U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pledged more U.S. aid to Ukraine during an unannounced visit to Kiev on Monday, allaying concerns that support from its biggest ally could be wavered.
The United States has provided more than $40 billion in security aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion and has pledged to support Kiev “for as long as necessary,” but opposition from hardline Republicans has left the future of U.S. aid uncertain. There are doubts about this.
Austin announced “an additional $100 million in funding to provide additional artillery shells, additional air defense interceptors, and numerous anti-tank weapons” at a press conference in Kiev’s St. Michael’s Square.
In Washington, the State Department announced that the assistance includes 3 million rounds of small arms ammunition and HIMARS precision rocket launcher equipment.
In an evening speech, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked the US for the additional package and said: “We will need more shells now.”
The two sides had met hours earlier, and Mr. Austin gave assurances that U.S. aid would not lapse.
“My message to you today, Mr. President, is that the United States of America is with you. We will always be with you,” Mr. Austin told Mr. Zelensky.
“What’s happening here in Ukraine matters not only to Ukraine but to the rest of the world. It certainly matters to the United States,” he added.
The visit to Kiev also included a meeting with Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov and a visit to the U.S. Embassy, making him the first Secretary of Defense since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This will be the second time.
The United States is by far the largest donor of military aid to Kiev, and any reduction in U.S. aid would be a major blow to Ukraine as it enters its second winter of war.
Zelenskyy said Austin’s visit was “an important signal for Ukraine” and thanked Congress and the American people for their support.
“We look forward to your support,” he said at the meeting.
A “smaller” aid package
Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged U.S. lawmakers at a hearing in October to maintain support for Ukraine, with the U.S. defense secretary saying, “Without our support,[Russian President Vladimir]Putin will be successful.”
But some Republicans oppose continuing aid, and the interim deal passed by Congress last week to avert a U.S. government shutdown includes no new aid for Ukraine.
Nevertheless, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters: “We continue to have faith that Congress will provide that support, and we are planning based on that confidence.”
U.S. aid has not been suspended, and previously approved aid remains available.
Sabrina Singh, a deputy Pentagon spokeswoman, said earlier this month that “we’re seeing a reduction in aid because we’ve had to scale our aid to Ukraine.”
In addition to domestic political opposition in the United States to continued aid, the devastating conflict between Israel and Hamas and the resulting surge in attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East have turned international attention away from Ukraine.
The United States insists it can provide assistance to both countries.
“As for the question of whether there is a conflict or trade-off between U.S. support for Ukraine’s national defense and Israel’s national defense, there is not,” a senior U.S. defense official said.
“There will be some overlap, but where there is overlap in certain types of munitions…capabilities provision to Ukraine will not be reduced,” the official added.
‘What must be done’
The United States has spearheaded the push for international aid to Ukraine, quickly forming a coalition to support Kiev and coordinating aid from dozens of countries after Russia’s invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine’s supporters have also provided training for Kiev’s military, and the United States and other countries have imposed tough sanctions on Russia, including on financial institutions, technology imports and energy exports.
Austin’s visit came after Kiev announced it had pushed Russian troops several kilometers (miles) from the banks of the Dnipro River.
This is Kiev’s first meaningful advance after months of disappointing counterattacks.
Ukrainian and Russian troops have been entrenched on either side of the vast waterway in the southern Kherson region for more than a year, since Russia withdrew its troops from the West Bank last November.
A beachhead on the east bank of the Dnipro River would allow further offensives in the south and protect Ukrainian towns and villages in the face of relentless Russian shelling.
At least two people were killed by Russian shelling in a parking lot in Kherson early Monday, authorities said.