Top U.S. diplomat Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv on Wednesday in a gesture of support as Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces grinds into its fourth month with only small gains.
During his two-day visit, staying overnight in Ukraine for the first time since before Russia’s February 2022 invasion, Blinken will likely announce a new package of U.S. assistance worth more than $1 billion, a senior State Department official said in a briefing for reporters on the trip.
Blinken, on the first trip to Kyiv by a top U.S. official since the Ukrainian counteroffensive began, is expected to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba among other senior officials as well as civil society figures, the official said.
Media reports have cited unidentified U.S. officials as saying the counteroffensive has been too slow and hindered by poor tactics, criticism that angered Ukrainian officials and prompted Kuleba to tell critics to “shut up”.
Ukraine has retaken more than a dozen villages and small settlements in its offensive but its soldiers’ push into Russian-held territory has been slowed by vast minefields and miles of trenches.
U.S. officials have been careful not to publicly criticize Ukraine’s military tactics, and last week said they had observed notable Ukrainian progress in the previous 72 hours of its push in the southeast.
Washington would like to have a discussion with the Ukrainians on how the offensive is going, assess the battlefield needs as well as any steps that might be required to shore up Ukraine’s energy security ahead of the winter months, the official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said.
“I think what’s most important is that we get a real assessment from the Ukrainians themselves,” the official said. “We want to see, hear how they intend to push forward in the coming weeks.”
Despite staunch U.S. support for Ukraine so far since Russia’s invasion, several Republican presidential hopefuls have questioned that aid, fueling concerns over whether Washington will be able to back Ukraine at the same level once the U.S. 2024 election campaign intensifies.
The U.S. government has so far provided more than $43 billion in weaponry and other military aid to Ukraine. A new package of security assistance is set to be unveiled this week, Reuters reported on Friday.
Kyiv is hoping to receive U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets pledged by a number of NATO allies.
Blinken’s trip is intended to keep the U.S. public focused on the war and what the senior State Department official described as “dictators and autocrats not being able to bite off a piece of their neighbour and get to keep it with impunity”.
“So it’s also a good time to remind the American people why this matters,” the official said.
Public support for helping Ukraine has been strong but a recent CNN poll found that just over half of Americans now oppose additional funding for Kyiv.
President Joe Biden asked Congress in August to approve about $40 billion in additional spending, including $24 billion for Ukraine and other international needs.
The request could face opposition in Congress, where some far-right Republicans — especially those with close ties to former President Donald Trump — want to pare back the billions in assistance Washington has sent to Ukraine.