US Defense Chief Austin visited Kiev and announced military assistance

KYIV, Nov. 20 (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced $100 million in new military aid to Ukraine during an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Monday, 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, which he said included weapons such as anti-tank weapons and air-defense interceptors.

Austin, along with the top American general in Europe, was photographed smiling and shaking hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. This marked Austin’s first visit to Kyiv since April 2022.

“Mr. President, the message I bring you today is that America is with you. We will be with you for a long time,” Austin told Zelensky after a train ride from Poland to Ukraine.

Bridget Brink, the US ambassador to Ukraine, said the visit showed Washington’s “unwavering support for Ukraine in its struggle for independence”.

Zelensky told Austin that his visit was a “very important signal” to Ukraine.

“We count on your support,” Zelensky told Austin.

The United States has provided $44 billion in defense aid to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022.

The trip comes amid growing divisions in the US Congress over aid to Ukraine, with the US presidential election looming in November 2024. While U.S. defense officials insist Washington can support both allies simultaneously, some U.S. lawmakers have prioritized aid to Israel.

Privately, some high-ranking Ukrainian officials have expressed concern that military aid may be limited, reflecting broader unease about the level of support needed to sustain the war against Russia. Ukraine’s budget for next year has a deficit of more than $40 billion that needs to be filled.

A stop-gap spending bill

Last month, President Joe Biden asked Congress to approve additional funding for Ukraine. It was omitted from the suspension spending bill passed by lawmakers last week, raising concerns that the funds should never be appropriated for Ukraine, especially after the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a bill including aid for Israel and not Ukraine.

A vocal group of Republicans opposes sending more aid to Ukraine. Opponents of aid have said American taxpayers’ money should be spent at home, but a majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress still support helping Zelensky’s government.

A Ukraine-US military industry conference in Washington on December 6 and 7 is aimed at boosting Ukraine’s domestic arms production.

Earlier, Austin spoke with Defense Department officials at the US Embassy.

“When you think back to the beginning of this, nobody thought Ukraine could survive more than a week. So here we are, too late,” Austin said.

“Now, everyone wonders why Ukraine hasn’t beaten Russia, which is a much bigger country with more potential. But think about a change in that mentality,” Austin added.

Russia now controls one-fifth of Ukraine. The West has sent military equipment and Ukraine has launched a counteroffensive push to retake occupied territory this year, but it has made little progress.

Reporting by Max Hunter and Tom Balmforth in Kyiv and Bill Stewart and Idris Ali in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham, Bernadette Baum and Alex Richardson

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