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Biden visits troops in Poland, will meet with Ukrainian refugees

Biden in Poland to discuss Ukrainian refugee crisis
Biden in Poland to discuss Ukrainian refugee crisis 03:38

President Biden will meet with Ukrainian refugees and deliver a "major address" while he's in Poland Saturday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Friday on Air Force One. The president spent Friday meeting with U.S. troops stationed in Poland and watching humanitarian efforts in that NATO country. 

The president spent time in Rzeszów, Poland, not far from the Ukrainian border, before traveling to Warsaw late Friday to meet with Polish President Andrzej Duda on Saturday. 

President Joe Biden talks to U.S. service members from the 82nd Airborne Division in the city of Rzeszow in southeastern Poland, around 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the border with Ukraine, on March 25, 2022.  BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Sullivan said Mr. Biden's address Saturday "will speak to the stakes of this moment, the urgency of the challenge that lies ahead, what the conflict in Ukraine means for the world, and why it is so important that the free world sustain unity and resolve in the face of Russian aggression." 

His aides say he wants to not only show support for Poland and Ukraine, but also cast the conflict as a broader battle between democracy and autocracy. 

U.S. President Joe Biden visits Poland
President Joe Biden speaks with a soldier during his meeting with U.S. Army soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at the G2 Arena in Jasionka, near Rzeszow, Poland, March 25, 2022. EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS

One of the president's top reasons for traveling to Poland was to offer a personal thanks for welcoming the massive influx of refugees. Russian attacks on civilian infrastructure have sent more than 3.5 million refugees fleeing into neighboring nations, and the vast majority of them have gone to Poland, since Russia's assault on Ukraine began. 

The Biden administration announced Thursday that the U.S. will accept up to 100,000 displaced Ukrainians, while continuing to emphasize that the U.S. government believes most Ukrainians will want to remain in Europe, close to home. Mr. Biden was briefed on the humanitarian crisis Friday alongside Duda. 

"I'm here in Poland to see firsthand the humanitarian crisis and quite frankly, part of my disappointment is that I can't see it firsthand, like I have in other places," Mr. Biden said. "They will not let me, understandably I guess, cross the border and take a look at what's going on in Ukraine."

On Friday, the president also met with U.S. troops of the 82nd Airborne Division who are contributing to deterrence efforts on NATO's Eastern Flank. The commander-in-chief told them they "represent 1% of the American people," and "every single one of you stepped up." The United States of America, he told the soldiers, is the only country based on an idea — an idea of freedom and democracy. 

"We not only lead by the example of our power, but by the power of our example," the president said. 

Mr. Biden said he spent a lot of time in Ukraine, before they had any sort of democracy, while he was a U.S. senator. 

"The Ukrainian people have a lot of backbone. They have a lot of guts," he said. "And I'm sure you're observing it. ... You're in the midst of a fight between democracies and oligarchs."

The president has repeatedly stated that U.S. troops will not be sent to fight Russians in Ukraine, but he has also vowed that the U.S. will defend every inch of NATO territory, if necessary. 

On Thursday, Mr. Biden announced an additional $1 billion in military aid to Ukraine. NATO allies agreed on an initiative to enforce sanctions on Russia, to make sure oligarchs and entities don't exploit loopholes. And NATO will beef up its Eastern Flank by deploying four more battlegroups. And earlier Friday, the U.S. and European Union announced a new task force aimed entirely at reducing Europe's reliance on Russian fossil fuels by boosting U.S. and other partners' efforts to supply Europe with more liquefied natural gas. 

Over the course of his European trip, Mr. Biden has been touting NATO's unity during the conflict in Ukraine —and emphasizing the need to maintain a united front against Russia. "Putin was banking on NATO being split," Mr. Biden said in the whirlwind press conference. "NATO has never, never been more united than it is today." 

Nancy Cordes contributed to this report.

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