The United States secretary of defence has made an unannounced visit to Kyiv to reassure Ukraine that Washington will continue supporting its fight against invading Russian forces.
Lloyd Austin “travelled to Ukraine today to meet with Ukrainian leaders and reinforce the staunch support of the United States for Ukraine’s fight for freedom”, the Pentagon said in a statement on Monday. The trip was not previously announced due to security concerns.
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“[Austin] will also underscore the continued US commitment to providing Ukraine with the security assistance it needs to defend itself from Russian aggression,” the Pentagon statement continued.
“I was honoured to meet with President Zelenskyy in Kyiv today to reaffirm the United States’ steadfast support for Ukraine. We, along with our allies and partners, will continue to support Ukraine’s urgent battlefield needs and long-term defence requirements,” Austin wrote on X.
I was honored to meet with President @ZelenskyyUa in Kyiv today to reaffirm the United States’ steadfast support for Ukraine. We, along with our allies and partners, will continue to support Ukraine’s urgent battlefield needs and long-term defense requirements. pic.twitter.com/Odv6ClgcrP
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) November 20, 2023
Zelenskyy said that Austin’s visit was a “very important signal for Ukraine.”
The US has provided tens of billions of dollars in security aid for Ukraine and repeatedly pledged to back Kyiv for as long as it takes. However, opposition from hardline Republican lawmakers has raised doubts about the future of US assistance.
Austin’s trip to Ukraine is seen as a bid to calm fears that US support could falter.
Some Republican lawmakers oppose continued aid, and that opposition saw Ukraine left out of a temporary deal that was passed by Congress last week to avert a US government shutdown.
US assistance has not been halted and there is still previously authorised aid to draw on, but Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said earlier this month that assistance packages “have been getting smaller because we have had to meter out our support for Ukraine”.
In addition to domestic US political opposition to continued aid, the conflict between Israel and Hamas – and the spike in attacks on US forces in the Middle East that has accompanied it – has drawn international attention away from Ukraine.
Boosting Ukraine’s domestic output
The US government insists that it can provide aid for both countries despite the Republican resistance.
Austin’s trip to Kyiv is his second since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Washington is by far the biggest donor of military assistance to Kyiv, and a cut to aid would be a major blow to Ukraine as it readies for the second winter of the war amid intensified Russian attacks.
Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged lawmakers during a hearing in October to sustain support for Ukraine, with the US defence chief saying that “without our support, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin will be successful”.
The US has spearheaded the push for international support for Ukraine, quickly forging a coalition to back Kyiv after Russia invaded and coordinating aid from dozens of countries.
Ukraine’s supporters have also provided training to Kyiv’s troops, while Washington and other countries imposed tough sanctions on Russia, with targets including financial institutions, technology imports and energy exports.
A joint Ukraine-US military industry conference in Washington is due to take place next month.
That event, due on December 6 and 7, is intended to boost Ukraine’s domestic arms production as its fight against a full-scale Russian invasion nears the two-year mark.