Joe Biden has addressed the United States tonight -and the world- to promise that Vladimir Putin “will pay the price” for the invasion of Ukraine and defend the unity of the Democrats in the face of a crisis that he sees as a struggle between “tyranny and freedom”. The president has delivered his first State of the Union address, one of the summits of American politics, at a dark moment for Europe and the West, while the Russian Army attacks Kiev, civilians take up arms and the death toll climbs . The American leader has described the Russian leader as a “dictator” and has assured that he has made a “miscalculation” in believing that the allies would not close ranks.
“Putin’s war was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected diplomatic efforts. He believed that the West and NATO would not respond. He believed that he could divide us here, at home. Putin was wrong. We were prepared”, he highlighted.
In a fiery intervention, Biden has warned that he will go after Russian oligarchs. “We’re coming for you, we’ll take your yachts, your private jets, your luxury apartments,” he said defiantly. He has also announced the closure of US airspace to all Russian airlines, in line with what was decided by the allies, which will further strangle the country’s economy, and he has left this message for Putin: “He has no idea what comes”.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed the script of a State of the Union address that Biden intended to focus on national politics, on claiming economic achievements in addition to inflation and calling on Congress to take a step forward with pending reforms. Putin has changed, after all, the script of half the world, he has placed Europe in a war scenario that he did not expect in 2022, with tanks advancing through the streets, families sheltering in subway stations and skirmishes by land, sea and air. Memories of the Cold War spring up, comparisons with World War II.
“A Russian dictator, invading a foreign country, has costs throughout the world,” Biden said, although “in the battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are reaching their moment,” he added. Ukraine has drawn bipartisan applause on Capitol Hill, a rarity in this time of political friction in Washington. The Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, guest of honor and seated next to the first lady, Jill Biden, received a long standing ovation from the entire Chamber, where the flags and colors, yellow and blue, of the attacked country abounded .
Biden, post-war child and political witness to the decline of the USSR, is also an old acquaintance of Putin — “I don’t think you have a soul,” he told the Russian president, the first time he saw him, in 2011 —, the American vice president who lived through the taking of Crimea. Tonight, he has stressed the need for a strong hand against the head of the Kremlin. “Throughout history we have learned the lesson: when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos. They keep going and the costs and the threats to the United States and the world continue to grow”, he has warned.
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“That is why the NATO alliance was created to ensure peace and stability in Europe after World War II. The United States is a member along with 29 other nations. That matters. American diplomacy matters”, he continued, marking the distance from Donald Trump’s isolationist discourse, which more than a year after leaving the White House continues to agitate, showing even in the current crisis more sympathy for Putin than for the European allies. Biden has insisted, however, that US troops will not be deployed on Ukrainian soil.
No president of the United States has delivered this speech with the Old Continent so debated in its being or not being in 80 years. Tonight’s was, technically, Biden’s first State of the Union address, since his message to both Houses of Congress last year is not considered as such, since he had just arrived at the House White. It is one of the most pompous ceremonies in American politics, one of those in which the Washington bubble likes to recreate.
The leader speaks in the presence of the legislators, the judges of the Supreme Court, the chief of the General Staff, all the members of the Government except one, the so-called “designated survivor”, who becomes the head of State in case there is a massacre on Capitol Hill, a prudential measure dating back to World War II.
The companions of the first lady constitute one of the main messages: the Ukrainian ambassador; or Frances Haugen, the former Facebook employee who has denounced the bad practices of the technology giant.
Hardly any masks have been seen inside the Chamber, to which all the guests have attended after a covid test, and where hugs have been distributed in a shocking image of a return to normality after two years. Domestic problems, however, are still very present. Biden has been cited in Congress with popularity in the doldrums. If in his April 2021 speech, the percentage of approval was 53%, according to the average of polls prepared by FiveThirtyEighta benchmark platform, has now descended into 41% hell.
It is difficult to explain it in a country that grew 5.7% last year, the highest rate since 1984, and with an unemployment rate of 4%, but the rise in prices has already made a dent in the pockets of Americans. Inflation climbed to 7.5% last January, the highest in 40 years and, although it is a global trend, Republicans blame it largely on Biden’s stimulus plan, which they describe as excessive and causing the lack of workforce reported by some companies.
The president has put out his chest for the improvements and has defended himself tonight with this reasoning: “One way to fight inflation is to cut wages and impoverish Americans, but I have a better plan: lower your costs, not your wages . Make more cars and more semiconductors in the United States”, he has pointed out. Thus, he also resumed his speech in support of local industry and called for reducing dependence on “foreign supply chains.” “Let’s do it in America,” he stressed.
Biden has also influenced the battles that have the Congress open to the channel, such as the voting access law or the ambitious social program, both Democratic projects that have been bogged down by the Republican rejection and also by the opposition of two senators from his party , Joen Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. In a night of symbols, Manchin sat next to the Republicans, instead of the Democrats, to listen to the president.
Outside of Congress, military units of the National Guard guarded the area, in memory of the fact that the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 marked a before and after in the temple of American democracy. Tonight’s alarm had to do above all with a caravan of truckers heading to the capital in protest against the mandatory health measures due to the pandemic, inspired by that of Canada, also desirous of their own symbols.
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