Sunday, December 10

Russia failing in its war aims, says top US diplomat on visit to Kyiv | Ukraine

Russia is failing in its war aims and “Ukraine is succeeding”, Washington’s top diplomat has announced after a visit to Kyiv during which he pledged additional military aid, including advanced weapons, and a return of US envoys.

The trip by the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and the defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, was the highest-level American visit to the capital since Russia invaded in late February.

During talks, Blinken and Austin told Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the US would provide more than $300m in military financing and had approved a $165m sale of ammunition, bringing total US security assistance since the invasion to about $3.7bn. More than $400m will also be split among 15 other nations in central and eastern Europe and the Balkans.

Lloyd Austin and Antony Blinken at their meeting with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in Kyiv. Photograph: AP

“Ukrainians are standing up. They’re standing strong,” Blinken told reporters on Monday near the Polish-Ukrainian border. “And they’re doing that with the support that we have coordinated from literally around the world. The strategy that we’ve put in place, massive support for Ukraine, massive pressure against Russia, solidarity with more than 30 countries engaged in these efforts, is having real results. And we’re seeing that when it comes to Russia’s war aims, Russia is failing, Ukraine is succeeding.”

Austin said Zelenskiy had “the mindset that they want to win and we have the mindset that we want to help them win”.

A US official said the additional aid would help Ukraine with the fight in the Donbas in the south-east – the focus of Russian forces.

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This assistance will also help Ukraine’s armed forces transition to more advanced weapons and air defense systems, essentially Nato-capable systems,” the official said. Previous assistance, it is not a donation of US military stockpiles, but rather cash that countries can use to purchase what they might need.

Blinken also said US diplomats returning to Ukraine would probably restaff the consulate in Lviv in western Ukraine before returning to the capital, Kyiv. They previously said the diplomats would start returning this week. The US embassy in Kyiv will remain closed for the moment.

The official also said Joe Biden would on Monday formally nominate Bridget Brink as US ambassador to Ukraine, a post that had remained vacant for more than two years. Brink, a career foreign service officer, has been US ambassador to Slovakia since 2019 and has previously held assignments in Serbia, Cyprus, Georgia and Uzbekistan as well as with the White House national security council. The post requires confirmation by the US Senate.

Zelenskiy had urged the Americans not to come empty-handed when he announced on Saturday that he would meet US officials in Kyiv on Sunday.

In other developments:

  • Russian officials have confirmed that oil tanks at a depot in the city of Bryansk, about 110km (70 miles) from the border with Ukraine, have caught fire. It is not clear what caused the fire, videos of which posted on social media showed huge flames and plumes of smoke against the night sky. Nasa satellites that track fires show a burning fire at coordinates that correspond to a Rosneft facility.

  • Russia is planning a “staged referendum” in the southern city of Kherson aimed at justifying its occupation, the UK’s Ministry of Defense has said in its latest intelligence report. “The city is key to Russia’s objective of establishing a land bridge to Crimea and dominating southern Ukraine,” the MoD said.

  • The OSCE, the world’s largest security body, has said it is “extremely concerned” after several of its Ukrainian members were believed to have been arrested in pro-Russian separatist territories in the country’s east.

Russian forces have regrouped to try to capture more territory in the south-eastern Donbas region, letting foreign leaders visit the capital and some western nations summarize their diplomatic presence in the west of the country in recent weeks, but Washington has been cautious about a return amid sporadic Russian missile attacks in Lviv and the capital.

Secretary of state Antony Blinken boards a plane for departure, at Joint Base Andrews, in Maryland, US, April 23, 2022
US secretary of state Antony Blinken held talks in Kyiv with Volodymyr Zelenskiy amid tight security. Photo: Reuters

Austin will next travel to Germany, where he will host counterparts from more than 20 nations and the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, at the US airbase at Ramstein to discuss Ukraine’s defense needs, a Pentagon official said. Topics for discussion will include battlefield updates, additional security assistance for Ukraine and longer-term defense needs in Europe, including how to step up military production to fill gaps caused by the war in Ukraine, officials said.

More than 50 Ukrainians were set to complete training on Monday to operate Howitzer heavy artillery that Washington has begun sending to Ukraine in recent weeks to reflect that fighting is now focused in the flatter, more open Donbas region, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said.

Despite Zelenskiy’s announcement of a visit on Saturday, the Biden administration refused to confirm it and declined to discuss details of a possible visit even though planning had been under way for more than a week.

Journalists who traveled with Austin and Blinken to Poland were barred from reporting on the trip until it was over, were not allowed to accompany them on their overland journey into Ukraine, and were prohibited from specifying where in south-east Poland they waited for their return . Officials at the state department and the Pentagon cited security concerns.

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