KYIV, Nov 20 (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced $100 million in new military aid to Ukraine during an unannounced visit to Kiev on Monday, pledging long-term U.S. support amid growing concerns about the durability of vital U.S. aid.
Austin announced the aid package after a day of meetings with Ukrainian officials and said it included weapons such as anti-tank weapons and air defense interceptors.
Austin, accompanied by the top US general in Europe, was photographed smiling and shaking hands with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. It marked Austin’s first visit to Kiev since April 2022.
“The message that I bring to you today, Mr. President, is that the United States is with you. We will stay with you for the long haul,” Austin told Zelenskiy after an overnight train to Ukraine from Poland.
The US ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, said the visit showed Washington’s “unwavering support for Ukraine in its struggle for freedom”.
Zelenskiy told Austin that his visit was “a very important signal” for Ukraine.
“We count on your support,” Zelenskiy told Austin.
The United States has provided more than $44 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022.
The trip comes amid growing divisions over aid to Ukraine in the US Congress, with a US presidential election in November 2024. Some US lawmakers prioritize aid to Israel, although US defense officials stress that Washington can support both allies simultaneously.
Privately, some top Ukrainian officials have expressed concern that deliveries of military aid could become less frequent, reflecting broader unease about the level of support needed to sustain the war against Russia. Ukraine’s budget for next year has a deficit of more than $40 billion that needs to be filled.
STOP-GAP EXPENDITURE BILL
President Joe Biden had asked Congress to approve more money for Ukraine last month. Its omission from a stop-gap spending bill passed by lawmakers last week raised concerns that funding for Ukraine might never be appropriated, especially after the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a bill that includes aid to Israel, but not Ukraine.
A vocal bloc of Republicans opposes sending more aid to Ukraine. Opponents of the aid have said American taxpayer money should be spent at home, but a majority of Republicans and Democrats in Congress still support aid to Zelenskiy’s government.
A joint Ukraine-US military industrial conference in Washington, set for December 6-7, is intended to boost Ukraine’s domestic arms production as the war draws towards the two-year mark.
Earlier in the day, Austin spoke with Defense Department staff at the US Embassy.
“When you think back to the beginning of this, nobody thought Ukraine could survive for more than a week. So here we are much later,” Austin said.
“Now everyone is wondering why Ukraine hadn’t overpowered Russia, which is a much bigger country with much more capability. But just think about that shift in mindset,” Austin added.
Russia now controls almost a fifth of Ukraine. The West sent in military equipment and Ukraine launched a counteroffensive push this year to retake occupied land, but it has not made a major breakthrough.
Reporting by Max Hunder and Tom Balmforth in Kiev and Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham, Bernadette Baum and Alex Richardson
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