US diplomats to start returning to Ukraine
US diplomats will begin returning to Ukraine this week, first to the western city of Lviv and then eventually to the capital, Kyiv.
The United States is also providing additional foreign military funding to Ukraine to help the country obtain more advanced weapons and air defense systems to repel Russian attacks, according to senior US officials.
US President Joe Biden will officially appoint Bridget Brink, currently US Ambassador to the Slovak Republic, as US Ambassador to Ukraine.
“It would be to underline our commitments (to Ukraine). We will work to get our diplomats back to our embassy in Kyiv as soon as possible,” a senior State Department official said.
Several member countries of the European Union and NATO send their diplomats back to kyiv, including Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia. The British government announced on Friday that it would soon reopen the British embassy in Kyiv.
The return of foreign diplomats is seen as a sign of a semblance of security in Ukraine after nearly two months of Russian shelling and shelling.
“We intend to commit over $713 million in foreign military funding,” the state official said. “This includes funding for Ukraine and 15 other Central and Eastern European allies and partners in the Balkans. … And it will provide support for the capabilities that Ukraine needs, especially for the fight in the Donbass.”
With the new foreign military funding assistance, the United States would have committed about $3.4 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, and more than $4.3 billion since the beginning of the Biden administration.
On Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov in Kyiv.
Blinken and Austin’s visit to Ukraine is the highest-level visit by a US delegation since Russia’s war on Ukraine began on Feb. 24.
It also preceded Tuesday’s consultations between the United States and dozens of allies at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, where Austin will discuss Ukraine’s long-term defense needs.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov will take part in Tuesday’s meetings.
On Tuesday’s agenda: an update on battlefield conditions, Ukraine’s resistance to Russian attacks, upcoming security assistance to Ukraine, and the willingness and ability to Ukraine to move away from Russian-made systems.
“This is not (about Ukraine’s call for) NATO membership. This is to help them meet their long-term defense needs with potential migration away from Soviet systems,” a senior defense official said.
“One of the things we expect to speak to Ramstein on Tuesday is additional contributions from allies and partners on the systems, weapons and ammunition Ukrainians need most,” the spokesman said Sunday. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby during a briefing in Poland.
Kirby said the United States has accelerated deliveries of major security assistance packages to Ukraine over the past 10 days, and some of them are already arriving. The United States sees no indication that these shipments are being interdicted by Russian forces.
On Sunday, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces launched another airstrike on the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces dug in and defiantly refused Russian demands to surrender.
Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a strict blockade of the facility as Russian forces struggled to take over possibly thousands of Ukrainian fighters and civilians who kept control of the factory with its maze of tunnels and passages.
At a lengthy press conference Saturday night at a kyiv metro station, Zelenskyy said he expected the Americans to deliver results, both in terms of armaments and security guarantees.
“You can’t come empty-handed today, and we’re not just expecting gifts or some kind of cake, we’re expecting specific things and specific weapons,” he said.
In each of the past two weeks, President Biden has approved $800 million in additional arms shipments for Ukraine, as well as $500 million in economic aid.
With congressional approval for military assistance to Ukraine nearly exhausted, Biden said he would seek approval for additional aid, as part of the West’s arming of Ukraine in its struggle against Russia, which fails to send troops to fight alongside Ukrainian forces.
Zelenskyy has repeatedly pleaded for more heavy weaponry, including long-range air defense systems, as well as fighter jets.
Zelenskyy’s meeting with Austin and Blinken was to take place as Ukrainians and Russians observed Orthodox Easter. Zelenskyy is Jewish, but speaking from kyiv’s old St. Sophia Cathedral, he cited Ukrainians’ wishes for the holiday.
“Today’s big holiday gives us great hope and unshakable faith that light will overcome darkness, good will overcome evil, life will overcome death and therefore Ukraine will surely win!” he said.
But Russian bombardment remains a constant threat to Ukraine. The Russian military reported hitting 423 Ukrainian targets overnight, mostly in the industrial region of eastern Donbass, and destroying 26 Ukrainian military sites, including an explosives factory and several artillery depots.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said in a statement on Sunday that it was “deeply alarmed by the situation in Mariupol, where the population is in urgent need of assistance”. The ICRC said: “Immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access is urgently needed to allow the safe voluntary passage of thousands of civilians and hundreds of injured people out of the city, including from the area of the factory. ‘Azovstal.
After the Blinken-Austin visit, Zelenskyy is expected to meet with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Thursday. The UN chief is due to meet Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Monday and Putin in Moscow on Tuesday.
British officials said on Saturday Russian troops had not gained significant new ground despite news of a new offensive along the eastern front, while Ukraine on Sunday declared a nationwide curfew ahead of Easter. orthodox.
Ukraine said Russian forces hampered attempts to evacuate civilians from the besieged port city of Mariupol.
“The evacuation was thwarted,” Mariupol city official Petro Andryushchenko said on Telegram, adding that about 200 people gathered at the government-designated evacuation assembly point, but Russian forces “scattered” them.
Some information for this story comes from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.