The United States’ top diplomat and top defender arrived in Kiev on Sunday, a Ukrainian official said, following other world leaders who have visited the war-torn capital during two months of war to signal their support for Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III met with President Volodymyr Zelensky and became the first senior U.S. officials known to have visited Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24. The visit was confirmed by Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to Mr Zelensky, in an interview with a Russian lawyer and activist on YouTube.
“They are in Kiev right now and talking to the president,” he said. Arestovich. “Maybe something will be decided on how they can help.”
The Biden administration has supported Ukraine with aid and weapons and has helped lead an international sanctions campaign against Russia. But it had been under growing pressure to send a high-level official to Kiev after recent visits there by several European officials, including the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson, who took to the streets with Mr Zelensky, and the Prime Ministers of Spain and Denmark. .
U.S. officials did not announce the visit, but Mr Zelensky revealed it in a speech Saturday, saying he would use the meeting to discuss “the military assistance we need.” The Pentagon and the State Department did not immediately comment.
Mr. Blinken was the last senior U.S. official to visit Ukraine when he stopped there in mid-January. The United States closed its embassy in Kiev on February 14, and its diplomats soon left the country.
Russia’s invasion began 10 days later, and as it attempted to capture the capital in an initial offensive, parts of Kiev were hit by shelling, and Ukrainian and Russian forces fought in the streets of Kiev’s suburbs. But Russia’s withdrawal from the area around Kiev seems to have made the city far less dangerous than it was a few weeks ago, and Western leaders have taken the opportunity to demonstrate solidarity with Mr Zelensky.
In March, just weeks after Russia’s invasion, the prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia traveled to Kiev on a mission kept secret. Over the following weeks, they were followed by leaders from the United Kingdom, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Estonia, Spain and Denmark. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, visited both Kiev and Bucha, where journalists and investigators have found evidence of atrocities in the wake of Russia’s withdrawal.
In March, Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Poland, where she expressed US support for Ukraine and US allies in NATO and the EU. Sir. Blinken went as far as the Polish border with Ukraine and met with Ukrainian diplomats at a crossing used by hundreds of refugees within an hour.
President Biden also visited a city near the border on a state visit to Poland on March 25, but did not cross into Ukraine. He met with refugees and gave a speech in Warsaw the next day.
Previous visits by senior US officials to other war zones, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, were typically not announced until after the official had arrived in the country – and sometimes not until after they had left.
Security concerns and disputed airspace have still required leaders to make long journeys to reach Kiev. The British government said Mr Johnson, whose visit in early April was unannounced, used several modes of transport, including a train from eastern Poland.
The White House had ruled out sending Mr Biden, not only on the grounds of risk, but Mr Biden’s enormous security demands. Senior government officials such as Mr Blinken and Mr Austin travel with less entourage.
The U.S. visit follows Mr Biden’s announcement Thursday of an additional $ 800 million in military aid, including equipment designed to help Ukraine avert Russia’s offensive in the east.