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US top diplomat Blinken makes surprise visit to Kyiv

September 6, 2023

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's surprise trip to Kyiv coincided with a new aid package for Ukraine. Blinken's visit comes on the same day as a lethal Russian missile strike in the Donetsk region.

Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba greets US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Kyiv
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken's visit to Ukraine is expected to last two days, making it the first overnight stay since Russia's invasionImage: Brendan Smialowski/REUTERS

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday made an unannounced visit to Kyiv, where he was expected to stay overnight, coinciding with an announcement of a new military and humanitarian aid package worth over $1 billion (approximately €932 million).

The package includes security assistance to Kyiv worth up to $175 million, the Pentagon announced.

It also includes $100 million in foreign military financing, $90.5 million for demining assistance, $300 million to support law enforcement in areas recaptured from Russia, $206 million in humanitarian aid, and $203 million for reform efforts and the investigation of war crimes.

In a post on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, Blinken said: "Returned to Kyiv today to meet with our Ukrainian partners to discuss their ongoing counteroffensive, future assistance and reconstruction efforts, and above all, to reinforce the unwavering U.S. commitment to Ukraine." 

Blinken meets Ukraine's top three

Washington's top diplomat met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, and was also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal for talks on the current counteroffensive and efforts to rebuild the country.

During the meeting with Zelenskyy, Blinken vowed that Washington would continue to walk "side by side" with Ukraine.

The secretary of state hailed what he described as "very encouraging" progress in Ukraine's counteroffensive against Russia, which Kyiv launched earlier this summer.

"We see the important progress that's being made now in the counteroffensive and that's very, very encouraging," Blinken said. 

The United States has invested more than $43.8 billion in security assistance for Ukraine, including more than $43.1 billion since Russia’s full-scale invasion, according to State Department figures.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told Blinken that Washington's support was "not charity," saying: "Today, thanks to our partners, Ukraine is restraining Russia's aggression."

Blinken previously visited Ukraine in April 2022  — together with Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin — and September 2022

Before Wednesday, there had been no mention of the trip from his department, and it came as Ukraine's Parliament approved the appointment of a new defense minister after Oleksii Reznikov was dismissed over the weekend.

"Parliament approved Rustem Umerov as the defense minister of Ukraine," senior lawmaker Yaroslav Zheleznyak said on social media after Wednesday's vote.  

Ukraine claims counteroffensive breakthrough

Fresh Ukraine assistance includes contentious tank rounds

Also on Wednesday, the Pentagon announced the latest assistance package to Ukraine.

The package includes additional air defense equipment, artillery munitions, anti-tank weapons and other equipment, the Pentagon said in a statement. It also includes 120mm depleted uranium tank ammunition for Abrams tanks. 

The decision to provide Ukraine with depleted uranium rounds, amid health concerns about inhaling or swallowing particulates if near explosions caused by such rounds, could stir controversy.

The reason the ammunition is used is the high density of the material, making it suitable both as armor and for piercing armor.

The US was scheduled to start shipping Abrams tanks to Ukraine around September.

Abrams tanks have depleted uranium armor and can also use depleted uranium rounds. Ammunition stockpiles have been dwindling amid the deliveries to Ukraine.

Britain has already sent such rounds to Ukraine, but this would be the first US shipment.

Visit comes amid fresh Russian airstrikes

Blinken's visit came on the same day that a Russian missile strike killed at least 16 people and injured over 30 more at what President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called a "regular market" in the city of Kostyantynivka in the eastern Donetsk region, and just hours after reports that Russia had launched its first missile attack on the capital in a week.

While there were no reports of deaths or injuries in the capital, regional officials said one civilian was killed and port infrastructure was damaged in airstrikes in the southern region of Odesa.

Shortly after arriving in Kyiv, Blinken placed a wreath at the Berkovetske cemetery in commemoration of Ukrainian military personnel killed while defending the country.

"We want to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs, not only to succeed in the counteroffensive but has what it needs for the long-term, to make sure that it has a strong deterrent," Blinken said during the visit.

"We're also determined to continue to work with our partners as they build and rebuild a strong economy, strong democracy," Blinken said.

DW's Max Zander said the visit comes at a critical time for Ukraine as the fight against Russia's invasion grinds on.

"We cannot underestimate the symbolic value of this visit. This is more than 550 into the war, the Ukrainians are tired of fighting this war but the allies are also affected by it," Zander said from Kyiv, and added that the visit was "likely also about showing the Ukrainians, that Ukraine's biggest donor, the biggest supporter when it comes to military aid, is still on its side."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pictured with Ukraine's Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba walking past the military section of a cemetery
Blinken and Kuleba vistied the military section of a cemetery in the capitalImage: Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba via Twitter via REUTERS

Moscow reacts

The Kremlin, meanwhile, has commented on Blinken's visit, saying it is a clear indication that Washington intends on funding Kyiv "until the last Ukrainian."

"We have heard repeated statements that they [the Americans] intend to continue to help Kyiv for as long as it takes," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

"In other words, they are going to continue to support Ukraine in a state of war and to wage this war to the last Ukrainian, sparing no money for this. That's how we perceive it, we know it. It's not going to affect the course of the special military operation," Peskov said, using Russia's terminology to characterize the invasion of Ukraine.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pictured working while traveling by train to Kyiv, Ukraine on September 6
Blinken's visit comes amid reports of air strikes in Kyiv and southern UkraineImage: Brendan Smialowski/REUTERS

rmt, kb/sms (Reuters, AP, AFP)