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Blinken seeks to reassure Zelensky on visit to Ukraine after Russian attacks

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a surprise trip to Kiev on Tuesday, meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky as Russian forces make significant gains on the battlefield in Ukraine.

This is the first time that a Biden administration official has visited Ukraine since additional US funding for the country at war with Russia was approved in the US Congress after a series of delays.

“I came to Ukraine with a message: you are not alone,” he said during a speech at Kyiv’s Igor Sikorsky Polytechnic Institute.

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

Russia is pressing ahead with a new offensive in northeastern Ukraine after making several key gains last week, Moscow's most significant since Kiev's forces recaptured Kharkiv late in 2022.

Blinken and Zelensky “discussed recent battlefield updates and the importance of newly arrived U.S. security assistance to help repel Russian attacks,” U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement. after the meeting.

In a speech on Monday night (13), hours before meeting with Blinken, Zelensky said: “we understand how the enemy is acting and we see the plan to draw our forces back.”

US President Joe Biden signed a $95 billion foreign aid package last month, which includes nearly $61 billion for Ukraine, following a successful six-month campaign by the White House to build support in a House Republican Party conference increasingly resistant to sending more money abroad.

Blinken previously admitted there was a “cost” to the delay in funding for Ukraine. But he focused his speech on what he said was support for Ukraine from “a significant majority of Americans.”

“Following the delay in approving the latest U.S. assistance package for Ukraine, a delay that has left them more vulnerable to attacks from Russia, some Ukrainians may be wondering whether you can count on the United States to uphold its commitment,” he said. Blinken in his speech.

“The $60 billion relief package that was passed by our Congress, with overwhelming support in both political parties, in both houses of Congress, I think demonstrates that you can [contar com os EUA].”

Before meeting with Zelensky, Blinken said that US weapons from the recent assistance package had begun arriving in Ukraine, and more were on their way to the battlefield with Russia.

“We know this is a challenging time,” Blinken said. “But we also know that in the short term, assistance is on the way. Some of it has already arrived, and more is coming, and it will make a real difference against 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 strong on its own, militarily, economically, democratically. A strong, successful, prosperous and free Ukraine is the best possible response to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”

The US will help build a “force for the future”

In the face of Ukrainian setbacks on the battlefield, Blinken praised the country's resilience.

“There is one thing that Putin has always underestimated but that Ukrainians deeply understand, and that is the ferocity with which free people will defend their right to shape their own destiny,” Blinken said in his speech.

Blinken pledged to help Ukraine build its “future force” and reiterated that the US intends to make use of seized Russian assets to provide Ukraine with financing for its reconstruction.

“Our Congress gave us the power to seize Russian assets in the United States. We intend to use it,” Blinken said during the speech. “What Putin destroyed, Russia must and must pay to rebuild.”

Blinken said the U.S. is working with other G7 countries to do the same with “Russia’s immobilized sovereign assets.”

“The G7 can unlock billions of dollars and send a powerful message to Putin that time is not on his side,” Blinken said without giving a timeline for when those efforts might come to fruition.

Western leaders reacted with concern to Russia's new and unexpected attack in Kharkiv. UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron acknowledged it was an “extremely dangerous” time in the war, telling Sky News that Russia had effectively “invaded [a Ucrânia] again.”

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

Blinken also used his visit to highlight the need for Ukraine to continue making democratic reforms to maintain its global coalition of support.

“Winning on the battlefield will prevent Ukraine from becoming part of Russia; Winning the war against corruption will prevent Ukraine from becoming like Russia,” he said.

It is “important that Ukraine continues to take the difficult steps to strengthen and consolidate its democracy. Because the choices you make, the type of democracy you build, will determine the strength and permanence of the coalition alongside Ukraine,” said Blinken.

He called on Ukraine to “eradicate the scourge of corruption once and for all” and said the US would continue to support Kiev's efforts.

“Ukraine’s security is undermined if resources for its military are diverted by individuals seeking to enrich themselves. Ukraine's economic potential is undermined if investors and innovators cannot rely on fair conditions. Ukraine’s democracy is weakened if citizens stop believing they can hold their government accountable and fix the flaws in its system from the inside out,” Blinken said.

“Tough battle”

Just days before Blinken's arrival, Ukraine's top general said the situation in the northeast region of Kharkiv had “significantly worsened” after Russia said it had captured four more villages as it expanded its surprise offensive across the border.

US officials acknowledge that the slowdown in US support, due to infighting in Congress, has worsened an already challenging situation for Ukraine.

“There is no doubt there was a cost,” Blinken said over the weekend on CBS. “We are doing everything we can to expedite this assistance,” he said. “But it’s a challenging time.”

Some of the supplemental support is already on the front lines, Blinken said. Specifically, the US began deploying ATACMS missile systems “with a particular eye on Russia's activities now in Kharkiv,” a senior US official added.

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

Russian forces advanced south towards Ukrainian villages in the Kharkiv region after launching a surprise cross-border attack four days ago.

One of the main Russian efforts appears to target Lyptsi, described by a Ukrainian military blogger as “a very important village” due to its position in Ukraine's second defensive line.

The intent behind Russia's new advance, which began in the early hours of Friday morning, is unclear; It could be to create a buffer zone designed to reduce Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory, or possibly even a new attack on the city of Kharkiv, 30 kilometers to the south.

Likewise, it could be an attempt to draw Ukrainian forces away from other Russian objectives further south – a justification Zelensky offered in a speech on Sunday night (12).

Authorities told CNN that there will be a lag 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.

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

State Department Deputy Spokesperson Vedant Patel said at a press briefing Monday that the U.S. anticipates Russia will “advance” on Kharkiv, and that while Russia may “make further advances in coming weeks”, the US does not “anticipate major achievements.”

“Over time, the additional flow of U.S. assistance and continued support from partners will allow Ukraine to continue to resist this type of aggression,” Patel said.

U.S. officials sought to find ways to quickly provide vital military supplies to Ukraine from the aid package, utilizing presidential withdrawal authority (PDA), which withdraws equipment from existing U.S. stockpiles.

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 equipment shipments 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 Kiev's military has used to great effect against Russian forces.

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

“The delay has put Ukraine in a difficult situation and we are trying to help them get out of this situation as quickly as possible,” Sullivan said.

Source: CNN Brasil

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