© Reuters. PHOTO PHOTO: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal (not pictured) attend a meeting of the State Department, in the midst of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in Washington, USA, April 22, 2022. Susan Walsh / Pool via REUTERS
SOUTH EAST POLAND (Reuters) – Washington’s top diplomat and defense minister both visited Kyiv on Sunday, using the first official US visit to Ukraine since Russia invaded two months ago to announce a gradual return of US diplomats to the country and the nomination of a new ambassador, officials said.
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken and Defense Minister Lloyd Austin traveled to Poland on Saturday and then overland into Ukraine on Sunday, where they met with President Volodomyr Zelenskiy and other top Ukrainian officials, said a senior Foreign Ministry official who declined to discuss their travel or security arrangements in detail.
The visit was designed to show Western support for Ukraine, and Cabinet secretaries also promised new aid worth $ 713 million to Zelensky’s government and countries in the region where Russia’s invasion has raised fears of further aggression from Moscow.
It also highlighted the shift in conflict since Ukrainian forces, armed with a massive influx of weapons from the West, successfully repulsed a Russian attack on Kiev.
Russian forces have regrouped to try to capture more territory in the southeastern Donbas region and allow foreign leaders to visit the capital and some Western nations to resume their diplomatic presence in recent weeks, but Washington has been wary of returning amid sporadic Russian missile attack in the west. .
Officials rejected requests from the media to accompany the secretaries to Ukraine, citing security concerns. Officials briefed journalists in Poland on condition that the trip was not reported until the delegation was safely out of Ukraine.
Austin will travel on to Germany, where he will host colleagues from more than 20 nations and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the US Air Base in Ramstein to discuss Ukraine’s defense needs, a Pentagon official said.
Zelenskiy himself announced the trip during a news conference on Saturday, which U.S. officials said was a contingency they had planned and did not derail the visit.
Blinken and Austin were expected to have met for about 90 minutes with Zelenskiy, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and other officials.
US diplomats left the Kyiv embassy almost two weeks before the invasion on February 24 and moved some functions to the western city of Lviv before eventually moving to Poland.
Diplomats will initially resume “day trips” across the border to Lviv next week, and officials are accelerating plans to return to the Kyiv mission, the Foreign Ministry official said.
“There is no substitute for that face-to-face engagement, and there is, of course, a symbolism in being back in the country,” said the official, who briefed journalists in Poland on condition of anonymity.
The official also said that on Monday, President Joe Biden will formally nominate Bridget Brink, currently the US ambassador to Slovakia, as the US ambassador to Ukraine, a position that had been vacant for more than two years.
BATTLE FOR DONBAS
Blinken and Austin informed Zelenskiy of more than $ 322 million in new foreign military funding for Ukraine, bringing the total US security assistance to Ukraine since the invasion to about $ 3.7 billion, the official said.
“It will provide support for the capabilities Ukraine needs, especially the fight in the Donbas,” the official said. “This assistance will also assist Ukraine’s armed forces with the transition to more advanced weapons and air defense systems, essentially NATO-compatible systems.”
Nearly $ 400 million in new foreign military funding will also go to 15 other nations in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, the official said.
More than 50 Ukrainians were due to complete training on Monday to operate heavy artillery from Howitzer, which Washington has begun sending to Ukraine in recent weeks to reflect the fact that fighting is now focused in the flatter, more open Donbas region, the Pentagon said. spokesman John Kirby (NYSE 🙂 told reporters in Poland.
Prior to the visit, Blinken spoke on Friday with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to coordinate the UN chief’s visits to Moscow and Kiev, the official said.