U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Ukraine on a previously unannounced trip to show Washington’s continuing support for Kyiv, six months after Russia invaded the country.
Blinken Thursday announced $2.6 billion in assistance for Ukraine and 18 other countries in the region “most potentially at risk for future Russian aggression.”
“It’s such a consequential moment for Ukraine” as the country recently marked its Independence Day and as the Ukrainians people are now “focused on the counteroffensive” against Russia’s military aggression, a senior State Department official said.
Blinken’s trip to Kyiv also comes ahead of the annual U.N. General Assembly, where world leaders are set to gather for what U.S. officials said is an occasion to reaffirm the principles in the U.N. Charter about sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“We are focused on helping ensure that Ukraine prevails in this war and we’re providing the security assistance so that when we get to the day where we move to a negotiated settlement, Ukraine is in the strongest possible position,” the senior official said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also announced Thursday that the United States plans to provide Ukraine with new security assistance of up to $675 million in value, two weeks after Washington pledged $3 billion in security aid packages to Kyiv.
The additional security package will include more Howitzers, High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems or HIMARS, high-speed anti-radiation missiles, grenade launchers, medical armored vehicles, and night vision devices, among other equipment.
That would bring the U.S. military assistance for Ukraine to approximately $15.2 billion since the beginning of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.
Austin said the war in Ukraine “is at another key moment” as Ukrainian forces mount a counteroffensive in the country’s south, and that “now we’re seeing the demonstrable success of our common efforts on the battlefield.”
He also said the contact group will work together to train Ukrainian forces and meet Ukraine’s defense needs “for the long haul.”
“We must evolve as the fight evolves,” Austin said.
On Wednesday, the commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Valeriy Zaluzhny, said publicly for the first time that Ukraine had carried out missile strikes that hit Russian military bases in annexed Crimea, according to Agence France-Presse.
The United States has been providing defense items to Ukraine via Presidential Drawdown Authority (PDA), by which the president can authorize the immediate transfer of excess weapons from U.S. stocks.
On August 24, Ukraine’s Independence Day, the Biden administration announced approximately $3 billion in security assistance under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), which is its largest-ever security aid package for Ukraine since the war began.
Blinken was last in Kyiv with Austin on April 24. During that trip, the plan for U.S. diplomats to return to Ukraine was announced. In March, Blinken met with Kuleba at the Poland-Ukraine border.
While in Kyiv, Blinken visited a children’s hospital where he met with children being treated there, including some injured by Russian bombardments.
Since February 24, an average of five children have been killed or injured in Ukraine every day, according to a humanitarian aid organization “Save the Children” that cited verified United Nations data.
As Ukraine continues to focus on what’s described as a “counteroffensive” against Russia, U.S. officials indicated diplomatic talks between the two countries do not appear to be a top priority for Ukraine.
“Right now, the Ukrainians do not have a viable map from which to negotiate. Twenty percent of their territory has gone, something like 30% of their industrial and agricultural potential is gone. That’s why they’re launching this counter offensive,” another senior State Department official said.
The Ukrainian military has started a counterattack across the Kherson region since late August seeking to regain control of the territory from Russian forces.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.