(WASHINGTON) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken related the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine during an unannounced visit to the country on Wednesday, his fourth trip to the country since Russia’s invasion, the State Department confirmed.
“We are determined in the United States to continue to walk side-by-side with you,” Blinken said as he sat opposite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Wednesday in the capital of Kyiv. “President Biden asked me to come to reaffirm strongly our support.”
During a press conference with Kuleba Wednesday evening local time, Blinken confirmed previous reports that the United States would commit over $1 billion in new aid to Ukraine. Blinken ticked through the itemized list of expenditures, highlighting what he called “significant support for Ukraine’s air defenses,” as well as funding to restore order in liberated areas.
The aid package includes an additional drawdown of up to $175 million from Defense Department stocks, $100 million in Foreign Military Financing, $90.5 million in humanitarian demining assistance, $300 million to support law enforcement, $206 million in humanitarian assistance, $5.4 million in forfeited oligarch assets, and $203 million for support to transparency and accountability of institutions, Blinken said.
Blinken shared relatively little about the U.S. assessment of Ukraine’s ongoing counteroffensive but did say “progress has accelerated in the last few weeks.”
“This new assistance will help sustain it and build further momentum,” he continued.
Asked what he observed that gave him cause for optimism, Blinken was vague.
“President Zelenskyy just returned from the frontline, so I was able to hear directly from him his assessment of the counter offensive and I think it very much matches our own, which is as I said, real progress in recent weeks,” he responded.
Earlier Wednesday, Blinken saw the human cost of the war, tweeting out photos visiting Berkovetske cemetery in Kyiv with Kuleba to “pay [his] respect to some of Ukraine’s fallen soldiers.”
Blinken expressed admiration for Ukrainian soldiers during his conversation with Zelensky, saying he was “so struck by the courage and strength, the resilience of Ukrainian soldiers.”
Ahead of the visit, the State Department said Blinken’s trip would underscore U.S. support for Ukraine.
“Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrived in Ukraine today to meet with senior Ukrainian officials and demonstrate the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and democracy, especially in the face of Russia’s aggression,” State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller said in a statement.
“The Secretary will address Ukraine’s energy, security, and humanitarian needs, and make announcements about how the United States can continue supporting Ukraine in these areas,” he continued.
Due to ongoing security concerns created by the active conflict, Blinken’s travel plans were kept private until after he arrived in Ukraine.
The secretary’s delegation departed the Washington area late Monday night, touching down in Poland on Tuesday before journeying through the night by train and reaching Kyiv Wednesday morning local time.
The secretary plans to stay in Ukraine for a second day, during which may visit cultural landmarks, but plans are fluid.
State Department officials say Blinken’s visit is meant to showcase Ukraine’s resiliency and perseverance, demonstrating how daily life vibrantly continues amid the bleakness of war.
The secretary’s visit comes as the Biden administration is waiting to see whether Congress will greenlight its request for an additional $24 billion in supplement aid for Ukraine.
Although House Speaker Kevin McCarthy previously promised his Republican-controlled chamber wouldn’t hand over a “blank check” to Ukraine, the last spending bill that contained significant aid to Ukraine passed with broad bipartisan support.
But now, for the first time since the war started, senior administration officials are privately expressing concern that support from Capitol Hill may be wavering.
Blinken’s agenda shines a spotlight on Ukraine’s recovery efforts and the administration’s overarching goal in Ukraine — moving the country towards the West and eventual membership in the European Union — rather than on the difficult realities of a conflict that many now describe as a war of attrition.
One official said the visit was a chance to “make the case” for additional funding to the American visit, as well as to ensure assistance was “maximally effective for the moment.”
The secretary’s trip also coincides with Ukraine’s highly-anticipated counteroffensive, which has resulted in modest gains compared to the country’s offensive last fall.
Earlier this week, Zelenskyy visited frontline areas to tout his military’s successes, but American officials have been reticent to ascribe any kind of qualitative assessment to the counteroffensive — encouraging observers to instead look at the big picture regarding the conflict instead of any one push.
“I think it’s really important for us to step back and look strategically at the war. So although this is the current counteroffensive, what I would say in the big picture is that Ukraine has done in my view extraordinarily well, fighting off a much bigger, better equipped adversary since the beginning of the invasion,” one senior State Department official said recently.
An official traveling with Blinken said this visit to Ukraine would provide the U.S. the opportunity to “get a real assessment from the Ukrainians themselves” regarding the counteroffensive.
“It’s always important to come at a time when we are engaged together in a new push,” they said. “Now’s a good time to come and assess.”
The official also said the visit would allow the U.S. and Ukraine to align ahead of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly later this month,
Blinken previously visited Ukraine in April 2022, when he traveled to Kyiv with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and in September 2022, when he again stopped in Kyiv for meetings and toured Irpin in the Bucha district.
He also stepped over the border into the country with Kuleba during the earliest days of the conflict, March 2022.
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