Russian aircraft barred from US airspace
Addressing a distraught United States and an uneasy world, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that the United States will ban all Russian flights from its airspace in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He added that the United States is working to confiscate yachts and apartments from Russian oligarchs.
Delivering his first State of the Union address, he warned he would closely monitor Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, bring runaway inflation in the US under control and deal with a waning but still dangerous coronavirus pandemic.
Biden declared that, regardless of their political differences, he and all members of Congress were united “in an unshakable determination that freedom will always triumph over tyranny.” He asked the legislators present in the House of Representatives to stand up and applaud the Ukrainians. So they did.
It was a remarkable display of unity after a long year of divisions between Biden’s Democratic coalition and the Republican opposition.
The 62 minutes of Biden’s speech, which was divided between attention to the armed conflict abroad and concerns at home, reflected the same balancing act he faces in his presidency. He must be at the forefront of the allied response to Russian aggression while on the domestic front he deals with inflation, fatigue left by the COVID-19 pandemic and a sharp drop in his popularity ratings in the middle of a midterm election year.
Biden highlighted the courage of Ukrainian defenders and the commitment of a reinvigorated Western alliance that has taken steps to resupply the Ukrainian military and cripple the Russian economy through sanctions. He warned that the US economy would also pay a cost, but he was adamant that if Putin did not face consequences, the Russian president’s aggression would not be limited to Ukraine.
“Throughout our history we have learned this lesson: When dictators don’t pay the price for their aggression, they cause more chaos,” Biden said. “They continue to move forward and the costs and threats to the United States and to the world continue to mount.”
As Biden delivered his speech, Russian troops intensified their offensive in Ukraine, having shelled the main square of the country’s second largest city and the central television tower in Kiev, leaving at least five dead. The Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial was also damaged.
Biden said the United States would join Canada and the European Union in banning Russian aircraft from their airspace in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine. He also reported that the Justice Department will create a task force to go after crimes committed by Russian oligarchs, whom he referred to as “corrupt leaders who have billed billions of dollars from this corrupt regime.”
“We’re going after your ill-gotten gains,” he said, promising that the United States and its European allies will go after his yachts, luxury apartments and private planes.
“Putin may surround Kiev with tanks, but he will never win the hearts and souls of the Ukrainian people,” Biden said. “It will never quench his love for freedom. He will never weaken the resolve of the free world.”
Even before the Russian invasion sent fuel costs soaring, the prices paid by American families had already increased. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to harm the people and economy of the United States.
Biden detailed his plans to tackle inflation by reinvesting in American manufacturing capacity, speeding up supply chains and reducing the financial burden on workers for child and nursing home care.
“There are too many families that are having trouble paying their bills,” Biden said. “Inflation is taking away the profits that they would have otherwise. I understand. That is why my top priority is to get prices under control.”
Biden entered the plenary session of the lower house without wearing a mask, a reflection of the decline in the number of coronavirus infections and new federal guidelines, whose objectives are to bring the population back to normal. However, the Capitol building was surrounded by new fencing after security concerns arose after last year’s deadly riot.
The White House had intended Tuesday’s speech as an opportunity to highlight the favorable outlook for the coronavirus, relaunch Biden’s domestic policies and lay out a plan to cut costs for families dealing with runaway inflation, but the The event took on new meaning after last week’s Russian invasion of Ukraine and Putin’s nuclear threats.
As usual, a Cabinet Secretary, in this case Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, remained in a secret location during the speech, ready to assume the reins of government in the event of a catastrophe.