Apr 19, 2022 - World

Embassies return to Kyiv following Russian retreat

Western diplomacy in Kyiv
Data: Axios research; Note: Poland's embassy never closed and Kyiv rejected the offer of a visit by German leadership; Table: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Less than two months after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a steady stream of Western diplomats are returning to Kyiv to reopen embassies and facilitate in-person visits by their national leaders.

Why it matters: Russia's retreat from Kyiv has alleviated the immediate threat to Ukraine's capital. As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pleads for more military aid amid a decisive second phase of the war, he's encouraged Western leaders to visit Kyiv and witness firsthand the devastation Russian forces have left.

Driving the news: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson used a call on Tuesday to brief G7, NATO and EU leaders on his surprise visit to Kyiv this month, according to a Downing Street spokesperson.

  • Johnson's tour of the capital's streets on April 10 produced a powerful photo op with Zelensky. It was accompanied by a British pledge to send armored vehicles and anti-ship missiles ahead of a major Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine.
  • Two days earlier, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, where Russian forces massacred hundreds of civilians.
  • She later met with Zelensky to offer a fast-track to EU membership.

The big picture: The leaders of Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia have also visited Kyiv in recent weeks.

  • Spain's prime minister pledged Tuesday to travel to the Ukrainian capital "in the coming days," after announcing plans to reopen Spain's embassy.
  • In a dramatic snub that ignited a controversy in Berlin, Zelensky rejected German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier's request to visit Kyiv this month over his past policies favoring rapprochement with Russia.

Zoom in: President Biden expressed disappointment during his March trip to Poland at being unable to travel to Ukraine due to security reasons. He indicated last week the administration was weighing sending a senior official.

  • Zelensky said during an interview with CNN broadcast Sunday that he believes Biden should and eventually will visit Kyiv because "he is the leader of the United States."
  • However, recent Russian missile strikes in the western city of Lviv — a key transit hub just 40 miles from the Polish border — may have changed the risk-calculus inside the administration.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday there are "no plans" for Biden to go and stressed the administration would not preemptively announce details of a potential trip for security reasons.
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