Blinken, Austin, Zelenskyy meet in the capital of Ukraine in secret

The United States announced new military aid to Ukraine and a renewed diplomatic advance in the war-torn nation as President Joe Biden’s Secretary of State and Pentagon chief made a secret trip to Kiev. Washington confirmed this only after they left Ukraine.

In the highest American visit to the capital since Russia invaded in late FebruaryForeign Minister Antony Blinken and Defense Minister Lloyd Austin told Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy and his advisers that the United States would provide more than $ 300 million in foreign military funding and had approved a $ 165 million ammunition sale.

They also said that Mr Biden would soon announce his candidacy to be ambassador to Ukraine and that US diplomats who left Ukraine before the war would begin returning to the country in the coming week. The US Embassy in Kiev will remain closed for the time being.

Zelenskyy had announced on Saturday that he would meet with U.S. officials in Kiev on Sunday, but the Biden administration declined to confirm and declined to discuss details of a possible visit, even though planning had been underway for more than a week.

Journalists traveling with Austin and Blinken to Poland were barred from reporting on the trip until it ended, were not allowed to accompany them on their land trip to Ukraine and were banned from stating where in south-eastern Poland they were waiting for the cabinet members were to return. State Department and Pentagon officials cited security concerns.

The British Ministry of Defense said on Monday that Ukrainian troops hitting a steelworks in the strategic port city of Mariupol tied up Russian forces and prevented them from being added to the offensive elsewhere in the Donbas.

The ministry added that Russia has so far made only “minor progress in some areas since it shifted its focus to fully occupying the Donbas” in eastern Ukraine.

On the diplomatic front, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was scheduled to travel to Turkey on Monday and then to Moscow and Kiev. Zelenskyy said it was a mistake for Guterres to visit Russia before Ukraine.

“Why? Handing over signals from Russia? What should we look for?” Zelenskyy said Saturday. “There are no corpses scattered on the Kutuzovsky prospectus,” he said, referring to one of Moscow’s main roads.

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Left-to-right: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin

In a boost in support for Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron comfortably won a second term on Sunday over far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, which had promised to dilute France’s relations with the EU and NATO. Le Pen had also spoken out against EU sanctions against Russian energy and had been investigated during the campaign over her former friendliness with the Kremlin.

Macron’s victory was hailed by France’s allies in the EU as a reassuring sign of stability and continued support for Ukraine. France has played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and supply weapons systems to Ukraine.

“We have a lot to do and the war in Ukraine reminds us that we are going through tragic times where France has to make its voice heard,” Macron said to a jubilant crowd in his victory speech.

Zelensky’s meeting with U.S. officials, his first face-to-face talks with a top U.S. official since a February 19 meeting in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris, took place as Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Orthodox Easter. In a speech from Kiev’s old St. Sophia Cathedral highlighted Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, its importance to a nation plagued by nearly two months of war.

“The great feast today gives us great hope and unshakable faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and therefore Ukraine will certainly win!” he said.

North of Ukraine on the Russian side of the border, a fire broke out early Monday in an oil depot, but no immediate cause for the fire was given in oil storage tanks.

NASA satellites tracking fires showed that something was burning at coordinates corresponding to a Rosneft plant about 110 kilometers (70 miles) north of the Ukrainian border. Moscow has previously blamed Ukraine for attacks on the Russian region of Bryansk, which borders Ukraine.

Since the Russians failed to conquer Kyiv, the Russians have aimed to gain full control of the Donbas, the eastern industrial heartland where Moscow-backed separatists controlled an area before the war.

For the Donbas offensive, Russia has gathered troops fighting around Kiev and in northern Ukraine again. The British Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian forces had repulsed several attacks in the past week and “inflicted significant costs on Russian forces.”

Austin and Blinken announced a total of $ 713 million in foreign military funding to Ukraine and 15 allies and partner countries; about $ 322 million is earmarked for Kiev. The rest will be shared between NATO members and other nations that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies since the war with Russia began, officials said.

Such funding is different from previous US military assistance to Ukraine. It is not a donation of shredded stocks in the U.S. Department of Defense, but rather cash that countries can use to buy supplies that they may need.

The new money, coupled with the sale of $ 165 million in non-US munitions compatible with Soviet-era weapons used by Ukrainians, brings the total amount of US military aid to Ukraine to $ 3.7 billion since the invasion, officials said.

Zelenskyy had urged Americans not to come empty-handed. U.S. officials said they believed the new aid would satisfy at least some of the Ukrainians’ urgent requests for more help. New artillery, including howitzers, continues to be delivered at a rapid pace to Ukraine’s military, which is being trained in its use in neighboring countries, officials said.

On the diplomatic front, Blinken Zelenskyy said that Mr Biden will announce his nomination of veteran diplomat Bridget Brink to become the next US ambassador to Ukraine. Brink is a career foreign service officer and has served since 2019 as Ambassador to Slovakia. She has previously served in Serbia, Cyprus, Georgia and Uzbekistan, as well as in the White House National Security Council. The postal requirements confirmed by the US Senate.

Blinken also told the Ukrainian Foreign Minister that the small staff of the now-closed US embassy in Kiev, who have moved to Poland from temporary offices in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, would start taking day trips to Lviv in the coming days. Officials said the United States had accelerated its review of security conditions in the capital and that the State Department would reopen the embassy there as soon as the situation allowed.

Sir. Biden has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of genocide for the destruction and death in Ukraine. Just on Thursday, Mr Biden said he would provide a new $ 800 million package of military aid to Ukraine that included heavy artillery and drones.

Congress approved $ 6.5 billion for military assistance last month as part of $ 13.6 billion in spending on Ukraine and allies in response to the Russian invasion.

From Poland, Blinken plans to return to Washington, while Austin travels to Ramstein, Germany, for a meeting Tuesday with NATO defense ministers and other donor countries.

This discussion will look at battlefield updates from the ground, additional security assistance to Ukraine and long-term defense needs in Europe, including how to increase military production to fill gaps caused by the war in Ukraine, officials said. More than 20 nations are expected to send representatives to the meeting.

Zelensky’s meeting with U.S. officials took place as Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Orthodox Easter. In a speech from Kiev’s old St. Sophia Cathedral highlighted Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, its importance to a nation plagued by nearly two months of war.

“The great feast today gives us great hope and unshakable faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and therefore Ukraine will certainly win!” he said.

Yet the war cast a shadow over the festivities. In the northern village of Ivanivka, where Russian tanks were still teeming with roads, Olena Koptyl said “the Easter holiday does not bring any joy. I cry a lot. We can not forget how we lived.”

Putin attended the Orthodox Easter service in Moscow on Sunday.

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