The U.S. said Thursday it plans to send $2.2 billion in long-term military aid to Ukraine and 18 other European countries threatened by Russian aggression and another $675 million directly to the Kyiv government in a new munitions package to fight Moscow’s invasion.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a previously unannounced visit to Kyiv to announce the assistance and confer with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the war against Russia, now in its seventh month.
“Ukraine’s extraordinary front-line defenders continue to courageously fight for their country’s freedom,” Blinken said in a statement after meeting with Zelenskyy. The top U.S. diplomat reaffirmed President Joe Biden’s commitment to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”
“I reiterated this message to President Zelenskyy and his team today in Kyiv, which remains—and will remain—the capital of a sovereign, independent Ukraine,” Blinken said.
Blinken entered Ukraine’s fortified presidential administration building through a series of dark hallways with sandbags stacked over windows that eventually led to a white room with gold trim and crystal chandeliers.
Zelenskyy greeted Blinken in English, moments later awarding him the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise for his contributions to Ukraine. “I’m deeply honored,” Blinken said.
Zelenskyy expressed his gratitude for the “enormous support” the United States has sent Ukraine, praising Biden and the U.S. Congress for helping Ukraine “return our territory and lands.”
Overall, the new U.S. assistance would bring its Ukraine-related aid total to $15.2 billion since Biden took office in January last year. The $675 million in military assistance includes heavy weaponry, ammunition and armored vehicles.
Blinken said the $2.2 billion in long-term aid would “bolster the security of Ukraine and 18 of its neighbors, including many of our NATO allies, as well as other regional security partners potentially at risk of future Russian aggression.”
In a separate statement, the State Department said the aid would help those countries "deter and defend against emergent threats to their sovereignty and territorial integrity" by bolstering their military integration with NATO, the U.S.-dominated Western military alliance.
Pending expected congressional approval, about $1 billion of $2.2 billion would go to Ukraine and the rest will be divided among Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, the State Department said.
In Kyiv, before meeting with Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials, Blinken visited the U.S. embassy and then the National Specialized Children's Hospital Ohmatdyt, where he saw boys and girls injured during Russian bombardments, including Maryna, a 6-year-old girl from the city of Kherson who lost a leg after a rocket struck her house.
In the hospital lobby, Blinken also met Patron, a Jack Russell terrier that has helped Ukraine's military find more than 200 mines laid by Russian forces. Blinken kneeled down, petted the dog and fed it treats, saying the canine was "world famous."
Blinken took a basket of stuffed animals to one hospital ward, which the children quickly dangled in front of Patron to get his attention.
Blinken told parents that "the spirit of your children sends a very strong message around the world."
Since February 24, when the Russian invasion began, an average of five children have been killed or injured in Ukraine every day, according to a humanitarian aid organization "Save the Children" that cited verified United Nations data.
In New York, Russia called a U.N. Security Council meeting to criticize the West for sending military support to Ukraine in what its envoy said has become a proxy war.
"NATO basically manually directs Kyiv in the theater of war," Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said.
He characterized the notion that Western weapons would bring the Ukrainians victory on the battlefield as "empty fantasies."
"New weapons will not change the balance of forces and will only extend agony of the Zelenskyy regime," he said.
Washington's envoy said Moscow had nerve to suggest countries should step aside as it seeks to destroy another U.N. member state.
"The United States is committed to supporting the people of Ukraine as they defend their lives, their liberty and their democracy. We are not hiding this support," Ambassador Richard Mills said. "Ukraine and all U.N. member states have every right to defend themselves, and we won't stop our support to Ukraine just because Russia is frustrated that its attempt at regime change has not gone to plan."
Earlier, at a meeting of Western officials in Germany coordinating support for Ukraine, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, "The war is at another key moment," with Ukrainian forces in the midst of a counteroffensive to try to reclaim lost territory in the south of the country. He said, "Now we're seeing the demonstrable success of our common efforts on the battlefield."
No 'viable map' for negotiation
Even so, U.S. officials indicated diplomatic talks between Ukraine and Russia do not appear to be a top priority for Ukraine.
“Right now, the Ukrainians do not have a viable map from which to negotiate,” one senior State Department official said. “Twenty percent of their territory has gone, something like 30% of their industrial and agricultural potential is gone. That's why they're launching this counteroffensive.”
Defense ministers from Germany and the Netherlands said on the sidelines of the meeting with Austin that their countries would provide new training for Ukrainian forces on how to deactivate Russian mines and send demining equipment to the Kyiv government.
In addition to fighting in the southern reaches of Ukraine and the eastern industrialized Donbas region, shelling continued near Ukraine’s Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe's largest.
Each side has blamed the other for the attacks, even as the United Nations atomic energy watchdog agency has called for the creation of a safe zone around the facility to prevent a catastrophe akin to the nuclear plant disaster at Chernobyl in 1986.
Some material for this report came from The Associated Press.