United States diplomats will begin a gradual return to Ukraine this week, Washington’s secretary of state and defence chief said Monday, as they announced $700 million in military aid during their first war-time visit to Kyiv.
The trip by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defencs Secretary Lloyd Austin — which the United States confirmed only after the two had left Ukrainian territory — came as the invasion enters its third month, with thousands dead and millions displaced.
Presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky met the US officials Sunday, as the port city of Mariupol’s defences were “on the brink of collapse” and Kyiv was in dire need of offensive weapons.
Washington ordered the withdrawal of its diplomats in the weeks prior to Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, but has been a leading donor of financial aid and weaponry to the country, and a key sponsor of sanctions targeting Moscow.
“Since the start of hostilities, we’ve had a team across the border in Poland who’s been handling this work for us,” the official told reporters waiting for Blinken and Austin on the Polish side of the border.
“Starting this week, members of that team will be able to do day trips instead into Ukraine,” he said.
“Ultimately, (they will) resume presence in Kyiv.”
The visiting envoys also pledged another $700 million in military aid to Ukraine, including some $300 million to allow the country to purchase necessary weapons.
The rest of the money will go to Ukraine’s regional allies who need to resupply after sending weapons to their neighbour.
The United States has sent some $4 billion in military aid since Biden’s term began last year, and already announced Thursday a new $800 million aid package to bolster Ukraine in their fight against Russian troops in the country’s east.
But it has been reluctant to intervene militarily, for fear of entering a conflict against nuclear-armed Russia, and officials Monday poured water over claims the visit represented a major escalation of US involvement in Ukraine.
“This visit does not portend actual involvement by US forces,” a senior defence official said.
“The president has been very clear there will be no US troops fighting in Ukraine and that includes the skies over Ukraine.”
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