Blinken travels to Kiev to meet with Zelensky

This would be the first official US visit since the beginning of the Russian invasion

Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP  -   U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pose for a photo during their meeting Sunday, April 24, 2022, in Kiev.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin have travelled to Ukraine to meet with Ukrainian President Volodomir Zelensky, the first official US visit to Kiev since the invasion began. 

During their visit, both representatives announced the gradual return of US diplomats to Ukraine, as well as the appointment of a new ambassador. This is the only information that has been made public for security reasons along with the approval of a new $713 million aid package.

Almost two weeks before the Russian invasion, which began on 24 February, US diplomats left Kiev and moved some of their functions to the western city of Lviv, before relocating back to Poland. The diplomats are reportedly resuming "day trips" across the border to Lviv. The officials are also reportedly advancing plans to return to Kiev, the state secretary confirmed. 

Oficina de Prensa de la Presidencia de Ucrania vía AP - US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, third from left, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, fourth from left, attend their meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, fourth from right, in Kiev, Ukraine.

In addition, they have highlighted the resistance of the Ukrainian army in the face of the Russian advance. In this sense, it has been and continues to be the Ukrainian resistance that has managed to change Moscow's military strategy.

At the beginning of the invasion, Russia announced that its army would "denazify" Ukraine. Under this pretext, Russian troops managed to get as close as Kiev, but failed to seize the capital. For this reason, the Kremlin decided to change its strategy to focus on the east of the country, where there is significant pro-Russian influence. 

Russia has not admitted its military failure, even to justify its new strategy. Offensives continue to be waged on the territory in the face of a civilian population trying to leave the country. In cities such as Mariupol, attempts to evacuate civilians continue to fail, prompting the UN to call for an immediate truce: "We need a pause in the fighting right now to save lives. The longer we wait, the more lives are at risk," said the UN coordinator in Ukraine, Amin Awad.

Oficina de Prensa de la Presidencia de Ucrania vía AP - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, attends his meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday, April 24, 2022.

The attempt to implement a new humanitarian corridor has turned out to be a failure after Russia failed to guarantee that it would respect a ceasefire. This has been confirmed by Ukraine's deputy prime minister, Irina Vereschuk, who has stated that "more than 20,000 people have died in the city since the beginning of the Russian invasion". 

Meanwhile, Blinken said that Russia "has already failed" in Ukraine in the wake of the US meeting with the Ukrainian leader. Following the meeting, the US accelerated the delivery of heavy weapons. Austin said they want to "see Russia weakened to the point where it can't do the kinds of things it has done by invading Ukraine. It has already lost a lot of military capability', he added, 'a lot of troops to be honest, and we would not want it to be able to quickly rebuild that capability'. 

This visit, in turn, is intended to show Western support for the Ukrainian country. "Our approach in the meeting was to talk about those things that would not allow us to win the current fight and also to build for tomorrow," he said, describing the meeting as "very productive".

AFP/ALEX BRANDON - Blinken and Austin announced during the trip the gradual return of US diplomats to Ukraine starting "this week," a senior State Department official said, as well as more than $700 million in additional direct and indirect military aid.

Regarding the current situation in Kiev, the secretary noted that citizens are slowly trying to return to normality, in contrast to "parts of the south and east, where Russian brutality is just horrible". 

Until now, US officials had refused to visit Ukraine on 'security grounds'. Indeed, the media itself was asked not to publish anything until the two secretaries were already in the capital.

AFP/AFP - Map showing the location of the humanitarian corridor on 21 April for the evacuation of civilians from Mariupol.

After the meeting, Austin now heads to Germany, where he will receive counterparts from more than 20 other countries, as well as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, at Ramstein Air Base, according to a Pentagon official.

 Resistance in the Donbas

With the onset of Russia's new strategy, the Donbas has become the main focus for the Kremlin. Both Blinken and Austin informed Zelensky that more than $322 million had been sent, which would bring the total of US assistance to '$3.7 billion'. Alongside this, he indicated that such assistance "will also help Ukraine's armed forces transition to more advanced weapons and air defence systems, essentially NATO-compatible systems". 

REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO - A boy stands next to a wrecked vehicle in front of an apartment building damaged during the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine 24 April 2022

Another $400 million in new foreign military funding will go to 15 other nations in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. According to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, "more than 50 Ukrainians would be ready to complete training to operate Howitzer heavy artillery", artillery that Washington decided to send to Ukraine in the wake of Russia's change in strategy.

Americas Coordinator: José Antonio Sierra.