Blinken and Austin sneak into the Ukrainian capital to meet Zelenskyy

Near the Polish-Ukrainian border – After secret visit to Kyiv, US Secretary of State Blinken says Russia is failing in its war aims and “Ukraine is succeeding”. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s trip was the highest-level US visit to the Ukrainian capital since Russia invaded in late February.

Senior Washington officials have told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his advisers that the United States will provide more than $300 million in foreign military funding and has already approved a $165 million ammunition sale.

“We had the opportunity to directly demonstrate our continued strong support for the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people. We believe this was an important time to be there to have face-to-face conversations in detail,” said Blinken to reporters on Monday. near the Polish-Ukrainian border, after returning from kyiv.

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Image provided by the Pentagon showing US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy April 24, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Department of Defense via AP


Austin said Zelenskyy’s response to help was a deep appreciation for what was given, but “he has the mindset that they want to win and we have the mindset that we want them to win. help win”. The US defense chief said victory, from the US perspective, would include seeing Russia “weakened” militarily.

In a video of the meeting later released by Zelenskyy’s office, Blinken praised the Ukrainian leader for “the extraordinary courage and leadership and success you had in repelling this horrible Russian aggression.”

“We’ve gotten used to seeing you on video around the world, but it’s great, it’s good to see you in person,” Blinken says with a smile.

Blinken also said US diplomats returning to Ukraine would likely replace the consulate in Lviv, western Ukraine, before returning to the capital. They previously said diplomats would start returning this week. The United States Embassy in Kyiv will remain closed for the time being.

Austin said at the press conference that “the world was inspired” by Ukraine during the war and that America would continue its support.

“What you did to repel the Russians in the battle for kyiv is extraordinary,” he said.

Zelenskyy had announced on Saturday that he would meet with US officials in Kyiv on Sunday, but the Biden administration declined to confirm this and declined to discuss details of a possible visit even though planning had been underway for more than a week. .

The reporters who traveled with Austin and Blinken to Poland were not allowed to report on the trip until its conclusion, were not allowed to accompany them on their overland journey to Ukraine, and were not allowed to specify where in southeastern Poland they waited for the American cabinet members. return. State Department and Pentagon officials cited security concerns.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speak with reporters in Poland, near the Ukrainian border, April 25, 2022, after returning from their secret trip to kyiv, Ukraine, and their meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Alex Brandon/AP


The British Ministry of Defense said on Monday that Ukrainian troops holed up in a steelworks in the strategic port city of Mariupol were pinning down Russian forces and preventing them from being added to the offensive elsewhere in Donbass.

The ministry added that, so far, Russia has made only “minor progress in some areas since focusing on fully occupying Donbass”, the eastern industrial heartland where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some territories before the war.

With Russia’s shift in focus, Austin said Ukraine’s military needs were changing and Zelenskyy was now focusing on more tanks, artillery and other ammunition.

“The nature of the fight has evolved because the terrain they’re focusing on now is a different type of terrain, so they need long-range shots,” Austin said.

Asked what the United States considers a success, Austin said that “we want to see Ukraine remain a sovereign country, a democratic country capable of protecting its sovereign territory. We want to see Russia weakened to the point where it does not can’t do things like invade Ukraine.”

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US Ambassador Bridget Brink

US State Department/Document


On the diplomatic front, Blinken alerted Zelenskyy to Mr. Biden’s announcement Monday morning of his appointment of veteran diplomat Bridget Brink as the next U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

A career foreign service officer, Brink has been ambassador to Slovakia since 2019. She previously held assignments in Serbia, Cyprus, Georgia and Uzbekistan as well as on the White House National Security Council. The position must be confirmed by the United States Senate.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was due to visit Turkey on Monday, then Moscow and kyiv.

Zelenskyy said it was a mistake for Guterres to travel to Russia before Ukraine. ” Why ? To transmit signals from Russia? What should we be looking for? Zelenskyy said on Saturday. “There are no corpses scattered on Kutuzovsky Prospekt,” he said, referring to one of Moscow’s main avenues.

In a show of support for Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron comfortably won a second term on Sunday, beating far-right challenger Marine Le Pen who pledged to dilute France’s ties with the European Union and NATO. Le Pen had also spoken out against EU sanctions on Russian energy and had come under scrutiny during the campaign because of her previous friendship with the Kremlin.

In northern Ukraine, on the Russian side of the border, a fire broke out early Monday at an oil depot, but no immediate cause was given for the oil storage tanks burning.

Austin and Blinken announced a total of $713 million in foreign military funding for Ukraine and 15 allies and partners; some $322 million is earmarked for Kyiv. The rest will be split among NATO members and other countries that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies since the war with Russia began, officials said.

Such funding is different from previous US military assistance to Ukraine. This is not a donation of depleted stocks from the US Department of Defense, but rather money that countries can use to purchase supplies they may need.

The new funds, along with the sale of $165 million in non-U.S.-made ammunition compatible with Soviet-era weapons used by Ukrainians, bring the total amount of U.S. military aid to Ukraine to $3.7 billion since the invasion, officials said.

Zelenskyy had urged Americans not to come empty-handed. U.S. officials said they believe the new aid will satisfy at least some of Ukrainians’ urgent pleas for more help. New artillery pieces, including howitzers, continue to be delivered at a rapid pace to the Ukrainian military, which is being trained in its use in neighboring countries, officials said.

Mr Biden has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of genocide for the destruction and death inflicted on Ukraine. On Thursday, Mr Biden said he would provide a new $800 million military aid package to Ukraine, including heavy artillery and drones.

Congress last month approved $6.5 billion in military aid as part of $13.6 billion in spending for Ukraine and its allies in response to the Russian invasion.

From Poland, Blinken left to return to Washington while Austin headed to Ramstein, Germany, for a Tuesday meeting of defense ministers from NATO and other donor nations.

Zelenskyy’s meeting with US officials came as Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Orthodox Easter. Speaking from the old Saint Sophia Cathedral in kyiv, Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, stressed his importance to a nation ravaged by nearly two months of war.

“Today’s big holiday gives us great hope and unshakable faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and thus Ukraine will surely win!” he said.

But the war cast a shadow over the celebrations. In the northern village of Ivanivka, where Russian tanks still litter the roads, resident Olena Koptyl said that “the Easter holiday does not bring any joy. I cry a lot. We cannot forget how we have lived”.

Putin attended the Orthodox Easter service in Moscow on Sunday.

Christi C. Elwood