KIEV, Nov 20 (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced $100 million in new military aid to Ukraine on Monday during an unannounced visit to Kiev, pledging long-term U.S. support amid growing concerns about the sustainability of vital U.S. aid.
Austin announced the aid package after a day of meetings with Ukrainian officials, saying it included weapons such as anti-tank weapons and air defense interceptors.
Austin, accompanied by the top US general in Europe, was photographed smiling and shaking hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. This was Austin’s first visit to Kyiv since April 2022.
“My message to you today, Mr. President, is that the United States of America stands with you. We will stay with you for the long term,” Austin told Zelenskiy after an overnight train trip to Ukraine from Poland.
U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink said the visit showed Washington’s “unwavering support for Ukraine in its fight for freedom.”
Zelenskiy told Austin that his visit was “a very important signal” for Ukraine.
“We are counting on your support,” Zelenskiy said in Austin.
The United States has provided more than $44 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022.
The trip comes amid growing division over aid to Ukraine in the U.S. Congress, with a U.S. presidential election scheduled for November 2024. Some U.S. lawmakers are prioritizing aid to Israel, even as U.S. officials defense emphasize that Washington can support both allies simultaneously.
(1/3)U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks to employees of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv during his visit to Ukraine, November 20, 2023. WG Dunlop/Pool via REUTERS acquire licensing rights
Privately, some senior Ukrainian officials have expressed concern that military aid deliveries could become less frequent, reflecting broader unease about the levels of support needed to continue the war against Russia. Ukraine’s budget for next year has a deficit of more than $40 billion that needs to be filled.
STOP-GAP EXPENSE INVOICE
President Joe Biden last month asked Congress to approve more money for Ukraine. Its omission in a stopgap spending bill passed by lawmakers last week raised concerns that funding for Ukraine will never be adequate, especially after the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a bill including aid to Israel but not to Ukraine.
A bloc of Republicans oppose sending additional aid to Ukraine. Opponents of the aid have said U.S. taxpayer dollars should be spent at home, but a majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress still support aid to Zelenskiy’s government.
A joint Ukraine-US military industry conference, scheduled to take place in Washington on December 6-7, aims to boost Ukraine’s domestic arms production as the war approaches its two years.
Earlier in the day, Austin spoke with Department of Defense personnel at the U.S. Embassy.
“Looking back at the beginning, no one thought Ukraine could survive more than a week. So here we are much later,” Austin said.
“Now everyone is wondering why Ukraine didn’t defeat Russia, which is a much bigger country with much more capabilities. But just think about that change in mindset,” Austin added.
Russia now controls almost a fifth of Ukraine. The West has sent military hardware and Ukraine launched a counteroffensive this year to retake occupied lands, but it has not made a big breakthrough.
Reporting by Max Hunder and Tom Balmforth in kyiv and Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham, Bernadette Baum and Alex Richardson
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