Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin did not come empty-handed during his unannounced visit to Kyiv on Monday, where he sought to bolster Ukrainian resolve as its counteroffensive against Russian invaders appears to have stalled.
After traveling overnight by train from Poland, Mr. Austin said he came to Ukraine with the message that the U.S. will continue to stand with Kyiv. Along with words of encouragement, he announced a $100 million cache of military hardware.
The trip, Mr. Austin’s second to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022, comes amid growing concern in Ukraine that the Israel-Hamas war has distracted the U.S. and its allies from this fight and could strain military supply chains.
“We, along with our allies and partners, will continue to support Ukraine’s urgent battlefield needs and long-term defense requirements,” Mr. Austin said Monday on social media.
The military hardware announced for Ukraine includes M142 HIMARS systems, along with additional rockets; 155 mm and 105 mm artillery rounds; anti-tank weapons, demolitions, and more than 3 million rounds of small arms ammunition, officials said Monday.
The Biden administration has already provided more than $44 billion — and allies have sent an additional $35 billion — in military assistance that range from millions of bullets to air defense systems, advanced European and U.S. battle tanks and, now, F-16 fighter jets.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said his meeting with Mr. Austin went well. Both sides discussed a variety of issues, especially the current battlefield situation, he said.
“We also discussed Ukraine’s actions on the Black Sea and the defense of our export corridor,” Mr. Zelenskyy said. “Freedom of navigation is a fundamental principle for the world, and Ukraine has proven it can secure it and drive the aggressor away.”
Mr. Austin said Ukraine’s soldiers are prepared to continue their fight against Russia even as the winter season rapidly approaches. He said cold-weather gear is included in the supplies.
“They have the means that they’ll need to be successful in fighting in the wintertime,” he said. “The right thing to do is to continue to press the fight and take the fight to the enemy.”
However, Ukraine’s top commander, Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, was more pessimistic in a widely cited Nov. 1 interview in The Economist. He said the fighting in Ukraine reminds him of the bloody battlefields of World War I and said it would take an extraordinary technological leap to break the impasse with dug-in Russian occupying forces in Ukraine’s south and east.
“Just like in the First World War, we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate,” Gen. Zaluzhny said. “There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough.”
Helping Ukraine defeat Russian President Vladimir Putin on the battlefield advances U.S. national security interests. What happens there matters to the entire world, Mr. Austin said.
“This is about the rules-based international order. This is about not living in a world where a dictator can wake up one day and decide to annex the property of his peaceful neighbor,” he said. “That is not the world we want to live in.”
Ukraine’s soldiers have proven to be quick studies and have effectively used Western weaponry on the battlefield. Mr. Austin said they will continue to focus on the primary objective of removing Russian forces from Ukraine.
“They’ve learned a lot [and] I think they’ll continue to learn,” Mr. Austin said. “But this is dynamic. As they learn and make adjustments, the enemy learns and makes adjustments.”
The defense secretary insisted there remains strong bipartisan support on Capitol Hill to back Ukraine, even as a growing faction of mostly conservative lawmakers have begun to question U.S. levels of support for Kyiv. He said members of Congress who are hesitant about continuing to fund Ukraine’s war have “valid questions” and pledged they will be answered.
But a White House request to authorize another $61 billion in security and economic aid to Ukraine faces an uncertain future on Capitol Hill.
“Ukraine’s military is a learning organization. It will continue to learn from all of its operations to this point,” Mr. Austin said. “We said it will be a tough fight. It’s a grinding fight and I think we will continue to see that in the future.”
Later this week, Mr. Austin will host the latest virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group from the Pentagon. Defense Department officials said about 50 nations are expected to participate in the discussions to chart the status of Ukraine’s fight.