U.S. Sees Russian Military Shortfalls After Austin, Blinken Trip
U.S. announces additional aid for Ukraine as officials says Russia faces major depletion of military hardware.
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. announced additional aid for Ukraine as officials said Russia faces a major depletion of its military hardware and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington wants to see Russian forces ground down so they can’t attempt a repeat of the war.
Speaking to reporters in Kyiv early on Monday during the highest-level U.S. visit to Ukraine since Russia invaded two months ago, Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken committed a total of $713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine and 15 allied and partner countries. Some $322 million of that sum is earmarked for Ukraine, with the rest split among NATO members and other nations that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies.
The top Biden administration officials traveled to Kyiv from Poland Sunday on a train with blacked-out windows as Russian forces continued pounding the eastern part of the country.
With the war now entering a third month despite several rounds of international sanctions and waves of weapons supplied, Austin was asked about U.S. goals in the conflict. Washington wants Ukraine to remain a sovereign, democratic country, able to protect itself, and “we want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” he said.
Russia “has already lost a lot of military capability, and a lot of its troops quite frankly,” Austin said. “We want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.”
A senior State Department official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity after the trip, said the U.S. sees Russia facing a significant depletion of its hardware and forces as the war drags on. Russian production lines are increasingly confronting shortages of components and parts, according to the official, who didn’t say how the U.S. obtained that information.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, President Joe Biden said the trip by Blinken and Austin “went good,” without offering more details.
Blinken is likely to offer more details of the visit during days of congressional testimony starting Tuesday.
Austin and Blinken also announced that American diplomats will return to Ukraine starting next week, and will look into the feasibility of reopening the embassy in Kyiv in the coming weeks. In addition, Biden plans to formally nominate Bridget Brink, currently the U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, to be its next envoy in Ukraine, according to the U.S. official briefing reporters.
While the top U.S. officials were in Kyiv, Russian attacks continued overnight on the besieged city of Mariupol, while Kharkiv and the entire Luhansk region came under artillery fire, according to the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
The visit by Blinken and Austin came as Russian forces are shifting after failing to take Kyiv or topple Zelenskiy’s government in the early weeks of the conflict launched by President Vladimir Putin. Ukraine has pressured the U.S. and its allies to send more powerful weapons to repel Russia from the eastern Donbas region, where Russian troops are seeking to gain full control of Mariupol.
“When it comes to Russia’s war aims, Russia is failing, Ukraine is succeeding,” Blinken said. “We don’t know how the rest of this war will unfold, but we do know that a sovereign, independent Ukraine will be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene.”
Zelenskiy discussed matters including defense assistance, security guarantees, stepping up sanctions on Russia and further financial aid with Blinken and Austin, according to the president’s office. The senior State Department official who briefed reporters said that Zelenskiy seemed focused, grounded, and very detail-oriented during the meetings.
Austin said he and NATO counterparts will address the issue of what more can be done to provide “additional capability” to Ukraine when they meet at the Ramstein air base in Germany on Tuesday. “We will continue to do everything possible to ensure that you are successful,” he said in a video provided by Zelenskiy’s office.
Biden last week pledged an additional $1.3 billion in weaponry and economic aid, adding to an $800 million package that included heavy artillery for the first time, as well as additional helicopters. The latest aid shipments will include dozens of howitzers and attack drones.
The ongoing assistance to Ukraine is aimed at ensuring that the country has the strongest possible hand in any future negotiations with Russia, the senior State Department official said, adding that no serious negotiations are currently taking place.
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