Joe Biden spent the first 15 minutes of
his State of the Union address talking about Russia's invasion of Ukraine, an
event that certainly has transfixed the world more than the latest twists and
stumbles of his domestic legislative agenda.
Although Mr. Biden's annual speech is
billed as a message to Congress, his comments on Ukraine were tailored to four
distinct audiences - with four distinct messages.
Here's a look at what he had to say and to
To the Ukrainian
Early in his speech, Mr. Biden called out
Ukrainian ambassador to the US Oksana Markarova, seated in the balcony next to
Jill Biden and other distinguished guests.
"Thank you, thank you, thank
you," he said, as members of Congress cheered.
The United States has already sent Ukraine
military, economic and humanitarian aid. On Tuesday night, Mr. Biden wanted to
send a message that America cared about Ukraine's fate and stood by the
"From President Zelensky to every
Ukrainian, their fearlessness, their courage, their determination inspires the
world," he said.
Although Kyiv may be encircled by Russian
tanks, his message was that more American help is on the way.
To Russia's leader
message to Vladimir Putin was simple - the Russian president had "badly
miscalculated". The economic pain that the US and Europe had imposed on
Russia for its invasion was just beginning. The rouble was crashing, the
Russian stock market was in free-fall, Russian oligarchs would have their
"ill-begotten gains" confiscated, and Russia was losing access to key
another message to Russia beyond one of economic pain, however. He also
emphasized that the US and its allies would fight to defend "every inch of the territory of Nato countries".
has put his nuclear forces on elevated alert and warned of devastating
consequences if any nation intervened in Ukraine. Mr. Biden's message was to
spell out, lest there be any doubt, when and where America itself would fight.
The US and
its European allies have been in remarkable lockstep as they imposed sanctions
on Russia and offered military aid to Ukraine. Time and time again during his
speech, Mr. Biden celebrated this fact.
thought the West and Nato wouldn't respond," the president said.
"Putin was wrong. We were ready."
Mr. Putin may have got that impression from
the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which sparked criticism directed at Mr. Biden for not consulting allies. But this was a topic the US president notably
avoided during his speech.
Mr. Biden's emphasis on the key role Europe
has played in the response to Russia's invasion may have been part of this
administration's continued effort to soothe frayed relations.
Over the course of his presidency, Mr. Biden has spoken repeatedly about what he sees as an era-defining global
conflict between democracies and autocracies - and that it would take
cooperation among the democracies of the world to prevail. It was a theme he
touched on again on Tuesday.
"Democracies are rising to the
moment," he said, "and the world is clearly choosing the side of
peace and security."
To the American
A public opinion survey released earlier
on Tuesday showed that a majority of Americans were most interested in hearing
what Mr. Biden had to say about the conflict in Ukraine. Biden's message was
that the global unity of response - from Asia to Latin America to Europe and
even Switzerland - was a testament to his administration's efforts.
"American diplomacy matters," he
said. "American resolve matters."
One of Mr. Biden's campaign pledges was to
restore the US standing in the world and rebuild strained relations with allies
after the tumultuous Trump years. This, he implied, were tangible results of
that effort, coming when the stakes were at their highest.
Mr. Biden also had a message to Americans
we may be concerned that the possibility that US soldiers would be at risk in
the Ukrainian conflict. While he spelled out US obligations to Nato allies, his
message about what the US would do in Ukraine was also direct, that US forces
"are not engaged and will not engage in conflict with Russian forces in
Finally, Mr. Biden had to address what is
sure to be the increased economic hardship that Americans will bear because of
the conflict in Ukraine - hardships added to those already caused by the
Covid-19 pandemic and ones that may come at a political price for a president
who's standing with the US public is already weak.
He said that the US will attempt to craft
its sanctions to target the Russian economy, but that costs for the rest of the
world were unavoidable. He announced that the US will release 30 million barrels
of oil from its strategic reserve, but that move is more symbolic than it is
likely to blunt the rising price of gas for American consumers.
"I know the news about what's
happening can seem alarming," he said, "but I want you to know that
we are going to be OK."
That may be the most important message for
Mr. Biden's political fortunes. If the American public doesn't feel OK, the
president and his party may bear the consequences in November's mid-term
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