Voices: Joe Biden just launched his 2024 re-election campaign in Kyiv

This was Biden’s first visit to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion (AFP via Getty Images)
This was Biden’s first visit to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion (AFP via Getty Images)

Any presidential visit hopes to send multiple messages all at the same time.

Joe Biden, covertly making his way to Kyiv days before the anniversary of Russia’s invasion, said the trip would underscore to Vladimir Putin the West’s resolve and its ability to remain largely united 12 months later.

“When Putin launched his invasion nearly one year ago, he thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided. He thought he could outlast us,” said Biden, as bright winter sunshine shimmered on the domes of St Michael’s Cathedral.

He added: “But he was dead wrong.”

The US has already dispatched tens of billions of dollars arms and other aid to Ukraine, and has supplied President Volodymyr Zelensky most, if not all, of the equipment he has requested.

“This visit of the US president to Ukraine, the first for 15 years, is the most important visit in the entire history of Ukraine-US relations,” Zelensky told reporters.

Biden promised on Monday to send more weapons, and more aid. He will hope his presence there, his first visit since the invasion, will have reassured Zelensky the US is not abandoning him. Indeed, in truth, the images of them together underscored Washington’s increasingly inextricable involvement in what has become a proxy war for the US.

The US will also hope that the visit of the US president will have also acted to boost the morale of the Ukrainian people, many thousands of whom have been killed by Russian forces.

But while the White House would never acknowledge it, there’s another, far more important audience for Biden’s trip – the American people, and those planning to vote in 2024.

George W Bush paid a visit to US troops in Iraq in 2003 – one of many visits made by US presidents to war zones (Getty Images)
George W Bush paid a visit to US troops in Iraq in 2003 – one of many visits made by US presidents to war zones (Getty Images)

While he has not officially announced his re-election campaign, it appears all but certain Biden will launch a bid to secure a second term in the Oval Office.

There are several challenges he faces in securing a second term. His approval rating is still below 50 per cent, and there are several Republicans, including Donald Trump, who would love to beat him and put him in the list of one term presidents such as Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush.

But there’s an even greater barrier: Biden’s age.

For all his insistence that he’s mentally and physically competent to carry out a second term, he is currently 80 years old and often looks every day of it. Were he to win a second term, he would be 86 by the time he finally left the White House.

What better way, for the octagenarian to show he still has what it takes than to make some secret mission to a war zone and appear with Zelensky, a former comedian who has been transformed into a genuine war time leader.

No matter what Trump might say about Biden’s Mission Impossible-style trip, you just know he is jealous that Biden is on the ground in Ukraine rather than himself. The same surely goes for the likes of Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis, one of whom has officially announced a 2024 and has rattled Trump by doing so, and the other is likely to.

As Biden, with his aviator sunglasses, and Zelensky in his green battle fatigues, walked through Kyiv, air raid warnings sounded.

Only a cynic would suggest they had been requested ahead of time by the White House, but they certainly added to the sense of drama. (As it was, the US had told Russia of Biden’s planned visit a couple of hours before he arrived, to ensure they did not launch a major attack that could have spiraled out of control.)

Biden is not the first US president to visit a conflict zone with the hope of getting a political bump. At least 12 presidents are thought to have paid such visits, starting with Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War.

But the vast majority of those, to places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where the likes of George W Bush posed for photos with troops, were battle zones at least nominally under the control of the US military.

The White House has always insisted there are no American forces in Ukraine.

And while Ronald Reagan was ending his second term when he paid a visit to Moscow in 1988, he will no doubt have enjoyed acting tough with a Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, 20 years his younger.

Did the 45-year-old Zelensky, looking more and more like tough guy actor Chuck Norris, realise he was being used as a prop as part of Biden’s reelection campaign?

Probably. After the debacle of the US’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, Biden has won mostly praise for his handling of Russia invasion, and his uniting of Nato allies.

There is a danger to all of this as well. By so being so public in his support for Ukraine, the success of his presidency – and hopes of re-election – have been pegged to what happens in Ukraine.

Put very simply, Joe Biden cannot allow Ukraine to be defeated by Russia.

His re-election depends upon it.