Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address naturally focussed on the pressing domestic issues of a divided United States, but not before catching the attention of the world on a matter of international security and urgency.
The president’s speech was not the one he originally intended to give, but was instead frantically rewritten after Vladimir Putin ordered a military invasion of Ukraine.
To wide applause, the US president began his choreographed event speaking not just to the American people but to the global community.
It was one government speaking to all others.
Attracting his first standing ovation of the address, Biden spoke of “an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny,” and by doing so he ensured the invasion of Ukraine was front and centre not just of his speech but also in the minds of his worldwide audience.
“Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world, thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated,” the president 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 introduced Ukraine’s ambassador to the US, Oksana Markarova, who was in attendance as guest of honour of first lady Jill Biden, and promised the US and the free world stood with Ukraine.
Many in the audience held a Ukrainian flag or dressed in its blue and yellow. The first lady herself had an embroidered sunflower, Ukraine’s national flower, sewn onto the sleeve of her dress.
“Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world, thinking he could bend it to his menacing ways, but he badly miscalculated,” the president said.
“He thought he could divide us at home in this chamber and this nation. He thought he could divide us in Europe too.
“But Putin was wrong.”
Biden outlined a range of sanctions America was imposing against Russia, stressing that they would massively hurt the Russian economy.
And he detailed unfolding plans to seize the assets of corrupt Russian oligarchs.
“We are joining with our European allies to find and seize your yachts, your luxury apartments, your private jets. We are coming for your ill-begotten gains,” he said.
American airspace has been closed to all Russian flights at the order of the president.
“He has no idea what’s coming,” Biden said.
But he made it clear that while US forces were preparing to defend NATO territory, there would be no military intervention in Ukraine – a fact Putin smuggly knows only too well.
“Throughout our history we’ve learned this lesson: when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression they cause more chaos. They keep moving,” Biden stated.
He described the invasion as “premeditated and unprovoked” and added that Putin was now more isolated than he has ever been.
Putin alone was to blame for the attack on Ukraine, Biden said, and the world was holding him accountable.
“I want you to know, we’re going to be ok. When the history of this era is written, Putin’s war in Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger,” Biden said.
After his unifying remarks about Ukraine, the president then turned to more divisive domestic issues and his State of the Union became largely reminiscent of the many that have gone before.
But he ended where he began.
“Go get him,” he said.