kyiv (Ukraine) (AFP) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pledged additional American support to Ukraine during an unannounced visit to Kiev on Monday to allay concerns that aid from its biggest ally could falter.
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The United States has provided more than $40 billion in security aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion and has pledged to support Kiev “as long as it takes,” but opposition from Republicans the most radical raised doubts about the future of American aid.
Austin visited the U.S. Embassy in Kiev to meet with diplomats and members of the Defense Department before assuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a face-to-face meeting that U.S. support would not end .
“My message to you today, Mr. President, is that the United States of America stands with you. We will stand with you for the long term,” Austin told Zelensky.
“What’s happening here in Ukraine, it matters not only to Ukraine but also to the rest of the world. It certainly matters to the United States of America,” he added.
The trip to kyiv is the Pentagon chief’s second since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Washington is by far the largest donor of military assistance to kyiv and a reduction in U.S. aid would be a major blow to Ukraine as it prepares for the second winter of the war.
Zelensky said Austin’s visit was “an important signal for Ukraine” and thanked Congress and the American people for their support.
“We are counting on your support,” he said during the meeting.
“More modest” aid programs
Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged US lawmakers at a hearing in October to maintain their support for Ukraine, with the US defense chief saying: “Without our support, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin will succeed.”
But some Republican lawmakers oppose continuing the aid, and new support for Ukraine was excluded from a temporary deal passed by Congress last week to avoid a U.S. government shutdown.
Despite this, a senior US defense official told reporters: “We continue to believe that Congress will provide that support and we are planning based on that belief.”
U.S. aid has not been cut off and there is still previously authorized aid to rely on.
Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said earlier this month that aid programs “have become fewer and fewer because we’ve had to dose our support to Ukraine.”
In addition to domestic U.S. political opposition to continued aid, the devastating conflict between Israel and Hamas — and increased attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East — have diverted international attention from Ukraine.
The United States insists it can provide assistance to both countries.
“On the question of whether there is a competition or a compromise between American support for Ukraine’s defense of its country and Israel’s defense of its people, there is none,” said one senior US defense official.
“There is some overlap, but where there is overlap in certain types of munitions… there is no reduction in the provision of capabilities to Ukraine,” the official added.
‘Work to do’
The United States has spearheaded the campaign of international support for Ukraine, quickly forging a coalition to support Kiev after Russia’s invasion in February 2022 and coordinating aid from dozens of countries.
Ukraine’s supporters also provided training for Kiev’s troops, while the United States and other countries imposed tough sanctions on Russia, including on financial institutions, technology imports and exports of goods. ‘energy.
Austin’s visit comes after kyiv announced it had pushed Russian forces several kilometers from the banks of the Dnipro River.
It would be the first significant advance by kyiv’s forces in months after a disappointing counter-offensive.
Ukrainian and Russian forces have been entrenched on either side of the vast waterway in the southern Kherson region for more than a year, after Russia withdrew its troops from the west bank last November.
A bridgehead on the east bank of the Dnipro could enable a deeper offensive in the south and offer protection to Ukrainian towns and villages facing incessant Russian bombardment.
Authorities said Monday morning that at least two people had been killed by Russian shelling at a parking lot in Kherson.
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