U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has begun a set of surprise meetings with top Ukrainian officials in Kyiv, pledging U.S. support in its ongoing counteroffensive and “what it needs for the long term.”
Blinken’s unannounced visit on September 6 came just hours after the Ukrainian capital was again targeted by Russian missiles.
The State Department made no statement about the purpose of Blinken’s trip, but it comes days after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced a major shakeup at the Defense Ministry amid mounting concerns about wartime corruption involving military contracts.
Unnamed U.S. officials told reporters traveling with Blinken that the trip was aimed at assessing Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces. The officials said Blinken would announce a new military aid package of between $175 million and $200 million, with another, larger package expected to be announced later this week.
Blinken, who traveled to Kyiv via train, met with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen during the journey, according to a State Department spokesman, who said Blinken thanked Frederiksen for Denmark’s offer to train Ukrainian pilots on F-16s fighter jets and for promising to donate the jets to Kyiv.
After arriving, Blinken laid a wreath at a Kyiv cemetery commemorating members of the Ukrainian armed forces killed while defending the country, according to press reports.
“We want to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs, not only to succeed in the counteroffensive but has what it needs for the long term, to make sure that it has a strong deterrent,” Blinken was quoted as telling reporters in Kyiv while standing alongside Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba.
“We’re also determined to continue to work with our partners as they build and rebuild a strong economy, strong democracy.”
The trip is Blinken’s fourth to Ukraine since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Ukraine is in the third month of a major counteroffensive against Russia forces that it hopes will decisively shift the momentum of the war.
While Ukrainian forces have made some progress in the southern Zaporizhzhiya region, and in the eastern Donetsk region, the advances have been small. Some of Ukraine’s Western backers have expressed frustration at the slow pace.
Ahead of the visit, Russia again targeted the Ukrainian capital with cruise missiles. In a post on Telegram, Serhiy Popko, the head of the Kyiv city military administration, said air defenses shot down the missiles, and there were no casualties or damage to the city in the early morning attack.
In Izmayil, a Danube River port southwest of Odesa, at least one person was killed in Russian drone attacks that lasted for three hours. Oleh Kiper, the region’s governor, said on Telegram.
The port and some connected agricultural infrastructure were also damaged, he said.
Izmayil borders NATO-member Romania, which has become a major route for Ukrainian grain and agricultural shipments out of the country following Russia’s withdrawal in July from a United Nations deal that had allowed maritime shipments of Ukrainian products via the Black Sea.
Russia has stepped up its attacks on Ukraine’s Odesa and Mykolayiv regions in recent weeks as talks on reviving the deal continue.
Blinken’s meetings with Ukrainian officials were also expected to touch on alternative export routes for Ukrainian grain.
Earlier this week, Ukrainian officials complained that Russian drones had hit Romanian territory, a claim that Bucharest later “categorically denied.”
Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on September 5 that the attacks had taken place “very, very close” to his country’s border.
Blinken’s trip to Kyiv was his first since September 2022, and comes with Zelenskiy trying to tamp down concerns that his government was not doing enough to root out some of the endemic corruption Ukraine has grappled with for years.
Anti-corruption activists and some lawmakers have raised questions about weapons contracts and procurement procedures. Some lawmakers in the United States, Ukraine’s biggest donor of military equipment, have voiced concerns.
Last month, Zelenskiy dismissed the heads of all military recruitment centers, amid questions of draft-eligible men being illegally allowed to leave the country. Ukraine’s deputy defense minister also resigned after facing allegations of corruption.
Earlier this week, Zelenskiy dismissed Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, who had served as the defense chief since before Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.
Last week, White House national-security adviser Jake Sullivan met with three top Ukrainian officials to discuss efforts to tackle wartime graft.