US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kyiv on Wednesday for his third trip to the Ukrainian capital since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, where he doubled down on US support for Kyiv’s counteroffensive, announcing more than a billion dollars of additional US aid and underscoring for an audience back home why the US needs to commit billions of dollars more to help defeat Vladmir Putin.
Blinken said the US is “determined to continue to walk side-by-side” with Ukraine when he met with President Volodymyr Zelensky, as he called the country’s progress in the counteroffensive “very, very encouraging.”
Zelensky said it is always a “great message of support” for Ukraine when US officials visit, noting that this is a “tough period” for his country.
The top US diplomat announced more than a billion dollars in additional funding for Kyiv’s war effort as the Biden administration braces for a political struggle to secure more money from Congress.
“In the ongoing counteroffensive, progress has accelerated in the past few weeks. This new assistance will help sustain it and build further momentum,” Blinken said at a press conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba.
The new package includes up to $175 million to replenish Ukrainian forces with weaponry that the US has given to the country in the past including: air defense system components, Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems for HIMARS, munitions, ammunition, and communications systems, according to a State Department fact sheet. These weapons will come from Pentagon stocks.
The military assistance includes depleted-uranium munitions for the first time.
The aid also contains $100 million for long-term military support, $90 million to assist demining efforts, $300 million to support law enforcement efforts, $200 million for transparency and anti-corruption efforts and $200 million for humanitarian assistance.
Blinken also said that the US will be transferring seized Russian assets to Ukraine for the first time. He did not say how much those assets amounted to, or precisely when the transfer would happen.
“Those who have enabled Putin’s war of aggression should pay for it,” Blinken said.
Blinken’s visit to Kyiv came less than a month after President Joe Biden asked for more than $24 billion to help Ukraine defeat Russia, as some polls show the American public’s support for continued funding is softening. This visit aimed to help the administration make the case for that continued support to the American people, a senior US State Department official said.
‘What happens here has profound repercussions’
“We’re standing with, standing up for Ukraine. But we’re also standing up for the very principles that are at the heart of the international system that are necessary to help us keep peace, stability and security around the world, ” Blinken said as he visited with US diplomats in the country. “And what happens here has profound repercussions quite literally, around the world.”
The trip came as Ukraine’s counteroffensive moves into its fourth month, with both political and military leaders in Kyiv talking up recent gains, especially in the south of the country, following growing concerns the concerted push on the battlefield has failed to produce results.
Speaking alongside Blinken, Zelensky expressed gratitude to Biden and to the US Congress for showing “great unity” in a bipartisan fashion on aid towards Ukraine.
His comments came as Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the case in Washington that it is “not the time to go wobbly” on support for Ukraine, while some of his colleagues in the House have voiced opposition to continued support for Ukraine.
Blinken’s first stop on Wednesday was at a military cemetery, where he laid a wreath in honor of Ukraine’s fallen soldiers.
Meeting with Kubela, Blinken said he was again “struck by the extraordinary bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian forces, Ukraine’s leadership.”
“We’ve seen good progress in the counteroffensive, which is very heartening. We want to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs not only to succeed in the counteroffensive, but it has what it needs for the long term, to make sure that it has a strong deterrent… so that in the future, aggressions like this don’t happen again,” Blinken added.
He added he wanted to work with partners to “build and rebuild a strong economy (and) a strong democracy” in Ukraine.
Blinken will remain in Ukraine on Thursday.
Aid package includes depleted uranium munitions
The aid package include depleted uranium munitions for the first time.
The munitions can be fired from the US-made Abrams tanks that are set to arrive in Ukraine this fall. The munitions can pierce armored plates like those found on tanks because they are made of a highly dense metal, a byproduct from fuel production for nuclear power plants. Depleted uranium rounds are nearly 70% denser than lead, which is the metal used in standard rounds of ammunition.
The UK Defense Ministry confirmed in March that it would be sending ammunition containing depleted uranium to Ukraine, which sparked a protest from Russia.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that depleted uranium is “considerably less radioactive than natural uranium.” The agency added that the “main conclusion” of studies done of the health of military personnel exposed to depleted uranium is that exposure could not be linked to any statistically significant increases in the personnel’s mortality rates.
The visit by Washington’s top diplomat was an opportunity for the United States and Ukraine to align ahead of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) later this month, the senior state department official told reporters traveling with Blinken.
“The Ukrainians have an important mission in New York to continue to explain – to their allies and partners around the world – what’s going on and their continued need for support. And it’s important for us to continue to lead that global effort to support them,” the official said.
“Having a chance to consult and align before we get to New York is very, very important.”
The official reiterated an argument for supporting Ukraine that Biden has made in the past, saying that it is about “dictators and autocrats not being able to bite off a piece of their neighbor and get to keep it live that way with impunity.”
While some US officials have been privately critical of Ukraine’s counteroffensive strategy, the official would not delve into specifics other than to say that now is the right time to “come and assess” how the counteroffensive is going.
Blinken arrived in Kyiv Wednesday morning after making an overnight journey by train from Poland, in common with almost all high-profile visitors to the war-torn city, including Biden.
In April 2022 Blinken made the trip with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, just a few weeks after Russian forces had withdrawn from areas immediately to the north of the Ukrainian capital. His second trip was in September last year as Ukraine’s first big counteroffensive was underway in the Kharkiv region.
According to the State Department, Blinken also briefly went into Ukraine in March 2022, when he met on the border with Foreign Minister Kuleba.