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The US Secretary of Defense unexpectedly travels to Kyiv for a visit.
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The US Secretary of Defense unexpectedly travels to Kyiv for a visit.

During a surprise trip to Kyiv on Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declared an additional $100 million in military assistance for Ukraine. This is aimed at reassuring Ukrainian officials that the United States remains committed to aiding their efforts in countering Russia’s invasion.

Austin arrived in Kyiv after taking an overnight train from Poland and met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Ukrainian president expressed gratitude to the U.S. defense secretary during their meeting.

“The fact that you are coming is a significant indication for Ukraine,” expressed Zelenskyy. “We are deeply grateful to the American people for standing by us during these challenging times, difficult months, and past years.”

The extra support from the United States to the Ukrainian military is sourced from already-stocked weapons, such as artillery and air defense interceptors, as well as a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS).

On Monday, during their meeting, Austin commended the perseverance, resourcefulness, and bravery of the Ukrainian citizens and promised ongoing support from the United States for Ukraine.

“I have a message for you, Mr. President. The United States of America stands by your side. Our support for you will continue for the foreseeable future,” he informed Zelenskyy. “The events taking place in Ukraine are not only important for Ukraine itself, but also have global significance.”

After the meeting, Austin informed reporters that he thinks Ukraine is “ready for winter combat.”

VoA asked Austin about President Zelenskyy’s repeated statements regarding his intention to maintain pressure on the Russians. Austin responded that they anticipate this to actually occur.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, right, speaks to employees of the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, Nov. 20, 2023.

On November 20, 2023, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin addressed employees at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv.

Top officials from the United States Department of Defense stated that Austin visited Kyiv to address the current winter conflict and strategize for future aid in maintaining security.

A senior defense official, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, stated that they will continue to offer consistent security support and have plans to do so throughout the winter.

Austin’s visit marks his first trip to Ukraine since April 2022. As winter approaches, Ukrainian and Western authorities are concerned that Russian President Vladimir Putin will once again target critical infrastructure, as he did last winter, resulting in power outages for many Ukrainians during the coldest days of the year.

A second high-ranking defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity while traveling with Austin, stated that air defense will be a crucial capability this winter.

“We have successfully increased our air defense equipment, however, this does not indicate that there are no longer any needs present or that there won’t be any in the upcoming months.”

Over the weekend, a barrage of approximately 40 drones, which were manufactured in Iran and launched from Russian territory, attacked Ukrainian air defenses. Out of the 38 drones, 29 were destroyed by Ukraine’s forces. However, the remaining drones were able to hit various infrastructure facilities, resulting in power outages in over 400 towns and villages across the country.

Ukrainian officials reported that drones launched an attack from the south in the Odesa and Zaporizhzhia regions, up to the northern Chernihiv region near the Belarusian border. In a second attack this month, Kyiv was also targeted, but all drones heading towards the capital were successfully intercepted.

The Pentagon plans to decrease its current supply of weapons and ammunition in order to assist Ukraine. Additionally, the United States will be providing Ukraine with several capabilities that were acquired last year through contracts. Officials note that ammunition supplies have also grown due to advancements in Western production capacity.

Other countries say they are also surging capabilities, with Germany announcing earlier this month that it would deliver more crucial air defense systems by the end of this year.

Officials aim to prevent Russian forces from strengthening their positions during the upcoming winter season, in addition to maintaining air defense. Last winter, Russian fighters took advantage of a pause in the conflict to fortify their controlled territory, leading some experts to label the situation as a “stalemate.”

A senior defense official stated that the situation is not a stalemate and the battle is continuously changing. Ukraine is making progress and gaining ground against Russian forces. They have also been able to attack deeper into Russian territory and disrupt their operations, weakening their capabilities.

The official cited the recent Ukrainian attack in the Kherson region as evidence of Ukraine’s capability to “weaken Russian forces in a region where their defenses are relatively weak.”

Last week, Ukrainian military forces successfully expelled Russian soldiers from their positions on the eastern side of the Dnipro River and set up multiple bridgeheads. This strategic maneuver allows for the potential for Ukrainian troops to launch a fresh offensive on the shortest land route to Crimea, which was unlawfully seized by Russia in 2014.

According to Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova, while Moscow’s forces maintain control over 18% of Ukrainian land, Kyiv’s forces have successfully retaken over 50% of the territory that was invaded.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Ukraine's Defence Minister Rustem Umerov shake hands after their meeting, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Nov. 20, 2023. (Ukraine's Defence Minister Rustem Umerov via X/Handout via Reuters)

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin of the United States and Ukraine’s Defence Minister Rustem Umerov greeted each other with a handshake at their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine on November 20, 2023. (Photo: Ukraine’s Defence Minister Rustem Umerov courtesy of X/Handout via Reuters)

Austin’s unexpected trip to Kyiv coincides with the possibility of waning Western support, particularly in light of recent events in Israel and Gaza that have drawn attention away from the ongoing conflict in Europe.

Austin is set to hold another session of the virtual Ukraine Defense Contact Group from the Pentagon this week. According to the Pentagon, over 50 countries will be taking part in the discussions, which aim to facilitate coordination among Ukraine’s allies in providing military assistance to Kyiv.

There is a growing hesitation in the U.S. Congress to provide additional military assistance to Ukraine. However, Austin stated on Monday to reporters that he still sees support from both sides of Congress.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged legislators to endorse President Biden’s recent proposal for providing military assistance to Ukraine.

Blinken stated that providing assistance to Ukraine in its defense efforts can minimize the risk of a larger conflict in the area and discourage any future acts of aggression, ultimately promoting safety for everyone involved.

A high-ranking defense official stated, “We remain confident that Congress will offer their support, and we are making plans according to that belief,” but also recognized that if support for Ukrainian aid were to change, the administration would need to reevaluate certain military purchases scheduled for Kyiv in the future.

According to another high-ranking defense official, the Pentagon has continued to work diligently in providing assistance to Ukraine, despite the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, because Ukraine is a significant concern.

Many individuals have been telling me that I am no longer as occupied as I used to be. However, this is far from accurate and this journey serves as proof of that, stated the high-ranking defense representative.