Blinken, Austin promise Ukraine more aid, return of US diplomats

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have met Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv, and announced additional military assistance and the gradual return of American diplomats to the war-ravaged nation.

In the highest-level US visit to the capital since Russia invaded in late February, Blinken and Austin told Zelenskyy and his advisers on Sunday that Washington would provide more than $300m in military financing and had approved a $165m sale of ammunition.

They also said US President Joe Biden would soon announce his nominee to be ambassador to Ukraine and that American diplomats who left Ukraine before the war would start returning to the country in the coming week, although the US embassy in Kyiv will remain closed for the moment.

At a press conference in Poland after the meeting, Austin said of Zelenskyy: “He has the mindset that they want to win, and we have the mindset that we want to help them win.”

“We believe that they can win if they have the right equipment,” he added, “the right support, and we’re going to do everything we can … to ensure that gets to them.”

For his part, Blinken said the meeting was an “opportunity to demonstrate directly our strong ongoing support for the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people”.

“This was, in our judgment, an important moment to be there, to have face-to-face conversations in detail,” he said.

Zelenskyy had announced Blinken and Austin’s visit on Saturday, but the Biden administration refused to confirm that and declined to discuss details of a possible visit even though planning had been under way for more than a week.

Journalists who travelled with the US officials to Poland were barred from reporting on the trip until it was over, were not allowed to accompany them on their overland journey into Ukraine, and were prohibited from specifying where in southeast Poland they waited for the cabinet members to return.

Officials at the State Department and the Pentagon cited security concerns.

Austin and Blinken announced a total of $713m in military financing for Ukraine and 15 allied and partner countries. Of that figure, some $322m is earmarked for Kyiv.

“It will provide support for capabilities Ukraine needs, especially the fight in the Donbas,” said a State Department official who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity before the meeting was announced publicly. “This assistance will also help Ukraine’s armed forces transition to more advanced weapons and air defence systems, essentially NATO capable systems.”

The remainder will be split among NATO members and other nations that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies since the war with Russia began, the officials said.

Such financing is different from previous US military assistance for Ukraine. It is not a donation of drawn-down Defense Department stockpiles, but rather cash that countries can use to buy supplies that they might need.

“The strategy that we’ve put in place, massive support for Ukraine, massive pressure against Russia, solidarity with more than 30 countries engaged in these efforts, is having real results,” Blinken said.

“When it comes to Russia’s war aims, Russia is failing. Ukraine is succeeding. Russia has sought as its principal aim to totally subjugate Ukraine, to take away its sovereignty, to take away its independence. That has failed,” Blinken said.

Day trips to Lviv

The new money, along with the sale of $165m in non-US made ammunition that is compatible with Soviet-era weapons the Ukrainians use, brings the total amount of US military assistance to Ukraine to $3.7bn since the invasion, officials said.

Zelenskyy had urged Blinken and Austin not to come empty-handed.

US officials said they believed the new assistance would satisfy at least some of the Ukrainians’ urgent pleas for more help.

New artillery, including howitzers, continues to be delivered at a rapid pace to Ukraine’s military, which is being trained on its use in neighbouring countries, the officials said.

On the diplomatic front, Blinken told Zelenskyy that Biden will announce his nomination of veteran diplomat Bridget Brink to be the next US ambassador to Ukraine.

A career foreign service officer, Brink has served since 2019 as the ambassador to Slovakia.

She previously held assignments in Serbia, Cyprus, Georgia and Uzbekistan as well as with the White House National Security Council. The post requires confirmation by the US Senate.

Blinken also told Ukraine’s foreign minister that the small staff from the now-shuttered US embassy in Kyiv, which has relocated to Poland from temporary offices in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, would begin making “day trips” to Lviv in the coming days.

“There’s no substitute for that face-to-face engagement, and of course there is a symbolism to being back in the country,” said the State Department official.

The US has also accelerated its review of security conditions in the capital, the officials said, adding that the State Department will reopen the embassy there as soon as the situation allows.

Biden has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of genocide for the destruction and death wrought on Ukraine. Just on Thursday, Biden said he would provide a new package of $800m in military aid to Ukraine that included heavy artillery and drones. The US Congress approved $6.5bn for military assistance last month as part of $13.6bn in spending for Ukraine and allies in response to the Russian invasion.

From Poland, Blinken plans to return to Washington while Austin will head to Ramstein, Germany, for a meeting on Tuesday of NATO defence ministers and other donor countries.

That discussion will look at battlefield updates from the ground, additional security assistance for Ukraine and longer-term defence needs in Europe, including how to step up military production to fill gaps caused by the war in Ukraine, officials said.

More than 20 nations are expected to send representatives to the meeting.

The Ukrainian officials participating in Sunday’s meeting in Kyiv were Zelenskyy, Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Defence Minister Olexiy Reznikov, Ambassador Oskana Markarova, presidential administration head Andriy Yermak, chief of defence Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and Andrii Sybiya of Zelenskyy’s office.

Representing the United States in addition to Blinken and Austin were State Department deputy chief of staff Tom Sullivan, senior military assistant Lieutenant General Randy George and deputy assistant defence secretary, Laura Cooper.

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