Biden Warns Naval Academy Grads of 'Brutal' Russia and an Uncertain World

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President Joe Biden at the Naval Academy graduation.
President Joe Biden meets with graduates during the U.S. Naval Academy's graduation and commissioning ceremony at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., Friday, May 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

President Joe Biden called out Russia's "brutal" war in Ukraine and warned Naval Academy graduates that the world is at a turning point during his commencement address in Annapolis, Maryland, on Friday.

The president delivered the address to more than 1,000 graduating midshipmen following commencement speeches at the Air Force Academy earlier this week by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and at West Point last Saturday by Gen. Mark Milley, the Joint Chiefs chairman, who said that a "hard rain's gonna fall" on global peace and stability in the coming years.

Biden also warned of a hard road ahead for naval officers and specifically called out Russian President Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine. The U.S. has given about $4 billion in weapons and aid to the Ukrainians since the invasion began, but the president has pledged American troops will not fight in that country.

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"Not only is he trying to take over Ukraine, he is really trying to wipe out the culture and identity of the Ukrainian people -- attacking schools, nurseries, hospitals, museums, with no other purpose than to eliminate a culture," Biden said, raising his voice. "That's what you're graduating into ... a world that, more than ever, requires strong, principled, engaged American leadership."

The class is "graduating at an inflection point, not only in American history, but in world history," Biden told the sailors.

"To state the obvious, no generation's graduates get to pick what world they're gonna graduate into -- it's already been formed for you -- but you must change it," he said.

Although no U.S. troops are deployed to Ukraine, the Russian invasion has prompted deployments to neighboring countries, as well as the positioning of more than 20 Navy ships, including the aircraft carrier USS Truman and its strike group, to the Mediterranean Sea.

Since then, Navy and Marine leaders have regularly talked about how the conflict has shaped their thinking on tactics and fighting in a future war.

"Take a look at the 125 [battalion tactical groups] that Vladimir Putin has positioned around Ukraine. That's not the force that any of us want," Adm. Mike Gilday, the military head of the Navy, told military officers and industry representatives at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition outside Washington, D.C., in early April.

Meanwhile, Gen. David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, said that the conflict helped validate some of the changes he's making in reshaping the service for the future.

The Marine Corps' top general in May pointed to the strike against and eventual sinking of the Russian cruiser Moskva as a good example of where he sees the future of his branch.

"This is the direction the Marine Corps is going as a part of what the nation needs us to do in sea control and sea denial," he said. "It does serve as an example of the vulnerability of ships, writ large, to missiles."

The Ukrainians have claimed that they struck the ship with two Neptune missiles and caused "serious damage." Russian state media said that the ship later sank while under tow in a storm.

Looking even more broadly, Biden charged the graduates with protecting democracy and the world order centered around freedom that America helped establish. To make his point, he recalled a conversation he had with Chinese President Xi Jinping shortly after his election win.

"He said to me, as he said many times before, democracies cannot be sustained in the 21st century," Biden said of his Chinese counterpart, before adding that Xi argued autocracies will prevail.

"He's wrong," the president said.

-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at konstantin.toropin@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.

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