As Ukraine war enters third month, US promises fresh military aid
Warsaw, Apr 25: The United States announced new military assistance for Ukraine and a renewed diplomatic push in the war-ravaged nation as President Joe Biden's secretary of state and Pentagon chief completed a secrecy-shrouded trip to Kyiv.
In the highest-level American visit to the capital since Russia invaded in late February, top envoy Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Ukraine's president, Volodomyr Zelenskyy, and his advisers that the U.S. would provide more than $300 million in foreign military financing and had approved a $165 million sale of ammunition. They also said 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 this coming week.
The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv will remain closed for the moment. Zelenskyy had announced Saturday that he would meet with the U.S. officials in Kyiv on Sunday, but the Biden administration refused to confirm that and declined to discuss details of a possible visit even though planning had been underway for more than a week.
Journalists who traveled with Austin and Blinken 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 $713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine and 15 allied and partner countries; some $322 million is earmarked for Kyiv. 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, officials said. Such financing is different from previous U.S. military assistance for Ukraine. It is not a donation of drawn-down U.S. Defense Department stockpiles, but rather cash that countries can use to purchase supplies that they might need.
The new money, along with the sale of $165 million in non-U.S. made ammunition that is compatible with Soviet-era weapons the Ukrainians use, brings the total amount of American military assistance to Ukraine to $3.7 billion since the invasion, officials said.
Zelenskyy had urged the Americans not to come empty-handed. U.S. 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 U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. A career foreign service officer, Brink has served since 2019 as 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 U.S. Senate. Blinken also told Ukraine's foreign minister that the small staff from the now-shuttered U.S. 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.
Officials said the U.S. had accelerated its review of security conditions in the capital and 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 $800 million in military aid to Ukraine that included heavy artillery and drones. Congress approved $6.5 billion for military assistance last month as part of $13.6 billion 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 Tuesday of NATO defense ministers and other donor countries. That discussion will look at battlefield updates from the ground, additional security assistance for Ukraine and longer-term defense 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 were Zelenskyy, Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Defense Minister Olexiy Reznikov, Ambassador Oskana Markarova, presidential administration head Andriy Yermak, chief of defense 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 Lt. Gen. Randy George and Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary Laura Cooper.