On Surprise Visit to Ukraine, Blinken Reassures Zelensky of U.S. Support

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken met with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in Kyiv on Tuesday, assuring him that American military aid is on its way at a “challenging time” for the country’s war effort against Russia.

The meeting was Mr. Blinken’s first since his morning arrival in Kyiv, and came under the shadow of Russian military gains in the country’s northeast. In an ornate conference room at his presidential offices on Bankova Street, Mr. Zelensky said that Mr. Blinken had come during “a tough period for the east of our country.”

The Ukrainian leader profusely thanked Mr. Blinken for the “crucial” $60.8 billion aid package for his country that President Biden signed last month after months of infighting among congressional Republicans. But Mr. Zelensky quickly added that Ukraine was still in need, pointing to the Russian military advances around the northeastern city of Kharkiv in recent days. Russian forces captured another village, Lukiantsi, overnight and bombed the city of Kharkiv on Tuesday morning, injuring four people.

Calling air defense a “deficit for us,” Mr. Zelensky said, “We really need it today, two Patriots for Kharkiv.” The Patriot is a U.S.-made surface-to-air missile system.

Mr. Blinken did not specifically respond to that request, but he told Mr. Zelensky that incoming American aid — some of which he said had already arrived — would “make a real difference on the battlefield.”

The unannounced visit was Mr. Blinken’s fourth to Ukraine’s capital since Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. Mr. Blinken, who arrived on an overnight train from Poland, plans to deliver a speech later on Tuesday celebrating the influx of American aid and portraying Russia’s failed effort to take control of the country as a strategic success for Ukraine, according to a senior U.S. official.

Mr. Blinken will also underscore that Ukraine must continue to make progress on democratic governance and anticorruption reforms if it wants to integrate with the West, the official said.

Mr. Biden and Mr. Blinken had warned for months that Congress’s delay in approving critically needed U.S. arms would leave Ukraine’s military vulnerable along an eastern battlefront that has been stalemated for months. The U.S. official declined to draw a direct connection between the delayed aid and Russia’s gains near the city of Kharkiv. But the official said it was clear that the gap in funding had left Ukraine, whose military is starved for ammunition and other critical equipment, weakened.

The official said that Ukrainian forces had held their positions and were exacting a toll on the Russians, and that they were likely to make gains as U.S. assistance flows into the country.

Mr. Blinken and Mr. Zelensky have developed a personal rapport over numerous meetings in Europe and the United States in the past several years. The secretary of state, who visited Kyiv twice in the year before Russia’s full-scale invasion, is known there as one of Washington’s leading champions of strong Western support for Ukraine.

“I know you did a lot for this positive decision,” Mr. Zelensky told Mr. Blinken of the new aid package, for which the secretary of state had lobbied vigorously.

“We’ve traveled a long road together these past couple of years,” Mr. Blinken said, before the men began the private portion of their meeting.

A second senior U.S. official would not say whether Russia had been notified in advance of Mr. Blinken’s visit. Russian forces have frequently attacked Kyiv with missiles and drones.

Mr. Blinken is the first senior Biden official to visit Ukraine since the passage of the congressional aid package. The White House national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, met with Mr. Zelensky in Kyiv in late March, before the package passed.

Speaking at an event hosted by The Financial Times this month, Mr. Sullivan said that he expected Russia to make some short-term gains, but that the new U.S. aid would allow Ukraine to “hold the line” and eventually begin recapturing territory.

Maria Varenikova contributed reporting.

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