President Joe Biden touched down Friday in Poland, what’s become the epicenter for millions fleeing their home country, to meet with U.S. service members and refugees as his presence in Europe sends a powerful message that NATO is united against Russia’s violent invasion.
At a briefing in Rzeszów on the humanitarian response to the ongoing crisis, Biden, again, called Russian President Vladimir Putin a “war criminal,” after the State Department announced this week its formal assessment that Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.
“The single most important thing that we can do from the outset is to keep the democracies united in our opposition and our effort to curtail the devastation that is occurring at the hands of a man who I quite frankly think is a war criminal,” Biden said, flanked by Poland’s President Andrzej Duda and USAID Administrator Samantha Powers. “I think it will meet the legal definition of that as well.”
Earlier, Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin greeted members of the 82nd Airborne division in Rzeszów to thank them for their service — and ended up staying for a slice of pizza.
“Thank you very, very much for all you do. And it’s not hyperbole to suggest you’re the finest fighting force, not in the world — in the world. That’s not hyperbole,” Biden told the room.
But the president also raised eyebrows when he appeared to tell the group that American troops will be going into Ukraine, though he has repeatedly said that he will not send troops there.
“You know, with the Ukrainian people, Ukrainian people have a lot of backbone, they have a lot of guts and I’m sure you’re observing it,” Biden said. “And you’re gonna see when you’re there, and some of you have been there. You’re gonna see, you’re gonna see women, young people standing, standing in the middle, in front of a damn tank, just saying I’m not leaving. I’m holding my ground. They’re incredible. But they take a lot of inspiration from us.”
Asked to clarify Biden’s comment, a White spokesperson told ABC News, “the President has been clear we are not sending US troops to Ukraine and there is no change in that position.”
Biden also told the room that what they are engaged in is “much more than just whether or not you can alleviate the pain and suffering of the people of Ukraine.”
What’s at stake, and not just in what we’re doing here in Ukraine to try to help the Ukrainian people and keep the massacre from continuing, but beyond that, what’s at stake is…what are your kids and grandkids gonna look like in terms of their, their, their freedom.”
Raising his familiar line of the current fight between autocracies and democracies, Biden told these troops what they are doing is “really consequential” and goes beyond just helping Ukrainians from this invasion.
“The fact of the matter is that you are the finest — this is not hyperbole. You’re the finest fighting force in the history of the world. Let me say it again, the finest fighting force in the history of the world. Part of the reason is you’ve had to fight so much for the last 20 years. For real,” he said.