Blinken, Austin pledge new diplomatic, military support for Ukraine on secretive wartime visit to Kyiv

 Blinken, Austin pledge new diplomatic, military support for Ukraine on secretive wartime visit to Kyiv

The secretary of state and the Pentagon chief are the highest-ranking U.S. government officials known to have visited Ukraine since Russia invaded. 

ecretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin slipped into Ukraine on Sunday for an extraordinary wartime meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, bringing new promises of military and diplomatic support and defying grave concerns about whether it was safe to make the journey.

The trip, the highest-level American visit since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, was designed to show steadfast U.S. support for Ukraine and its defense as the war enters a new, worrying phase expected to be marked by a major Russian offensive in Ukraine’s south and east.

Speaking to reporters in Poland on Monday morning following the meeting, Blinken said that a coordinated effort between the United States and its Western allies to support Ukraine and pressure Russia “is having real results.”

“We’re seeing that when it comes to Russian war aims, Russia is failing. Ukraine is succeeding,” he said.

Blinken said he and Austin took the train from southwestern Poland to Kyiv and met with Zelenskyy and other senior Ukrainian officials for three hours at the presidential palace. Blinken said they did not meet with the public or tour parts of the country damaged by the war.

"We don’t know how the rest of this war will unfold, but we do know that a sovereign, independent Ukraine will be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene," he said. "And our support going forward for Ukraine will continue until we see final success."

The pair arrived in Poland on separate planes for a visit shrouded in secrecy. The U.S. government declined to confirm it happened until it was over and Blinken and Austin were safely out of the country — even after Zelenskyy announced the day before that they’d be coming. Zelenskyy's revelation during the Saturday news conference had caught Washington off-guard, prompting a last-minute scramble to determine whether it was still safe for them to go, U.S. officials said.

It’s typical for war zone trips by U.S. presidents and other high-level officials to be unannounced in advance, lest it make it easier for enemy forces operating in the country to target them. Blinken and Austin traveled to Poland with small contingents of journalists under U.S.-imposed ground rules requiring them not to report on the trip until it was finished. No U.S. journalists accompanied the secretaries on the journey from Poland to Ukraine.

In his comments ahead of their visit, Zelenskyy had publicly urged the U.S. secretaries not to show up empty-handed — and they didn’t.

Blinken came bearing news that the Biden administration will finally nominate an ambassador to Ukraine: Bridget Brink, currently the U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, who for weeks has been widely reported to be President Joe Biden’s likely pick. 

The U.S. has not had a Senate-confirmed ambassador to Ukraine since then-President Donald Trump fired Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch in 2019, and the vacancy had become a diplomatic black eye for the U.S. as the Ukraine war erupted into the top global crisis. Brink, who has deep experience in Eastern Europe, will face another Senate vote to be confirmed for the post in Ukraine.

While in Kyiv, Blinken also informed Zelenskyy that U.S. diplomats will return to Ukraine this week — possibly as early as Monday — for the first time since the U.S. evacuated its remaining diplomats in the country to Poland weeks ago, a senior State Department official said. At first, U.S. diplomats temporarily based in Poland will make day trips over the border to the Ukrainian city of Lviv and then to other parts of the country, the official said.

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