Why did Nancy Pelosi go to Kyiv?

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi showed up in Kyiv this weekend in a “secret, surprise” visit to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. She was joined by several members of Congress, including Adam Schiff. Zelensky was quick to welcome the delegation and thank the United States for being his greatest supporter during the Russian invasion. There were plenty of photo ops and speeches, though nothing much of substance appeared to come out of the meeting, aside from assurances that America would continue to send funds and supplies to the Ukrainian forces. Pelosi did take the opportunity to call Vladimir Putin a “bully” and insisted that Ukraine “cannot fold” to him. The obvious question amid all of this activity is why we’re sending high-ranking members of our government into a war zone. (NY Post)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in a secret visit to the war torn country’s capitol city, footage released Sunday shows.

Zelensky shared the footage showing him joined by an armed escort coming to meet Pelosi at the steps of a building in Kyiv as Ukrainian forces continue to resist bombardment from invading Russian forces.

“Nice to meet you, thank you for coming,” Zelensky tells Pelosi in English.

It’s worth pointing out that Russia hit Kyiv with missiles only 48 hours earlier. Russia also claimed to have struck supplies of western arms that were on the road to the south of the city at the same time that Pelosi was meeting with Zelensky.

The Speaker of the House is second in the line of succession to the presidency. I understand that everyone wants their chance to get a picture of themselves with “the new Elvis” in Ukraine because it’s now politically fashionable to do so and it puts their face in the middle of the biggest story currently dominating the news cycle. But as we’ve mentioned here before, Russia has been quite indiscriminate with its missile strikes, hitting everything from nursing homes and apartment buildings to grain silos. They may not be exactly sure where Zelensky is holed up at any given moment, but that doesn’t mean they might not get lucky. What would have happened if a cruise missile took out our delegation last night? That sounds like the opening volley in World War 3 to me.

At the other end of the political scale, while Pelosi may have felt that this was an advantageous move to make, she probably wasn’t doing any favors for her boss. Everyone, including Zelensky, was clearly too polite to bring it up, but the elephant in the room was pretty obvious. If we can risk sending Nancy Pelosi to Kyiv, where’s Joe Biden? It’s obvious that any important business that foreign leaders might need to discuss with Zelensky could have been handled via a video conference, so this sort of trip is purely for political impact. But many leaders have already been taking these risky trips.

Just in the past few weeks, we saw European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen traveling to Kyiv to meet with Zelensky, along with the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic. Boris Johnson famously went there and toured the streets of Kyiv with Zelensky while the fighting was still close enough to hear shelling going on in the background. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier scheduled a visit this month but canceled the trip in a bizarre twist when he was told he was not welcome to come.

Some observers obviously must be wondering why Biden isn’t putting his own neck on the line to go visit the embattled Ukrainian capital, particularly now that the majority of the fighting has moved well to the east. Is he afraid to go? Are his handlers concerned that he’ll have a “senior moment” in the middle of what would clearly be a closely watched official visit? Then there’s the obvious concern that if an errant Russian missile actually did take out the presidential delegation we’d be stuck with Kamala Harris.

Honestly, it doesn’t seem like there’s any good reason to send either Pelosi or Biden to Kyiv at this point. Plenty of other nations have sent their Foreign Ministers or similar high-ranking officials to see Zelensky in place of their leaders. We already sent the Secretaries of State and Defense to visit him and Blinken is fourth in the presidential succession order. (Lloyd Austin is sixth.) That should probably have been good enough.