By Miriam Raftery
Read full transcript of State of the Union speech
View video of State of the Union speech
View part 2 of our coverage, on domestic issues addressed by Biden
View the Republican response
Photo: President Joe Biden, center, says of the Ukrainian people, "You inspired the world.' Left, Vice President Kamala Harris, right, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
March 2, 2022 (Washington D.C.) –President Joe Biden drew bipartisan applause during his State of the Union speech last night, when he recognized the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. and asked those in the Capitol chamber to rise and show the world that, “We, the United States of America, stand with the Ukrainian people.”
Biden announced new, strenuous actions against Russia and key supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin. These include:
- Closing off U.S. air space to all Russian flights, further isolating Russia;
- Ordering the U.S. Justice Department to form a task force to go after crimes committed by Russian oligarchs and “corrupt leaders” profiting off Putin’s regime;
- Plans to seize oligarchs’ assets including yachts, private jets and luxury homes
- Releasing 30 million gallons of oil from America’s strategic reserved, matched by an equal amount from other nations to help reduce gas prices without Russian oil.
These add to recently imposed sanctions including:
- Cutting off Russia’s largest banks from the international financial system;
- Freezing Russian assets and sanctioning Russia’s central bank;
- Choking off Russia’s access to technology to “sap its economic strength and weaken its military for years to come,” Biden said.
The President noted that sanctions are having major impacts, noting that the Ruble has lost 30% of its value, the Russian stock market has plunged 40% and trading remains suspended. “Russia’s economy is reeling, and Putin alone is to blame,” stated Biden.
Photo, right: Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova
Biden denounced Putin’s attack on Ukraine as “premediated and provoked,” noting that Putin rejected diplomacy and mistakenly believed that the West and NATO would not respond.
The President noted that he worked to unify America’s European allies and took the unprecedented step of releasing classified information to let the world know of the invasion that “Putin was planning and precisely how he would try to falsely justify his aggression. We countered Russia’s lies with truth.”
The U.S. and 27 allies in the European Union as well as NATO nations are unified in standing with Ukraine, providing military, economic, and humanitarian assistance. “We are giving more than $1 billion in direct assistance to Ukraine,” Biden said.
Though he made clear that the U.S. will not engage our armed services forces to fight in the Ukraine, the U.S. has deployed forces to Europe “to defend our NATO Allies – in the event that Putin decides to keep moving west.” This includes ground, air and ship deployments, said Biden, adding that “the United States and our Allies will defend every inch of territory of NATO countries with the full force of our collective power.”
Biden also praised the Ukrainian people for meeting Putin’s invasion with a “wall of strength he never imagined. From President Zelenskyy to every Ukrainian, their fearlessness, their courage, their determination inspires the world,” the President said, noting that ordinary citizens have blocked tanks with their bodies, with everyone from students to retirees turning soldiers to defend their homeland.
“Throughout our history, we’ve learned this lesson: when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos,” Biden said, pointedly referring to Putin as a dictator. “That’s why the NATO Alliance was created, to secure peace and stability in Europe after World War II.”
The President predicted that Putin’s war on Ukraine will ultimately live Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger. He noted the unity among European leaders and Western nations, as well as unity among people gathering to show support for Ukraine in cities around the world, including in Russia.
“In the battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising to the moment, and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security,” Biden said. “This is a real test. It’s going to take time, so let us continue to draw inspiration from the iron will of the Ukrainian people…Putin may circle Kyiv with tanks, but he will never gain the hearts and souls of the Ukrainian people. He will never extinguish their love of freedom. He will never weaken the resolve of the free world.”
Though some heckled the President during the portion of his speech addressing his domestic agenda (to be detailed part 2 of our State of the Union coverage), many audience members in both parties wore blue and gold, the Ukrainian national colors.
Prior to the speech, some Republican leaders criticized sanctions as "too little , too late" while others sought to distance themselves from former President Donald Trump, who praised Putin as “genius” on the eve of the invasion and predicted that the Russian dictator would send in troops to keep the peace.
Russia now stands accused of war crimes, reportedly targeting civilian populations and even schools, also using banned or inhumane weapons such as cluster bombs and vacuum bombs, according to international human rights groups such as Amnesty International.
After the State of the Union speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top-ranking Republican in Congress, took issue with the President on domestic issues but shared Biden’s sentiments on Ukraine. According to Fox News, McConnell stated, “We’re all inspired by the bravery of the Ukrainian people and the leadership of their stunningly impressive president. The whole world has rallied to the cause – even demonstrations in Russia in opposition to the war. First and foremost, I think at this particular State of the Union, we need to do everything we can to support the Ukrainians. It may be David versus Goliath, but David is holding up pretty well so far.