U.S. steps up military aid for Ukraine during first official visit since invasion

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Making the first official U.S. visit to Ukraine since Russia invaded two months ago, Washington’s top diplomat and its defense secretary pledged additional military aid, including advanced weapons, and a return of U.S. envoys to Kyiv.

In a visit designed to show Western support, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy and other top officials in Kyiv late on Sunday, after a train journey from Poland.

U.S. officials said the cabinet secretaries pledged new assistance worth $713 million for Zelenskiy’s government and other countries in the region that are fearful of further Russian aggression.

The meeting between the U.S. delegation and Ukraine’s leaders ran for three hours, or more than double the allotted time, a U.S. official said.

“We are inspired by the resilience of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine in the face of President Putin’s brutal war of aggression,” Blinken said earlier on Twitter, as fighting in the east overshadowed religious celebrations of Orthodox Easter.

Before the visit by Blinken and Austin, Ukrainian officials drew up a list of weapons urgently needed from the United States, such as anti-missile systems, anti-aircraft systems, armoured vehicles and tanks, Zelenskiy aide Igor Zhovkva told NBC News on Sunday.

The United States and NATO allies have shown growing readiness to supply heavier equipment and more advanced weapons systems. Britain has promised to send military vehicles and is considering supplying British tanks to Poland to free up Warsaw’s Russian-designed T-72s for Ukraine.

The high level U.S. visit highlighted the shift in the conflict since Ukrainian forces, armed with a massive influx of weapons from the West, fought off a Russian assault on the capital Kyiv.

Russia has failed to capture any major city since the invasion started on Feb. 24, and having failed to take Kyiv, has concentrated its forces in the south and east, launching an offensive that Zelenskiy dubbed the battle of the Donbas.

In a daily update on the conflict, Britain’s defence ministry said Russia had only made minor advances in some parts of Donbas.

“Without sufficient logistical and combat support enablers in place, Russia has yet to achieve a significant breakthrough,” it said.

Reuters could not immediately verify the report by British military intelligence.

Earlier, in an emotional address at Kyiv’s 1,000-year-old Saint Sophia Cathedral to mark the Orthodox Easter, Zelenskiy said his nation would overcome “dark times”. read more

As a semblance of normal life returns to the capital, several countries have reopened embassies in recent days and some residents who fled the fighting returned for Easter. read more

U.S. diplomats will return to Ukraine in coming weeks, with Washington announcing a new ambassador.

“There’s no substitute for that face-to-face engagement, and of course there is a symbolism to being back in the country,” said a State Department official, who briefed reporters in Poland on condition of anonymity.

Some 320 kilometres (200 miles) southeast of Kyiv, Russian missile strikes on an oil refinery and power plant in Kremenchuk, killing one person and wounding seven, the governor of the Poltava region said.

via Reuters

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