Secretary of State Blinken makes 4th secret visit to Ukraine

Secretary of State Blinken makes 4th secret visit to Ukraine

The secretary is expected to announce "more than a billion dollars" in aid.

September 6, 2023, 4:38 AM

Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Wednesday, his fourth trip to the country since Russia's invasion, the State Department confirmed.

“Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken arrived in Ukraine today to meet with senior Ukrainian officials and demonstrate the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and democracy, especially in the face of Russia’s aggression,” State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller said in a statement. “The Secretary will address Ukraine’s energy, security, and humanitarian needs, and make announcements about how the United States can continue supporting Ukraine in these areas,” he continued. While in the country, Blinken is expected to announce "more than a billion dollars in new U.S. funding for Ukraine," according to a senior State Department official. The official said that the package was tailored to supporting Ukraine in its efforts to break through "really vicious lines of defenses" created by Russian forces, while adding that air defense "continues to be a high priority." Due to ongoing security concerns created by the active conflict, Blinken's travel plans were kept private until after he arrived in Ukraine. The secretary's delegation departed the Washington area late Monday night, touching down in Poland on Tuesday before journeying through the night by train and reaching Kyiv Wednesday morning local time.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to the press in the Treaty Room at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., Aug. 10, 2023.

Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images, FILE

Blinken's schedule is stacked with meetings, including sit downs with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. Blinken and Kuleba are also scheduled to hold a news conference. The secretary plans to stay in Ukraine for a second day, during which may visit cultural landmarks, but plans are fluid.

This handout photograph taken and released by the Ukrainian Presidential press service, Sept. 4, 2023, shows President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy visiting the command post of the operational-tactical group "Donetsk" in Donetsk region, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/AFP via Getty Images

State Department officials say Blinken's visit is meant to showcase Ukraine's resiliency and perseverance, demonstrating how daily life vibrantly continues amid the bleakness of war. The secretary's visit comes as the Biden administration is waiting to see whether Congress will greenlight its request for an additional $24 billion in supplement aid for Ukraine. Although House Speaker Kevin McCarthy previously promised his Republican-controlled chamber wouldn't hand over a "blank check" to Ukraine, the last spending bill that contained significant aid to Ukraine passed with broad bipartisan support. But now, for the first time since the war started, senior administration officials are privately expressing concern that support from Capitol Hill may be wavering.

Blinken's agenda shines a spotlight on Ukraine's recovery efforts and the administration's overarching goal in Ukraine -- moving the country towards the West and eventual membership in the European Union -- rather than on the difficult realities of a conflict that many now describe as a war of attrition. One official said the visit was a chance to "make the case" for additional funding to the American visit, as well as to ensure assistance was "maximally effective for the moment." The secretary's trip also coincides with Ukraine's highly-anticipated counteroffensive, which has resulted in modest gains compared to the country's offensive last fall. Earlier this week, Zelenskyy visited frontline areas to tout his military's successes, but American officials have been reticent to ascribe any kind of qualitative assessment to the counteroffensive -- encouraging observers to instead look at the big picture regarding the conflict instead of any one push. "I think it's really important for us to step back and look strategically at the war. So although this is the current counteroffensive, what I would say in the big picture is that Ukraine has done in my view extraordinarily well, fighting off a much bigger, better equipped adversary since the beginning of the invasion," one senior State Department official said recently. An official traveling with Blinken said this visit to Ukraine would provide the U.S. the opportunity to "get a real assessment from the Ukrainians themselves" regarding the counteroffensive. "It's always important to come at a time when we are engaged together in a new push," they said. "Now's a good time to come and assess." The official also said the visit would allow the U.S. and Ukraine to align ahead of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly later this month, Blinken previously visited Ukraine in April 2022, when he traveled to Kyiv with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and in September 2022, when he again stopped in Kyiv for meetings and toured Irpin in the Bucha district. He also stepped over the border into the country with Kuleba during the earliest days of the conflict, March 2022.

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