Blinken looks to reassure Zelensky as he visits Ukraine | KRDO (2024)

By Kylie Atwood, Jack Forrest and Rob Picheta, CNN

(CNN) — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a surprise trip to Kyiv on Tuesday, meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky as Russian forces make significant gains on the battlefield in Ukraine.

Blinken’s visit was the first by a Biden administration official since the long-delayed passage of US supplemental funding to the war-torn country.

“I have come to Ukraine with a message: You are not alone,” he said during a speech at the Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute.

In their meeting Zelensky urged Blinken to provide more military support to the Ukrainian military, including additional air defense support. “We want to get it as soon as possible, and the second point is air defense, the biggest deficit for us. I think the biggest problem is that we really need today two patriots for the Kharkiv region, because there are people – they are under attack, civilians, warriors, everybody – they are under Russian missiles,” he told reporters.

Russia is pushing ahead with itsnew advanceinto northeastern Ukraineafter makingseveral major advances there over the past week – Moscow’s most significant gains since Kyiv’s forces recaptured Kharkiv in late summer 2022.

Blinken and Zelensky “discussed recent battlefield updates and the importance of newly-arrived U.S. security assistance to helping repel Russian attacks,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a read-out following the meeting.

In a Monday evening address, hours before he met Blinken, Zelensky said: “We understand how the enemy is acting and we see the plan to draw our forces back.”

US President Joe Bidensigned a$95 billion foreign aid packagelast month that includesnearly $61 billion for Ukraine,following asuccessful six-month campaign by the White Houseto build supportin a House GOP conference increasingly resistant to sending more money overseas.

Blinken previously admitted that there was a “cost” to the delayed funding for Ukraine. But he focused his speech on what he said was support for Ukraine from“a significant majority of Americans.”

“After the delay in approving the latest US assistance package to Ukraine, a delay that left you more vulnerable to Russia’s attacks, some Ukrainians may be wondering whether you can count on America to sustain its commitment,” Blinken said in his speech. “The $60 billion aid package that was approved by our Congress, with overwhelming support across both political parties in both houses of Congress, I think demonstrates that you can.”

Before he met Zelensky, Blinken said that US weaponsfrom that recent assistance packagehad started arriving in Ukraine,and more were on the way to help it succeed on the battlefield with Russia.

“We know this is a challenging time,” Blinken said. “But we also know that in the near term, the assistance is now on the way. Some of it already arrived, and more of it will be arriving, and that’s going to make a real difference against the Russian aggression on the battlefield.”

He also praised the “extraordinary courage of the Ukrainian people” and said that “we are equally determined that Ukraine stands strongly on its own feet, militarily, economically, democratically, a strong, successful, thriving, free Ukraine is the best possible rebuke to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin.”

US will help build a ‘force of the future’

Amid Ukrainiansetbacks on the battlefield,Blinken praised the country’s resiliance.

“There’s one thing that Putin has always underestimated, but that Ukrainians understand to their core, and that’s the fierceness with which free people will defend their right to shape their own destiny,” Blinken said in his speech.

Blinken committed to helping Ukraine build its “force of the future” andreiterated thatthe US intends tomake use of seizedRussian assets toprovide funding to Ukraine for their reconstruction.

“Our Congress has given us the power to seize Russian assets in the United States. We intend to use it,” said Blinken during the speech.“What Putin destroyed, Russia should and must pay to rebuild.”

Blinken said the US is working with other G7 countries to do the same with “Russia’s immobilized sovereign assets.”

“The G7 can unlock billions of dollars and send a powerful message to Putin that time is not on his side,” said Blinken without giving a timeline for when these efforts might be realized.

Western leaders have reacted with concern to Russia’s new and unexpected assault in Kharkiv. UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron acknowledged it was an “extremely dangerous” moment in the war, telling Sky News that Russia had effectively “invaded [Ukraine] again.”

During his fourth visit to Ukraine since the 2022 Russian invasion, Blinken also met Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba as well as with civil society and private sector partners.

Blinken also used his visit to highlight the need for Ukraine to continue making democratic reforms to maintain its global coalition of support.

“Winning on the battlefield will prevent Ukraine from becoming part of Russia; winning the war against corruption will keep Ukraine from becoming like Russia,” he said.

It is “important that Ukraine keeps taking the difficult steps to strengthen and consolidate your democracy. Because the choices that you make, the kind of democracy that you build, will determine the strength and the staying power of the coalition by Ukraine’s side,” Blinken said.

He called on Ukraine to “root out the scourge of corruption once and for all” and said the US will continue supporting Kyiv’s efforts.

“Ukraine’s security is eroded if the resources for its military are siphoned off by individuals looking to enrich themselves. Ukraine’s economic potential is undercut if investors and innovators cannot count on a level playing field. Ukraine’s democracy is weakened if citizens stop believing that they can hold their government accountable and fix the flaws in their system from within,” Blinken said.

‘Tough fight’

Just days before Blinken’s arrival, Ukraine’s top general said the situation in the northeasternKharkiv regionhas “significantly worsened” after Russia claimed to have captured four more villages as it expanded its surprise cross-border offensive.

US officials acknowledge that the slowdown in US support, due to congressional infighting, has exacerbated a challenging situation for Ukraine.

“There is no doubt there has been a cost,” Blinken said over the weekend on CBS. “We’re doing everything we can to rush this assistance out there,” he said. “But it’s a challenging moment.”

Some of the supplemental support is already on the front lines,Blinken said.Specifically the US has started to flow inATACMS missile systems “particularly with an eye towards Russia’s activities right now in Kharkiv,”a senior USofficial added.

“It’s a tough fight. There is no question. But we have a lot of confidence that the Ukrainians will increasingly be effective in pushing the Russians back as our assistance flows in both from the United States and other allies and partners,” the official said.

Russian forces have made advances south into Ukrainian villages in the Kharkiv region, after launching their surprise cross-border assault four days ago.

One of the main Russian efforts appears targeted on Lyptsi, described by one Ukrainian military blogger as “a very important village” due to its position onUkraine’s second defensive line.

The intention behind Russia’s new push, which began in the early hours of Friday morning, is unclear; it may be to create a buffer zone designed to reduce Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory, or possibly even a renewed assault on the city of Kharkiv, 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the south.

Equally, it could be an attempt to draw Ukrainian forces away from other key Russian objectives further south – a rationale Zelensky offered in a Sunday evening address.

Officials have told CNNthere will be a lag time between the approval of the billions earmarked for Ukraine in the aid bill andthearrivalof the majority of the assistance that will make a significant difference onthefront lines.

Those officials said Western intelligence believesRussia is seeking to exploit that gap in delivery time to furtherstep-up air and ground attacks on Ukraine in what it sees as a “window of opportunity.”

State Departmentdeputyspokesperson Vedant Patel told a news briefing Monday the US anticipates Russia will “press forward” in Kharkiv, and that while Russia may “make further advances in the coming weeks,” the US does not “anticipate any major breakthroughs.”

“Over time, the additional influx of US assistance and continued support from partners will enable Ukraine to continue to withstand this kind of aggression,” Patel said.

US officials have looked to find ways to quickly provide vital military supplies to Ukraine from theaid package,utilizing the presidential drawdown authority (PDA), which pulls equipment from existing US stocks.

Just moments after Biden signed the aid bill last month,the US announced a $1 billion PDA package, with the presidentsaying at the timethat shipments of the equipment to Ukraine would begin “in the next few hours.”

And on Friday, the US announced anotherPDA package worth $400 millionand a$30 million sale of HIMARS,a rocket launcher that Kyiv’s military has used to great effect against Russian forces.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday that the administrationwould announce a third PDA packagein the coming days, “to really accelerate the tempo of the deliveries.”

“The delay put Ukraine in a hole and we’re trying to help them to get out of that hole as rapidly as possible,” Sullivan said.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Andrew Carey,Maria Kostenko, Sandi Sidhu, Yulia Kesaieva,Dasha Tarasova,Josh Pennington,Radina Gigova,Alex Stambaugh and Michael Conte contributed reporting

Blinken looks to reassure Zelensky as he visits Ukraine | KRDO (2024)
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