US to return embassy to Ukraine and boost military aid, Blinken and Austin Tell Zelensky on Kyiv visit

SOUTHEAST POLAND – The United States will re-establish a diplomatic presence in Ukraine and increase military support for the country, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a a meeting in kyiv, as Russia’s war shifts gears in the east and south. Ukraine.

“Russia fails, Ukraine succeeds,” Blinken said, saying Ukraine will persist as a sovereign country despite Russia’s attempts to invade. The two secretaries, who spoke to reporters early Monday in Poland after returning by train from a three-hour meeting with officials in Kyiv, described a Ukrainian capital that appeared to be returning to a more normal state, unlike the escalation of fighting. the country sees in the Donbass region.

“We think they can win if they have the right equipment, the right support,” Mr. Austin said, adding of Mr. Zelensky: “While he is grateful for everything we do, he is also focused on what he thinks he will need next to succeed. Besides artillery, Ukraine has expressed interest in getting more tanks, he said.

Mr Blinken said he spoke with UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Friday and that the UN chief, visiting Moscow and Kyiv, would send a “clear and direct message” to the name of most of the world that Russia should agree to a ceasefire. -fire, provide necessary aid to civilians and stop the war.

The highest US delegation to visit Ukraine since the start of the war said a US embassy presence would return to the country and pledged $322 million in military aid. At a press conference, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the United States would do anything to help Ukraine win. Photo: Associated Press

Sunday’s visit was the highest U.S. delegation to Ukraine since the war began on Feb. 24 and follows similar trips by leaders and diplomats from other countries as Washington and its allies step up efforts. to show their support for kyiv and help the country defend itself.

After stepping down earlier this year, US diplomats will return to Ukraine this week, initially with day trips to the western city of Lviv with the aim of returning to a functioning embassy in Kyiv in the near future, it said. said a senior State Department official. On Monday, President Biden is expected to appoint Bridget Brink, the current US ambassador to Slovakia, as the next ambassador to Ukraine, the official said.

Meanwhile, the United States will provide Ukraine with $322 million in foreign military assistance to enable kyiv to purchase the necessary weapons, part of a total package of $713 million in U.S. military assistance. to more than a dozen countries in the region, U.S. officials said. The new funding comes after two previous military aid packages of $800 million each for Ukraine, which included heavy artillery, armored personnel carriers and helicopters.

The visit to kyiv of MM. Blinken and Austin took place as Orthodox Christians, the largest religious group in Russia and Ukraine, celebrated Easter two months after the war began.

Guterres had called for a four-day truce during Orthodox Holy Week to allow the evacuation of civilians from frontline towns and the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The US secretaries of state and defense met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in kyiv on Sunday.


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UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SERVICE/via REUTERS

The ceasefire proposal was rejected by Moscow, which said it was a ruse to allow the Ukrainian army to rest and regroup. Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy, told a Security Council session on Ukraine last week that a pause in hostilities would give Ukrainian forces time to receive new shipments of drones, anti-tank guided missiles and man-portable air defense systems.

Mr Guterres is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow this week before traveling to Kyiv. At a press conference on Saturday, Mr. Zelensky criticized Mr. Guterres’ decision to travel to Russia first. “The war is in Ukraine, there are no bodies on the streets of Moscow,” he said.

On Sunday, Mr Zelensky, who is Jewish, posted a video message from St. great dream come true – it’s another great day – the day when great peace will come to Ukraine.

After rapid initial gains by Russian forces, the Ukrainian conflict escalated into a bitter war, with Russia making further gains in the south and east of the country, where it is concentrating its firepower after withdrawing from Kyiv and other northern regions.

Artificial flowers adorn a memorial wall for those killed during the war in Lviv, western Ukraine.


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yuriy dyachyshyn/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The Russian Defense Ministry said on Sunday it had destroyed a gunpowder and explosives factory in Pavlohrad, a town near the eastern Donbass region where Russian troops are concentrating their offensive, as well as four depots of weapons in the northern region of Kharkiv.

Ukraine’s Southern Operational Command said on Sunday that its forces had recaptured eight settlements in the southern Kherson region, most of which are occupied by Moscow. Russian advances on the towns of Oleksandrivka, Tavri and Mykolaivka were also repelled by Ukrainian artillery, he said in a statement.

There has been no independent confirmation of the claims on either side.

The trip by the two US cabinet members to kyiv on Sunday to meet Mr. Zelensky follows visits by leaders from other countries. Mr. Biden has not visited Ukraine during his presidency, and the White House has said there are no plans to visit. The State Department official said Mr. Biden speaks regularly with Mr. Zelensky and that the US president’s travel requirements are unique, in part for security reasons.

Senior US Army officers at a facility in Poland described an accelerated logistics network to deliver weapons and equipment to Ukraine, as well as a regional effort to increase troop levels and exercises with members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization along the eastern flank of the alliance.

Seven 155mm artillery pieces, along with their towing vehicles, are being processed at the facility, adding to the 18 howitzers the United States has already supplied to Ukraine, a senior official said. of the defense. Six dozen US howitzers arriving in Ukraine under a new aid program and 155mm artillery shells were seen on pallets at the Polish facility.

The focus on heavy artillery and armored vehicles comes as Russia withdraws some of its forces from around towns in northern Ukraine and instead focuses on the eastern Donbass region in what is expected to be a conflict. high stakes on open ground.

“It gives that ability to engage from a distance,” said Lt. Gen. John Kolasheski, commander of the US Army’s Fifth Corps, speaking of the howitzers and their effect on Ukraine’s enemy. “Equipment could be destroyed, people could be injured or killed.”

Rescuers removed debris from a damaged building in Odessa, southern Ukraine, on Sunday.


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oleksandr gimanov/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

A child stands next to a wrecked vehicle in the southern port city of Mariupol.


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ALEXANDRE YERMOCHENKO/REUTERS

The United States is completing the training of about 50 Ukrainian gunners outside Ukraine and will soon work for six days with another group of about 50, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on the Polish site. . These gunners can in turn train other Ukrainians, he said.

So far, Moscow has made “very little progress” in its efforts to expand the Russian military’s footprint south in the Donbass, the defense official said.

Austin will join other defense ministers, including Ukraine’s Oleksii Reznikov, and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a rally at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Tuesday. Topics will be updating representatives from more than 20 countries on the latest battlefield intelligence in Ukraine, security assistance in Kyiv and strengthening NATO’s long-term defense industrial base for support the defense of Ukraine, the defense official said.

One of the issues to be discussed at the meeting is the need of Ukraine, a former Soviet country, for what NATO considers to be non-standard ammunition and weapons systems, as well as discussions on the possibility for kyiv to switch to standard NATO equipment, the official said. For example, howitzers designed to fire 152 mm shells cannot accommodate the 155 mm caliber.

Arms transfers approved in Washington can arrive in Poland or other NATO countries in as little as 48 hours and be sent to Ukraine a day or two later, Kirby said, adding that he It is up to Ukraine to obtain military or other assistance for the front once it takes possession of it.

Large Western and Soviet-designed cargo planes taking off and landing in Poland showed the multinational effort to arm Ukraine and bolster NATO’s eastern edge. “The cohesion here is real and you can feel it,” General Kolasheski said.

The return of a diplomatic presence in Ukraine, which follows steps taken by the UK, Italy, France and others, will help US and Ukrainian officials coordinate aid and other efforts in person and to prepare for a future consular operation to meet the needs of citizens of both countries, the official said. The defense official declined to say whether US Marines would help guard the embassy in kyiv, saying the military would meet the needs of the State Department.

Asked whether the increased US focus on Ukraine risked heightening tensions with Russia, the US official said Washington was not considering involving its troops in the conflict.

Write to William Mauldin at william.mauldin@wsj.com, Isabel Coles at isabel.coles@wsj.com and Evan Gershkovich at evan.gershkovich@wsj.com

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