into Russian hands. There were concerns about keeping NATO united. And so it was a much more somber speech he delivered at the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

You know, this year, the vibe felt like a highly produced rock concert. It was a real celebratory campaign speech. There were fog machines and spotlights, and Biden walked out on stage to the song "Freedom." And there were thousands of people in the crowd waving Ukrainian, Polish and American flags. One main message the president was delivering here today was just a reminder of where the world was a year ago, where this conflict stood and where it is today. And he mentioned that Ukraine, you know, remains a free country despite the fact that Russian tanks have rolled in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BIDEN: One year ago, the world was bracing for the fall of Kyiv. Well, I've just come from a visit to Kyiv, and I can report Kyiv stands strong. Kyiv stands proud. It stands tall and, most importantly, stands free.

KHALID: Biden was speaking there about the covert trip that he took to Kyiv on Monday. You know, Biden pointed out that Ukraine has remained independent far longer than some had expected, and he insisted that Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia.

CHANG: Well, Charles, Putin's speech was also supposed to focus heavily on Ukraine. What did he have to say?

MAYNES: Well, there was no fog machine. Putin gave a longer speech - nearly two hours...

CHANG: Wow.

MAYNES: ...Largely recycled arguments blaming the West for the war in Ukraine. Yet Putin really saved the headline for last. He said Russia was suspending participation in the New START treaty. That's the sole remaining nuclear arms agreement with the U.S. Now, Putin stressed Russia was not formally leaving the nuclear pact. In fact, his foreign ministry even said later that the suspension decision was reversible. But clearly, Putin linked the decision to Western military support for Ukraine. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: So here Putin says that the U.S. and NATO professed they want to see Russia's strategic defeat in Ukraine, and yet they also want to come inspect Russian military bases under the New START treaty. And Putin argued that was, quote, "stupid." Now, the New START treaty was already in trouble. The two sides have been bickering over inspections rules ever since, really, they were suspended during the COVID pandemic. But Russia's making it clear it's willing to use the treaty's survival - it currently expires in 2026 - to pressure the U.S. to back off in Ukraine.

CHANG: OK. Well, Charles, beyond the nuclear issue, did Putin give any more of a sense about the war in Ukraine and where it's actually headed?

MAYNES: Well, Russia carried out attacks on Ukraine during the speech. Six people were killed amid shelling in Kherson, at least according to Ukrainian officials, which may be an answer in and of itself. And, indeed, Putin did not say anything about peace or seeking an off ramp to end the war. But there are other things he did not say. You know, Putin did not declare formal war. He did not announce a new mobilization draft or say he was sealing the borders. In other words, he didn't say a lot of things that a lot of Russians were very nervous about in the run up to the address. In fact, much of Putin's speech focused on domestic issues, a lot on helping military families but also tax cuts, education, investing in Russia's future, you know, almost as if Putin was trying to appeal to Russians with promises of how normal life could be despite these abnormal times.

CHANG: Well, I'm curious, Asma. Did President Biden respond at all to Putin's speech?

KHALID: I would say really in only a sort of small way. You know, the White House insisted that Biden's speech was not set up to be this head-to-head contrast with Putin. But there was a point when Biden indicated a response to the Russian president in his remarks today. There was this moment when he spoke directly to Russians, saying that the West was not seeking to control Russia or to attack Russia, which Putin had suggested in his speech.

CHANG: And what did Biden say about the path ahead?

KHALID: You know, I will say he did not really articulate a clear, prescriptive message for the future in terms of this conflict between Russia and Ukraine. He suggested allies and Americans need to be clear-eyed about what lies ahead. And he acknowledged that the defense of freedom is not the work of a day or a year, in his words. It's always difficult. He warned that there could be hard and bitter days ahead, and he insisted that allies will continue to support Ukraine.

You know, I will say Ukrainians have been asking for F-16s. The White House has not agreed to send fighter jets. And Biden today did not offer any specifics on what kind of additional support the U.S. might be prepared to give. He did say that additional sanctions are in the works, but, again, he didn't provide specifics on that. You know, this speech, I will say, was not really about articulating the next steps for Ukraine. It was really about energizing allies and energizing Americans to continue supporting Ukraine no matter how long this war takes.

CHANG: And, Charles, was there any reaction to Biden's speech in Moscow?

MAYNES: Well, Biden's speech, maybe not surprisingly, was not shown on Russian television. So it's not clear how many Russians actually will hear what he had to say. At the same time, there was extensive coverage of Biden's trip to Kyiv. And that's because while, yes, you know, it's seen as provocative, it's also seen as proof, you know, of what Putin and the propaganda machine here have been arguing all along - that Ukraine is a puppet of the U.S. and really just a means for the United States to pursue its supposedly wider goal, which is weakening Russia.

CHANG: That is NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow and Asma Khalid in Warsaw. Thank you to both of you.

MAYNES: Thank you.

KHALID: Good to speak with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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United States & World Morning EditionAll Things Considered
Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.
Charles Maynes
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