One of Washington’s goals in responding to the Ukraine crisis is to erode Russia’s ability to carry out future military actions akin to the now three-month-old invasion of Ukraine, Defense Secretary of State Lloyd Austin said Monday upon returning from a stealth visit to Kyiv.
“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,” Mr. Austin told reporters in Poland, where he and Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived early Monday after traveling by train to the Ukrainian capital.
Security was tight for the trip, the highest-level visit to Kyiv by a U.S. delegation since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began. The Biden administration did not reveal details of the visit until after Mr. Austin and Mr. Blinken had returned from meeting late Sunday night with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“We took a train into Kyiv from southwestern Poland, so [we] didn’t see a lot except looking out the train windows on our way in,” Mr. Blinken told reporters upon returning to Poland. “In Kyiv itself, we went right to the presidential palace. We spent about three hours with President Zelenskyy, with his senior team. That was the entire focus of our visit.”
“We had an opportunity to demonstrate directly our strong ongoing support for the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people,” Mr. Blinken said. “This was, in our judgment, an important moment to be there, to have face-to-face conversations in detail.”
He added that the discussion with Mr. Zelenskyy was wide-ranging and included an emphasis on “President Biden’s intent to nominate a new ambassador to Ukraine, Ambassador Bridget Brink.”
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“When it comes to Russia’s war aims, Russia is failing. Ukraine is succeeding,” the secretary of state said. “Russia has sought as its principal aim to totally subjugate Ukraine, to take away its sovereignty, to take away its independence. That has failed.”
Ahead of the Blinken-Austin visit, Mr. Zelenskyy had made headlines by publicly calling on the U.S. officials not to arrive “empty-handed.”
“We are expecting not just presents or some kind of cakes,” the Ukrainian president had said over the weekend.
“We are expecting specific things and specific weapons,” the Ukrainian president had said in reference to Kyiv’s repeated requests since the invasion began for heavy weapons such as long-range air defense systems and warplanes.
Mr. Biden last week announced $800 million in fresh aid in the form of U.S. military equipment for Ukraine.
Mr. Austin said Monday that the United States is “doing everything that we can” to help provide Ukrainian forces with “the types of artillery and munitions that will be effective in this stage of the fight.”
The defense secretary said the recent authorization of $800 million more in aid “allows us to provide five battalions of 155 Howitzers [and] hundreds of thousands of rounds of artillery.”
When asked by a reporter how he defines America’s goals for success with regard to the Ukraine policy, Mr. Austin said U.S. officials “want to see Ukraine remain a sovereign country, a democratic country able to protect its sovereign territory.”
He then added that U.S. officials want to see Russia “weakened.”
“[Russia] has already lost a lot of military capability, and a lot of its troops, quite frankly,” Mr. Austin said. “We want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability. We want to see the international community more united, especially NATO, and we’re seeing that, and that’s based upon the hard work of, number one, President Biden, but also our Allies and partners who have willingly leaned into this with us as we’ve imposed sanctions and as we’ve moved very rapidly to demonstrate that we’re going to defend every inch of NATO.”