Saturday, May 25, 2024

US promises Ukraine military assistance to make ‘real difference’ on battlefield

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has promised Ukraine the military aid that will make “a real difference” on the battlefield is on the way. It came as Moscow launched a new offensive in the Kharkiv region on Friday, forcing the evacuation of thousands of people.

Blinken arrived in Kyiv on a surprise diplomatic visit on Tuesday to underline the support of the US. He is the first of Joe Biden administration official to visit Kyiv after the passage of the Ukraine funding, which Ukraine and its allies hope could be a turning point in the war.

The Secretary of State said on Tuesday the long-awaited Washington’s military assistance has started arriving in Kyiv, after months of delays caused by political haggling in the US Congress.

The $61 billion package includes about $23 billion to replenish US arms, stockpiles and facilities and nearly $14 billion to help Ukraine buy advanced weapons systems and other defense equipment. More than $11 billion will fund current US military operations in the wider region.

As he met Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday, Blinken underscored that “the assistance was now on the way”.

“Some of it already arrived, and more of it will be arriving, and that’s going to make a real difference against the Russian aggression on the battlefield,” he added.

“We are determined, along with many partners of Ukraine, to make sure you succeed on the battlefield.”

“A strong, successful, thriving, free Ukraine is the best possible rebuke to [Russia’s President Vladimir] Putin,” he continued, adding that Washington is “determined that over time, Ukraine stands strongly on its own feet: militarily, economically, democratically”.

Blinken’s visit comes as Russia continues its new push into northeastern Ukraine after making several major advances there over the past week, marking Moscow’s most significant gains since Kyiv’s forces recaptured Kharkiv in late summer 2022.

More than 7,000 people have been evacuated from the Kharkiv region, the head of the region’s military administration, Oleh Syniehubov, stated on Tuesday.

The majority of the evacuations took place in the Chuhuiv and Kharkiv districts, with volunteers assisting efforts.

The Sumy region, which borders the Kharkiv region, has also ordered a “voluntary evacuation” for several towns where attacks have increased, according to the region’s military administration.

The Institute for the Study of War in Washington reported last month that Russian missile and drone strikes against Ukraine have become much more effective in recent months, even though there was no dramatic increase in their size or frequency.

“Instead, Russian forces are exploiting the degradation of Ukraine’s air defense umbrella caused by continued delays in Western security assistance and appear to be leveraging tactical adaptations stemming from several months of Russian efforts to test Ukrainian air defenses,” the Washington-based group said in a report.

Zelensky lauded the “crucial” US aid, stressing the country’s biggest deficit – air defence. He told Blinken that Ukraine needed two air defence batteries for the northeastern city of Kharkiv, being pummelled by Russian air raids.

“Civilians, warriors, everybody – they are under Russian missiles.”

In an address on Monday evening, Zelensky has sought to reassure Ukrainians that Russia’s operations in the northern Kharkiv border area will not lead to defensive gaps elsewhere along the frontline.

“We understand how the enemy is acting, and we see the plan to draw our forces back,” the president added.

Kiev’s military intelligence chief has warned Ukraine’s precarious battlefield position is set to worsen in the near future. Kirill Budanov described the situation as “on the edge” as Russia continues to make territorial gains.

The Russian operation has long been expected in Ukraine, but according to some military officials, Kiev failed to prepare defenses on its side of the border, possibly due to graft.

The Ukrainian leadership has blamed a shortage of Western military assistance and the months-long delay in the appropriation of over $61 billion of Ukraine-related spending by the US Congress for a string of frontline setbacks since last year.

Moscow perceives the Ukraine conflict as a US-initiated proxy war against Russia, in which Ukrainian soldiers serve as “cannon fodder”. The Defense Ministry has estimated Kiev’s military casualties at over 111,000 this year alone, as of early May.

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