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Blinken, Austin pledge return of U.S. diplomats, more security assistance on Kyiv visit

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SOUTHEAST POLAND, April 25 (Reuters) – Washington’s top diplomat and defense secretary both visited kyiv on Sunday and enjoyed the first official U.S. visit to Ukraine since the Russian invasion two months ago to announce the gradual return of American diplomats to the country and the appointment. of a new ambassador, officials said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin traveled to Poland on Saturday and then overland to Ukraine on Sunday, where they met with President Volodomyr Zelenskiy and other senior Ukrainian officials, a senior official said. State Department official, declining to discuss in detail their travel or security arrangements.

The visit was aimed at showing Western support for Ukraine and the cabinet secretaries also pledged new aid worth $713 million to Zelenskiy’s government and countries in the region, where Russia’s invasion raised fears of further aggression from Moscow.

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It also highlighted the evolution of the conflict since Ukrainian forces, armed with a massive influx of weapons from the West, successfully repelled a Russian assault on kyiv.

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Russian forces have regrouped in an attempt to capture more territory in the southeastern Donbass region, allowing foreign leaders to visit the capital and some Western countries to resume their diplomatic presence in recent weeks, but Washington has cautious about returning amid sporadic Russian missile attacks in the west. .

Officials declined media requests to accompany the secretaries to Ukraine, citing security concerns. Officials briefed reporters in Poland on the condition that the trip would not be reported until the delegation had safely left Ukraine.

Austin will then travel to Germany, where he will host counterparts from more than 20 countries and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the US Ramstein Air Base to discuss Ukraine’s defense needs, a source said. Pentagon official.

Zelenskiy announced the trip himself at a press conference on Saturday, which US officials said was a contingency they had planned for and did not derail the visit.

Blinken and Austin were to have met for about 90 minutes with Zelenskiy, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and other officials.

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US diplomats left the Kyiv embassy nearly two weeks before the Feb. 24 invasion, transferring some duties to the western city of Lviv before eventually moving to Poland.

Diplomats will initially resume “day trips” across the border to Lviv in the coming week and officials are accelerating planning for a return to the Kyiv mission, the State Department official said.

“There is no substitute for this face-to-face engagement, and of course there is symbolism in being back in the country,” said the official, who briefed reporters in Poland on condition of anonymity.

The official also said that on Monday, President Joe Biden will officially appoint Bridget Brink, currently US Ambassador to Slovakia, as US Ambassador to Ukraine, a post that has remained vacant for more than two years.

Blinken and Austin briefed Zelenskiy on more than $322 million in new foreign military funding for Ukraine, bringing total U.S. security assistance to Ukraine since the invasion to about $3.7 billion, said said the manager.

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“It will provide capability support that Ukraine needs, especially combat in Donbass,” the official said. “This assistance will also help the Ukrainian Armed Forces transition to more advanced weapons and air defense systems, essentially NATO capable systems.”

Nearly $400 million in new foreign military funding will also go to 15 other countries in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, the official said.

More than 50 Ukrainians were due to undergo training on Monday to operate the Howitzer heavy artillery that Washington has begun sending to Ukraine in recent weeks to reflect that fighting is now concentrated in the flatter and more open region of Donbass, the official said. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby to reporters in Poland. .

Ahead of the visit, Blinken spoke with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday to coordinate the UN chief’s visits to Moscow and Kyiv, the official said.

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Reporting by Simon Lewis; Editing by Daniel Wallis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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