On Surprise Visit to Ukraine, Blinken Reassures Zelensky of U.S. Support

On Surprise Visit to Ukraine, Blinken Reassures Zelensky of U.S. Support

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev on Tuesday and assured him that American military aid was on the way at a “challenging time” for the country’s war effort against Russia.

The meeting was Mr. Blinken’s first since his arrival in Kiev that morning and was overshadowed by Russia’s military successes in the northeast of the country. In a lavish conference room in his presidential office on Bankova Street, Mr. Zelensky said Mr. Blinken had arrived at “a difficult time for the east of our country.”

The Ukrainian leader profusely thanked Mr. Blinken for the “crucial” $60.8 billion aid package for his country that President Biden signed last month after months of infighting among Republicans in Congress. But Mr. Zelensky quickly added that Ukraine was still in distress, citing Russian military advances around the northeastern city of Kharkiv in recent days. Russian forces captured another village, Lukiantsi, overnight and bombed the city of Kharkiv on Tuesday morning, wounding four people.

Mr Zelensky called air defense a “deficit for us” and said: “We really need them today, two Patriots for Kharkiv.” The Patriot is a US-made surface-to-air missile system.

Mr. Blinken did not respond specifically to that request, but told Mr. Zelensky that incoming American aid — some of which he said had already arrived — “would make a real difference on the battlefield.”

The unannounced visit was Mr. Blinken’s fourth visit to Ukraine’s capital since Russia’s all-out invasion in February 2022. Mr. Blinken, who arrived on an overnight train from Poland, plans to give a speech later on Tuesday praising the influx American aid and representations A senior US official said Russia’s failed attempt to take control of the country was a strategic success for Ukraine.

Mr. Blinken will also emphasize that Ukraine must continue to make progress on democratic governance and anti-corruption reforms if it wants to integrate with the West, the official said.

Mr Biden and Mr Blinken had warned for months that Congress’ delay in approving badly needed US weapons would leave the Ukrainian military vulnerable on an eastern front that has been deadlocked for months. The U.S. official declined to draw a direct link between the delayed aid and Russia’s gains near the city of Kharkiv. But the official said it was clear that the funding gap had weakened Ukraine, whose military was lacking ammunition and other critical equipment.

The official said Ukrainian forces had held their positions and exacted a heavy toll from the Russians and that they would likely make gains if U.S. aid flowed into the country.

Mr. Blinken and Mr. Zelensky have developed a personal relationship in recent years at numerous meetings in Europe and the United States. The foreign minister, who visited Kiev twice in the year before Russia’s full-scale invasion, is seen there as one of Washington’s leading advocates for strong Western support for Ukraine.

“I know you did a lot for this positive decision,” Mr. Zelensky said to Mr. Blinken about the new aid package that the secretary of state had vigorously pushed for.

“We have come a long way together over the last few years,” Mr. Blinken said before the men began the private portion of their meeting.

A second senior U.S. official declined to say whether Russia had been informed in advance of Mr. Blinken’s visit. Russian forces have frequently attacked Kiev with missiles and drones.

Mr. Blinken is the first senior Biden official to visit Ukraine since Congress passed the aid package. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Mr. Zelensky in Kiev in late March, before the package was passed.

At a Financial Times event this month, Mr. Sullivan said he expects some short-term gains from Russia but that new U.S. aid will allow Ukraine to “hold the line” and eventually begin retaking territory.

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting.

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2024-05-14 09:31:04