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BLINKEN, IN KYIV, PLEDGES TO SUPPORT UKRAINE ‘FOR AS LONG AS IT TAKES’

By John Hudson and Missy Ryan

September 8, 2022

The Washington Post

KYIV, Ukraine — Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged lasting U.S. support for Ukraine during a visit to Kyiv on Thursday, as the Biden administration seeks to help Ukraine’s military recapture territory now occupied by Russian invaders. Blinken, making his second visit to the Ukrainian capital since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion in February, huddled with President Volodymyr Zelensky in his heavily fortified headquarters for two hours following an overnight train trip from Poland.

Blinken said his visit, which was shrouded in secrecy until he arrived, was focused partly on a major new operation that Ukrainian leaders hope can dislodge Russian forces from occupied areas in the country’s east and south, and that U.S. officials believe would put Kyiv on a better footing for potential negotiations with Russia.  “We know this is a pivotal moment, more than six months into Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine, as your counteroffensive is now underway and proving effective,” Blinken said.

While the Ukrainians have made some gains, they are taking heavy losses, and soldiers say that despite huge foreign support, they desperately need more weapons and ammunition to prevail over the better-equipped Russians.

Blinken’s visit was designed to signal ongoing U.S. backing for the war, as the Biden administration pledged an additional $675 million in U.S. military supplies for Ukraine. The latest package includes more rockets and military vehicles, bringing the total in American security aid since President Biden took office to more than $15 billion.

The administration will also provide $1 billion in military financing for Ukraine, Blinken said, along with a similar amount for neighboring nations and countries elsewhere in Europe to strengthen their defenses.  “We will support the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Blinken said in a statement on the new aid package.

In Washington, Biden spoke about plans for supporting Ukraine in a videoconference Thursday with leaders from Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain and other nations. Also on the call was NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, with whom Blinken is expected to meet Friday in Brussels.

A senior State Department official, speaking to reporters ahead of Blinken’s visit, said the new assistance was designed to strengthen Ukraine’s hand “so that when we get to the day where we move to a negotiated settlement, Ukraine is in the strongest possible position.”

Many Ukrainians, however, are convinced that Putin will never be willing to negotiate and that he is prepared to destroy Ukraine rather than accept anything short of achieving his battlefield objectives, however he defines them.

And while U.S. officials hope that Ukraine will eventually be able to negotiate a favorable settlement with Russia, they acknowledged that neither side is ready to stop fighting at the moment, and that the current situation is especially unacceptable for Kyiv. “Right now the Ukrainians do not have a viable map from which to negotiate,” a second senior State Department official said. “Twenty percent of their territory has gone; something like 30 percent of their industrial and agricultural potential is gone.”

Officials said Thursday’s visit was also intended to set the stage for the “diplomatic Super Bowl” later this month at the U.N. General Assembly, where the Biden administration will attempt to hold together global support for Ukraine even as developing nations grapple with food insecurity and European countries gird for spiraling energy prices this winter.

European Union officials are due to meet Friday to consider emergency steps to address high energy prices as E.U. leaders accuse Russia of exploiting its position as the continent’s major gas supplier.  “The transatlantic community is making sacrifices; the Global South is feeling the brunt,” the second official said. “We need to keep reminding everybody that if we don’t stay the course on this, the whole architecture that supports a free, prosperous, open world is even more contested than it was.”

Putin, meanwhile, shot back in a defiant address on Wednesday, blasting far-reaching Western sanctions on Russia and threatening to end all energy supplies to his critics as Group of Seven nations seek to implement a planned cap on oil prices. Russia has used its veto power on the U.N. Security Council to block action on Ukraine.

After talks with Zelensky and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Kyiv, Blinken visited the nearby city of Irpin, which was devastated by Russian shelling in the early weeks of the war.

As Blinken and his small retinue of aides toured the city, where buildings remain blackened by shelling and strewn with debris months after the Russian assault, Deputy Mayor Dmytro Nehresha said about three-quarters of residents had returned following the retreat of Russian forces, which occupied the city for nearly a month.

Across Ukraine, investigators are compiling information about alleged war crimes and Blinken called for accountability for Russian actions in Irpin and elsewhere.  “I was able to bear witness to horrific attacks on houses, on buildings clearly belonging to civilians, where the shelling the missiles, the bullets, it’s all there,” Blinken said. “And at best, it’s indiscriminate. At worst, it’s intentional.”

Thursday’s announcement of military assistance did not include new types of weaponry for Kyiv, but it will help address what Ukraine’s soldiers have described as a shortage in munitions needed to wage their new counteroffensive

Wounded infantrymen who took part in the recent campaign have said Russia’s comparatively larger supply of mortar shells, rockets and heavy artillery makes pushing them out of occupied territories extremely difficult.

Asked about Ukrainian soldiers’ complaints, Blinken said it was something that U.S. officials were working continuously to address. “The Russians are in many of these instances throwing everything they have at Ukrainian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians,” he said. “And if you’re on the receiving end of that, it’s got to be incredibly horrifying.”

Blinken’s visit occurred as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin presided over a multinational meeting of defense chiefs in support of Ukraine at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Participants included Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov. “Ukraine is fighting for its life. It’s fighting for its sovereign territory, and its democracy, and its freedom,” Austin told reporters after the meeting. “But the stakes reach far beyond the front lines. They reach us all.”

Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also attended the meeting in Germany, said Ukraine’s counteroffensive was making steady progress in its early stages. Milley said that despite gains on each side, Ukraine had illustrated not just better battlefield tactics but a “superior will to fight.” He said Ukrainian forces were using foreign weapons effectively, striking more than 400 targets using U.S.-produced High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS launchers. “The nature of war is often unpredictable,” Milley said. “But we are committed, shoulder-to-shoulder with Ukraine, to ensuring they remain a free, independent and sovereign country.”

Although Blinken was making his second visit to Kyiv in recent months, it is unclear whether Biden will join a growing group of global leaders to visit war-torn Ukraine. Zelensky has welcomed not just world leaders but a string of Hollywood actors and other celebrities to his capital to demonstrate their opposition to Russia’s invasion. Ukrainian officials have made clear they would also very much welcome a visit by Biden, but U.S. officials have said such a stop would entail too many security risks. First lady Jill Biden visited Ukraine in May. As Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson made two visits to Kyiv. Blinken also met with diplomats posted at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and visited patients at a children’s hospital, including a 6-year-old girl who lost a leg in a Russian rocket attack that struck her home in the city of Kherson.

 

Ryan reported from Rzeszow, Poland. Dan Lamothe in Washington contributed to this report.

John Hudson is a national security reporter at The Washington Post covering the State Department and diplomacy. He has reported from a mix of countries including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. 

Missy Ryan writes about diplomacy, national security and the State Department for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2014 to write about the Pentagon and military issues. She has reported from Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mexico, Peru, Argentina and Chile.