Blinken, Austin and Zelensky meet in secret in the Ukrainian capital

NEAR THE POLISH-UKRAINIAN BORDER – After secret visit to Kyiv, US Secretary of State Blinken says Russia is failing in its war aims and “Ukraine is succeeding”.

Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s trip was the highest-level US visit to the Ukrainian capital since Russia invaded in late February.

They 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.

“We had the opportunity to directly demonstrate our continued strong support for the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people. We believe this was an important time to be there to have face-to-face conversations in detail,” said Blinken to reporters on Monday. near the Polish-Ukrainian border.

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Image provided by the Pentagon showing US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, left, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy April 24, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Department of Defense via AP

Austin said Zelenskyy’s response to help was a deep appreciation for what was given, but “he has the mindset that they want to win and we have the mindset that we want them to win. help win”.

In footage of the meeting later released by Zelenskyy’s office, Blinken praised “the extraordinary courage and leadership and success you have had in repelling this horrible Russian aggression.”

“We’ve gotten used to seeing you on video around the world, but it’s awesome, it’s good to see you in person,” Blinken said with a smile.

Blinken also said US diplomats returning to Ukraine would likely replace the consulate in Lviv, western Ukraine, before returning to the capital. They previously said diplomats would start returning this week. The United States Embassy in Kyiv will remain closed for the time being.

Austin said at the press conference that “the world has been inspired” by Ukraine in the war and that America will continue its support. “What you did to repel the Russians in the battle for kyiv is extraordinary,” he said.

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

The reporters who traveled with Austin and Blinken to Poland were not allowed to report on the trip until its conclusion, were not allowed to accompany them on their overland journey to Ukraine, and were not allowed to specify where in southeastern Poland they waited for the Cabinet members to return. . State Department and Pentagon officials cited security concerns.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speak with reporters in Poland, near the Ukrainian border, April 25, 2022, after returning from their secret trip to kyiv, Ukraine, and their meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Alex Brandon/AP

The British Ministry of Defense said on Monday that Ukrainian troops holed up in a steelworks in the strategic port city of Mariupol were pinning down Russian forces and preventing them from being added to the offensive elsewhere in Donbass.

The ministry added that, so far, Russia has made only “minor progress in some areas since focusing on fully occupying Donbass”, the industrial heartland of the east, where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some territory before the war.

On the diplomatic front, Blinken told Zelenskyy that Mr. Biden would announce the appointment of veteran diplomat Bridget Brink as the next US ambassador to Ukraine. A career foreign service officer, Brink has been ambassador to Slovakia since 2019. She previously held positions in Serbia, Cyprus, Georgia and Uzbekistan as well as on the White House National Security Council. Confirmation of job requirements by the US Senate.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres was due to travel to Turkey on Monday, then to Moscow and kyiv.

Zelenskyy said it was a mistake for Guterres to travel to Russia before Ukraine. ” Why ? To transmit signals from Russia? What should we be looking for? Zelenskyy said on Saturday. “There are no corpses scattered on Kutuzovsky Prospekt,” he said, referring to one of Moscow’s main avenues.

In a show of support for Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron comfortably won a second term on Sunday against far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, who pledged to dilute France’s ties with the European Union and NATO. Le Pen had also spoken out against EU sanctions on Russian energy and had come under scrutiny during the campaign due to his previous friendship with the Kremlin.

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

Austin and Blinken announced a total of $713 million in foreign military funding for Ukraine and 15 allies and partners; some $322 million is earmarked for Kyiv. The rest will be split among NATO members and other countries 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. This is not a donation of depleted stocks from the US Department of Defense, but rather money that countries can use to purchase supplies they may need.

The new funds, along with the sale of $165 million in non-U.S.-made ammunition compatible with Soviet-era weapons used by Ukrainians, bring the total amount of U.S. 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 believe the new aid will satisfy at least some of Ukrainians’ urgent pleas for more help. New artillery pieces, including howitzers, continue to be delivered at a rapid pace to the Ukrainian military, which is being trained in its use in neighboring countries, officials said.

Mr Biden has accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of genocide for the destruction and death inflicted on Ukraine. As recently as Thursday, Mr Biden said he would provide a new $800 million military aid package to Ukraine, including heavy artillery and drones.

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

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

Zelenskyy’s meeting with US officials came as Ukrainians and Russians celebrated Orthodox Easter. Speaking from the old Saint Sophia Cathedral in kyiv, Zelenskyy, who is Jewish, stressed his importance to a nation ravaged by nearly two months of war.

“Today’s big holiday gives us great hope and unshakable faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death, and thus Ukraine will surely win!” he said.

Yet the war cast a shadow over the celebrations. In the northern village of Ivanivka, where Russian tanks still littered the roads, Olena Koptyl said “Easter holidays bring no joy. I cry a lot. We can’t forget how we lived “.

Putin attended the Orthodox Easter service in Moscow on Sunday.

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