Biden calls for solidarity with Ukraine

President Biden pledged "we will not walk away" from the defense of Ukraine on the 80th anniversary of D-Day Thursday.

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June 6, 2024 - 2:44 PM

President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron attend a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of D-Day at the Normandy American Cemetery on June 6, 2024, in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Veterans, families, political leaders and military personnel are gathering in Normandy to commemorate D-Day, which paved the way for the Allied victory over Germany in World War II. Photo by GETTY IMAGES/WIN MCNAMEE/TNS

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France (AP) — President Joe Biden marked the 80th anniversary of D-Day on Thursday by pledging “we will not walk away” from the defense of Ukraine and allow Russia to threaten more of Europe.

“To surrender to bullies, to bow down to dictators, is simply unthinkable,” he said during a ceremony at the American cemetery in Normandy. “If we were to do that, it means we’d be forgetting what happened here on these hallowed beaches.”

D-Day was the largest amphibious assault in history, and Biden called it a “powerful illustration of how alliances, real alliances make us stronger.” He said that was “a lesson that I pray we Americans never forget.”

The comment by the Democratic president was a reminder that American commitments around the globe hang in the balance during this year’s U.S. election. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, has said he would not defend European allies that are “delinquent” in their own security spending.

The possibility of Trump’s return to the White House has left many of the continent’s leaders fearful that transatlantic unity, which was sealed in blood on D-Day and strengthened in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, could fray or even rupture.

Trump has expressed little enthusiasm for Ukraine’s defense, criticizing the “endless flow of American treasure” and calling for Europe to shoulder more of the burden. He also has voiced admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenkyy was in Normandy for anniversary events Thursday and is expected to meet with Biden in Paris on Friday. He hopes new deliveries of U.S. munitions after months of delay can help stem Russian advances on the battlefield.

The U.S. president has also eased limitations on how Ukraine can use American weapons, allowing for some strikes into Russia in order to defend Kharkiv, a city near the border between the two countries.

Putin reacted angrily, saying he is prepared to use nuclear weapons to protect Russian sovereignty and suggesting that he could provide Russian weapons to those willing to strike Western targets.

The war and persistent threats of escalation were an ominous backdrop to the D-Day ceremony, and Biden warned that “democracy is more at risk across the world than any point since the end of World War II.”

While paying tribute to the American troops that stormed Normandy’s beaches on June 6, 1944, Biden said “let us be worthy of their sacrifice.”

“We must remember that the fact that they were heroes here that day does not absolve us of what we have to do today,” he said. “Democracy is never guaranteed. Every generation must preserve it, defend it and fight for it. That’s the test of the ages.”

Before the ceremony, Biden and first lady Jill Biden met with more than two dozen American veterans near Omaha Beach, where the fiercest D-Day fighting took place. Those who could stand were helped out of wheelchairs to pose for photos. Most shook hands with Biden or saluted; one hugged him.

Biden told a veteran that “you saved the world.” The president led the audience in singing happy birthday to another. Steve Spielberg and Tom Hanks, the Hollywood heavyweights behind movies and television shows about World War II, were nearby.

When Army veteran Robert Gibson approached, the first lady clutched his arm to help him stand next to the president as they shook hands.

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