World at point of ‘fundamental change’ over invasion of Ukraine - Biden

Russia announces shift in its war to eastern Ukraine as UN says 10m people displaced

US president Joe Biden has said Russia's invasion of Ukraine has brought the world to a tipping point of "fundamental change", with a battle for supremacy between democracy and autocracy.

On a two-day visit to Poland, as Moscow announced a shift in its war to eastern Ukraine, Mr Biden will use an address in Warsaw on Saturday to reassure Poles – and other former eastern bloc countries – that they have full Nato solidarity in the face of Russian aggression.

On Friday afternoon, Mr Biden visited a Polish refugee reception centre Rzeszów, 80km from the Ukrainian border, and told young US paratroopers stationed there that their efforts, flying humanitarian and military aid into Ukraine, were part of a "fight between democracies and oligarchs".

“We’re in a new phase, your generation, we’re at an inflection point,” he said. “About every four or five generations, there comes along a change – a fundamental change takes place. The world ain’t going to be the same.”

On day 30 of Russia's war on Ukraine and destruction Mr Biden said was "like something from a science fiction movie", the United Nations said some 10 million people, including half of Ukraine's children, had been displaced. Some 3.8 million people have fled to other countries, mostly via Poland.

Polish president Andrzej Duda, speaking alongside Mr Biden, said Poland was hosting 2.5 million Ukrainians as "guests not refugees", but warned this number was growing all the time.

"Your presence here sends a great signal and evidence of unity – unity within Nato," he said to Mr Biden. "It demonstrates also the great significance attached by the United States to stability and world peace."

After a week of defeats, including the sinking of a landing craft, Russia said on Friday it would "refocus" its war on the country's eastern Donbas region.

Distraction strategy

At a Moscow defence ministry briefing, Russian officials said targeting Ukrainian cities, including the capital Kyiv, had been a distraction strategy. The real aim, senior officials said, was to allow the Russian army fully “liberate” the eastern Donbas region where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting a proxy war against Kyiv’s central government since 2014,

Russian officials said on Thursday their troops had succeeded in blocking Kyiv and other cities, but they “never planned to storm” those cities, suggesting that Moscow could scale back attacks outside of eastern areas.

Ukrainian authorities and western officials reacted cautiously to the claim of a change of military strategy, saying Russian advances have been stalled or pushed back by a Ukrainian defence more fierce than expected.

That, along with tactical missteps and logistical errors, have, according to US and European intelligence assessments, forced Russia to abandon plans for a swift military victory over Ukraine.

Before heading to Poland, Mr Biden announced a deal in Brussels to end Europe's dependence on Russian gas, a source of 40 per cent of European needs, by substituting US liquefied natural gas (LNG).

The deal, announced with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, will see the US supply 15 billion cubic metres of LNG this year, rising to twice that by 2030.

“We want, as Europeans, to diversify away from Russia, towards suppliers that we trust, that are friends, and that are reliable,” said Dr von der Leyen.

‘Almost’ comment

After a two-day summit, French president Emmanuel Macron announced an “exceptional humanitarian operation”, with Turkey and Greece, to evacuate the Ukrainian city of Mariupol after its three weeks under Russian siege.

Also in Brussels, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said remarks by Ukrainian president Voldymyr Zelenskiy to EU leaders, that Ireland was "almost" supporting Ukraine, had been "overstated".

On a Thursday evening video call with the 27 EU leaders, Mr Zelenskiy thanked member states individually for standing with Ukraine, in particular the Baltic countries and Poland. According to a translation of the call from the Kyiv government, the president saw Ireland as a country not offering full support: “Ireland – well, almost.”

Mr Martin said he "wouldn't have taken the same slant that some may be taking from it". He said Mr Zelenskiy, who will address the Oireachtas on April 6th, was fully aware of Ireland's contributions to his country.

In a tweet on Friday night, Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said Ireland was "at the forefront within the EU and beyond providing essential support for Ukraine in all possible ways".

Mr Martin said that, during a conversation last week, the Ukrainian president had demonstrated “a very comprehensive oversight of Ireland’s contributions, both in terms of even the €20 million humanitarian aid in terms of the peace facility, and also in terms of the humanitarian response”.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin