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Biden condemns Russia's Vladimir Putin while visiting Poland

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Biden is in Poland today. He visited a small city not far from the border with Ukraine, some 60 miles or so. And in an airport hangar, sitting beside the president of Poland. Biden used his strongest language to date to condemn Russia's Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The single most important thing that we can do from the outset is keep the democracies united in our opposition and our effort to curtail the devastation that is occurring at the hands of a man who, quite frankly, I think is a war criminal.

SHAPIRO: That word united has been a major theme of Biden's trip to Europe. NPR's White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us from Warsaw, Poland. Hey, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So we heard Biden describe Putin there as a war criminal. The international investigations into how Moscow's waging war on its neighbor will continue for some time, but tell us more about what Biden was doing when he said that.

KEITH: He was meeting with American and Polish officials working on the ground with the flood of people fleeing Ukraine. He was in Rzeszow (ph), this small city that is a first stop for many refugees. He said that he wanted to see it firsthand. He also said he was disappointed that he couldn't cross into Ukraine for himself for safety reasons. He was being briefed by officials who are trying to figure out how best to help all of these people who are fleeing. One is Samantha Power, the head of USAID, the development agency. She has worked in war zones for her entire career, and here's how she described what she's seeing.

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SAMANTHA POWER: None of us have ever seen the speed and the scale of this destruction in our lifetimes. It took a little over four years for 4 million refugees to flee the Syrian war. Ukraine could reach that number four days from now.

SHAPIRO: Now, yesterday at NATO's headquarters in Brussels, the president announced that the U.S. is giving $1,000,000,000 to support humanitarian relief work and will allow up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees to come into the U.S. How meaningful is that given the scale of the crisis?

KEITH: A hundred thousand people potentially coming to the U.S. is nothing compared to what Europe is dealing with, but it is a signal from Biden that he sees the spillover effects of this brutal war as a global burden and that it is important for the U.S. to contribute to this. President Duda of Poland said Biden's presence and his announcement is a sign that the U.S. has Poland's back. And this is part of what Biden was trying to do on this quickly arranged trip is signal that he's got Europe's back.

SHAPIRO: The president also greeted American troops from the 82nd Airborne Division today. They are stationed in Poland, not entering Ukraine. What was his message to them?

KEITH: He stopped at a makeshift barber shop. He ate a slice of spicy pizza in a mess hall, shoulder to shoulder with the troops. He pledged that there won't be U.S. boots on the ground in Ukraine fighting Russians, but these troops are helping get humanitarian and military aid delivered to Ukraine. He thanked them for their service and said that what they're doing is bigger than the immediate task at hand. Their presence signals full U.S. support for NATO allies on the edge of this conflict, including Poland. And it is meant as a deterrent to Putin to pushing beyond Ukraine.

SHAPIRO: As we said, unity has been a major theme for President Biden. Has he succeeded in uniting the allies?

KEITH: He had this grueling series of sessions yesterday with NATO leaders, G-7 and the European Council. They put out strong statements, announced new sanctions against Russia. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said that in the first few weeks of a conflict, global unity can be carried forward by momentum. But what matters is keeping it going in the long term, and that is hard work. Few expect this to end quickly. So part of the goal here was adding a little steel to the spine for when the war and the sanctions and the energy shortages and even food shortages potentially drag on.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith in Warsaw, Poland. Thanks, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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