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Ukrainian ambassador gets standing ovation, as Biden praises Ukraine’s strength in State of the Union

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/2/2022 Felicia Sonmez, John Wagner, Andrew Jeong

Almost as soon as his State of the Union address began on Tuesday, President Biden sought to unify the Democratic and Republican parties against Russia following its recent attack on Ukraine, leading a standing ovation for the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States.

Fewer than a dozen sentences into his speech, the president accused Russian leader Vladimir Putin of trying to “shake the foundation of the free world” by invading neighboring Ukraine last week. Putin “badly miscalculated,” Biden said.

“He thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead he met a wall of strength he never imagined. He met the Ukrainian people,” Biden said. The president then gestured toward Oksana Markarova, Kyiv’s envoy to Washington, who was in attendance as a guest of first lady Jill Biden.

“Let us, each of us, if you’re able to stand, stand and send an unmistakable signal to the world, and to Ukraine,” Biden said, prompting a sustained standing ovation from those gathered in the chamber, while the first lady embraced Markarova.

The president’s words seemed to be intended to show U.S. support for Ukraine and aimed at uniting Americans across a harshly partisan political landscape.

“Yes, we, the United States of America, stand with the Ukrainian people,” Biden said.

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The State of the Union this year had, at times, a feel of the State of Ukraine, The Washington Post reported.

Markarova was sitting in the first lady’s viewing box in the House chamber, a placement designed to show solidarity between the United States and Ukraine. Biden had retooled his address to focus heavily on the ongoing assault and his efforts to rally allies in opposition.

The ambassador was holding the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian national flag, and many attendees wore matching dresses or ties. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) who had worked in Kyiv as an FBI agent, handed out Ukrainian flags, while Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), whose district has a strong Ukrainian American community, distributed blue-and-yellow ribbons.

The first lady had a sunflower, Ukraine’s national flower, sewn onto her dress sleeve.

Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, hugs first lady Jill Biden during President Biden’s State of the Union address. © Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Bloomberg News Oksana Markarova, the Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, hugs first lady Jill Biden during President Biden’s State of the Union address.

The scene mirrored those seen earlier in Europe. The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany was given a standing ovation at the German parliament last month. This week, European lawmakers stood and clapped for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as he urged them to admit Ukraine into the European Union.

It was also reminiscent of a 2005 speech to Congress by then-Ukraine President Viktor Yuschenko, said Richard Fontaine, the chief executive of the Center for a New American Security, a think tank. “The unity of American support, across party lines, was remarkable,” said Fontaine, who was then an adviser to Republican Sen. John McCain.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has strengthened the transatlantic alliance between European countries and the United States, security experts said. William Courtney, a former senior diplomat who is now an adjunct fellow at the Rand Corporation, said the Biden administration appears to have learned lessons after stumbling in Afghanistan last summer, “and is now performing superbly” in leading with allies.

But more tests lie ahead for the Biden administration in Ukraine, Courtney said. For instance, he said, if Russia subdues Ukraine, then the Biden administration would likely need to find agreement with allies on how actively to support a Ukrainian insurgency. “How actively to pursue an insurgency and what arms to provide could be controversial.”

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Although the State of the Union is nominally a report on the nation’s condition, foreign policy has often featured prominently. In 1823, President James Monroe used his address to announce the Monroe Doctrine, which warned European powers against further colonization in the Western Hemisphere.

More recently, President George W. Bush dubbed Iran, Iraq and North Korea the “axis of evil” during his 2002 address, and in 2018, President Donald Trump reiterated warnings against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.


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