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Blinken arrives in Kyiv to reassure Ukraine of US support | CNN

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv on Tuesday, marking the first visit of a Biden administration official to Ukraine following the long-delayed passage of US supplemental funding to the war-torn country, the State Department announced.

The top US diplomat was meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and is due to deliver a speech later Tuesday to highlight the US’ continued support for Ukraine across the board, including militarily, economically, in the energy space, and on democratic institution building, according to a senior US official.

The visit comes as Russia continues its new push into northeastern Ukraine after making several major advances there over the past week – marking Moscow’s most significant gains since Kyiv’s forces recaptured Kharkiv in late summer 2022.

Blinken’s trip also comes weeks after US President Joe Biden signed a $95 billion foreign aid package that includes nearly $61 billion for Ukraine following a successful six-month campaign by the White House to build support in a House GOP conference increasingly resistant to sending more money overseas.

Before he met Zelensky, Blinken said US weapons had started arriving in Ukraine, and more were on the way to help it succeed on the battlefield with Russia.

“We know this is a challenging time,” Blinken said. “But we also know that in the near term, the assistance is now on the way. Some of it already arrived, and more of it will be arriving, and that’s going to make a real difference against the Russian aggression on the battlefield.”

He also praised the “extraordinary courage of the Ukrainian people” and said that “we are equally determined that Ukraine stands strongly on its own feet, militarily, economically, democratically, a strong, successful, thriving, free Ukraine is the best possible rebuke to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”

Amid Ukrainian setbacks on the battlefield, Blinken intends to send a “strong signal of reassurance to the Ukrainians,” the US official said.

“The secretary’s mission here is really to talk about how our supplemental assistance is going to be executed in a fashion that helps shore up their defenses, enable them to increasingly take back the initiative on the battlefield looking forward,” the US official said.

Zelensky will urge Blinken to provide more military support to the Ukrainian military, including additional air defense support. “We want to get it as soon as possible, and the second point is air defense, the biggest deficit for us. I think the biggest problem is that we really need today two patriots for the Kharkiv region, because there are people – they are under attack, civilians, warriors, everybody – they are under Russian missiles,” he told reporters.

During his fourth visit to Ukraine since the 2022 Russian invasion, Blinken was also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba as well as with civil society and private sector partners.

They will “discuss battlefield updates, the impact of new US security and economic assistance, long-term security and other commitments, and ongoing work to bolster Ukraine’s economic recovery,” according to a State Department statement.

Russia staging ground offensive in northeastern Ukraine

Just days before Blinken’s arrival, Ukraine’s top general said the situation in the northeastern Kharkiv region has “significantly worsened” after Russia claimed to have captured four more villages as it expanded its surprise cross-border offensive.

US officials acknowledge that the slowdown in US support, due to congressional infighting, has exacerbated a challenging situation for Ukraine.

“There is no doubt there has been a cost,” Blinken said over the weekend on CBS. “We’re doing everything we can to rush this assistance out there,” he said. “But it’s a challenging moment.”

Some of the supplemental support is already on the front lines, the official said. Specifically the US has started to flow in ATACMS missile systems “particularly with an eye towards Russia’s activities right now in Kharkiv,” the official added.

“It’s a tough fight. There is no question. But we have a lot of confidence that the Ukrainians will increasingly be effective in pushing the Russians back as our assistance flows in both from the United States and other allies and partners,” the official said.

Officials have told CNN there will be a lag time between the approval of the billions earmarked for Ukraine in the aid bill and the arrival of the majority of the assistance that will make a significant difference on the front lines.

Those officials said Western intelligence believes Russia is seeking to exploit that gap in delivery time to further step-up air and ground attacks on Ukraine in what it sees as a “window of opportunity.”

State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told a news briefing Monday the US anticipates Russia will “press forward” in Kharkiv, and that while Russia may “make further advances in the coming weeks,” the US does not “anticipate any major breakthroughs.”

“Over time, the additional influx of US assistance and continued support from partners will enable Ukraine to continue to withstand this kind of aggression,” Patel said.

US officials have looked to find ways to quickly provide vital military supplies to Ukraine from the aid package, utilizing the presidential drawdown authority (PDA), which pulls equipment from existing US stocks.

Just moments after Biden signed the aid bill last month, the US announced a $1 billion PDA package, with the president saying at the time that shipments of the equipment to Ukraine would begin “in the next few hours.”

And on Friday, the US announced another PDA package worth $400 million and a $30 million sale of HIMARS, a rocket launcher that Kyiv’s military has used to great effect against Russian forces.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday that the administration would announce a third PDA package in the coming days, “to really accelerate the tempo of the deliveries.”

“The delay put Ukraine in a hole and we’re trying to help them to get out of that hole as rapidly as possible,” Sullivan said.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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