US Secretary of Defense Austin visits Kiev and announces more military aid

KYIV (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced $100 million in new military aid to Ukraine during an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Monday, pledging long-term U.S. support amid growing concerns about the sustainability of vital U.S. aid.

Austin announced the aid package after a day of meetings with Ukrainian officials, and the latest batch includes weapons such as anti-tank weapons, air defense interceptor missiles and an additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).

Austin, accompanied by the most senior American general in Europe, was photographed smiling and shaking hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. This was Austin’s first visit to Kiev since April 2022.

“The message I have for you today, Mr. President, is that the United States of America is with you. We will be with you for the long term,” Austin told Zelensky after an overnight train ride to Ukraine from Poland.

Zelensky told Austin that his visit was a “very important signal” to Ukraine.

“We are counting on your support,” Zelensky told Austin.

The United States has provided more than $44 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022.

“I think they are ready to fight in the winter,” Austin told reporters after his meetings.

“They did a great job last year,” Austin added. “This year we expect them, based on what President Zelensky has said, to be more aggressive.”

The trip comes amid growing division over aid to Ukraine in the US Congress, with the US presidential election approaching in November 2024. Some US lawmakers are prioritizing aid to Israel even as US defense officials stress that Washington can support both allies simultaneously.

In a statement on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken implored lawmakers to approve more aid.

“It is important that Congress take action to support Ukraine by approving the President’s request for additional funding,” Blinken said.

“Helping Ukraine defend itself… helps prevent a larger conflict in the region and deters any future aggression, which makes us all safer,” he added.

Some senior Ukrainian officials have privately expressed concern that military aid deliveries may become less frequent, reflecting broader unease about the levels of support needed to continue the war against Russia. Ukraine’s budget for next year has a deficit of more than $40 billion, which must be closed.

Spending bill to stop the gap

President Joe Biden asked Congress to approve more funds for Ukraine last month. Its omission from the stop-gap spending bill passed by lawmakers last week raised concerns that funding for Ukraine may never be allocated, especially after the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a bill that includes aid to Israel but not Ukraine.

A bloc of Republicans opposes sending more aid to Ukraine. Opponents of the aid say American taxpayer money should be spent at home, but a majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress still support aid to Zelensky’s government.

The joint Ukrainian-American military industry conference in Washington, scheduled for December 6-7, aims to boost domestic arms production in Ukraine as the war approaches its second year.

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Russia now controls nearly a fifth of Ukraine. The West sent military equipment and Ukraine launched a counterattack this year to reclaim the occupied territories, but it did not achieve significant progress.

(Reporting by Max Hunder and Tom Balmforth in Kiev and Phil Stewart and Idris Ali in Washington – Preparing by Mohammed for the Arab Bulletin) Editing by Will Dunham, Bernadette Baum, Alex Richardson and Cynthia Osterman

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