Defense secretary Austin arrives in Kyiv in surprise visit meant to reemphasize support for Ukraine

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Kyiv on Monday, in a surprise trip to Ukraine to reemphasize the US’ support for the embattled country amid other pressing challenges abroad.

“The message that I bring you today, Mr. President, is the United States of America is with you,” Austin told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “We will remain with you for the long-haul. What happened here in Ukraine – that not only matters to Ukraine but it matters to the rest of the world. It certainly matters to the United States of America.”

According to a Defense Department news release, Austin traveled to Ukraine to “reinforce the staunch support of the United States for Ukraine’s fight for freedom.”

Senior defense officials, in a briefing with traveling press, emphasized the critical nature of Austin’s visit and the message it sends that the US will continue to support Ukraine despite other challenges, specifically in the Middle East with Israel’s fight against Hamas.

A senior defense official said Austin intended to speak with Ukrainians about their requirements for security assistance. Austin’s trip comes as senior US officials have said publicly that available funding for Ukraine aid is quickly running out. Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said last week that the lack of additional funding has caused the US to “parse down our support on our security assistance for Ukraine.”

While US funding for aid to Ukraine is dwindling, the official said a “number of capabilities” that were procured over the last year and a half will begin coming online in the next few months and “throughout 2024.”

“So, there will be a steady supply of capabilities immediately and for some time,” the official said.

The official also said they anticipated Russia targeting critical infrastructure in the winter months as they did last year.

“They did it last winter. We’ve already seen some of those strikes actually in the last couple of days. But we are on track to provide a steady stream of artillery, ammunition, longer-range fire throughout these months so there’s that,” the official said. “We can do both at the same time.”

Upon his arrival in Kyiv, Austin met with roughly 25 Americans in Ukraine as part of the Defense Department’s Embassy Kyiv team. In remarks before their meeting, Austin thanked them for their work and assured them what they’re doing matters.

“When you’re working hard each and every day and things are going not quite like you want them to go every day, you sometimes question whether or not what you’re doing at that time is really making a difference. It is,” Austin said. “You are enabling us to provide support to a country that’s fighting for its existence. There’s probably nothing more important than that.”

Austin’s trip comes just days before he will host the 17th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, virtually from the Pentagon.

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