The United States has promised to resume diplomatic operations in Ukraine, saying it wanted to see Russia “weakened” by its ongoing war after a sneaking trip to Kiev by Foreign Minister Antony Blinken and Defense Minister Lloyd Austin.
Blinken and Austin met Volodymyr Zelensky, the country’s president, in the Ukrainian capital on Sunday, and only revealed the visit after they left the country early Monday for security reasons.
They are the highest-ranking U.S. officials who have traveled to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion began in late February. The trip came after a number of senior European officials and heads of government made the same journey in recent weeks.
Blinken told officials in Kiev that the United States would resume its diplomatic presence in the country, beginning this week with day trips to the western city of Lviv and offering the country more than $ 322 million in new military funding.
“We will seek to get our diplomats back to our embassy in Kiev as soon as possible,” said a senior State Department official, according to a memo circulated to journalists.
As the war enters a new phase, Austin said Washington ultimately wants Russia not to be able to repeat its Ukrainian offensive in the future.
“We want to see Russia weakened to the point that it can not do the kind of thing it has done by invading Ukraine,” he said.
Austin said in a briefing in Poland that the meeting with Zelensky had been “very productive”.
Blinken said: “As for Russia’s war goals, Russia has already failed and Ukraine has already succeeded.”
The visit by Blinken and Austin came after the United States intensified its supply of heavy weapons to Ukraine to help it defend itself against Russia’s offensive. Moscow has shifted its focus to the eastern and southern parts of the country after failing in its original intention to quickly conquer significant Ukrainian cities and behead the government.
According to a senior defense official who briefed journalists, the United States is also offering more than $ 322 million to Ukraine in additional funding for its military operations, part of a broader aid package of more than $ 713 million destined for other Central and Eastern European countries, as well as the sale of former Soviet ammunition for $ 165 million, which the Ukrainians are used to using.
Austin also briefed Ukrainian officials on howitzer artillery units supplied by the United States to Kiev and on related training it conducted in an unidentified third country. The US Secretary of Defense will visit Ramstein in Germany on Tuesday to discuss the state of the war with several of his colleagues as well as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
In addition, US President Joe Biden is set to nominate Bridget Brink to be the next ambassador to Ukraine, a position that has been vacant throughout his administration. Brink is a career diplomat who is currently serving as US Ambassador to Slovakia.
Austin and Blinken traveled into Kiev by train from southeastern Poland, but officials traveling with them declined to name the city, citing security concerns.
Despite some speculation that Biden might visit Kiev, the White House had consistently ruled out such a trip. The senior defense official told reporters that “the president of the United States is something unique in terms of what travel would require. It goes far beyond what a cabinet secretary would require, or what virtually any other world leader would require.”
Austin and Blinken traveled by separate plane, leaving Washington on Saturday and making a stopover in eastern Poland en route. Zelensky said he expected their visit before the United States had revealed it, but a senior defense attorney suggested that this did not spoil the trip.
“This is his country,” the official said. “It did not change anything about our commitment to go there today and share what we have to say.”