Kyiv, Nov 21: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Monday in a high-profile push to keep money and weapons flowing to Ukraine even as U.S. and international resources are stretched by the new global risks raised by the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Austin, who traveled to Kyiv by train from Poland, met with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and was scheduled to meet with Defense Minister Rustem Umerov and Chief of Staff Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi.
In Kyiv, Austin said Ukraine’s effort to defeat Russia’s invasion “matters to the rest of the world” and that U.S. support would continue “for the long haul.”
Zelenskyy said Austin’s visit was “a very important signal for Ukraine.”
“We count on your support,” Zelenskyy said, thanking Congress as well as the American people for their backing.
This is Austin’s second trip to Kyiv, but he’s making it under far different circumstances, as the world’s attention is drawn to the Middle East and signs of fatigue set in with the almost 21-month Russia-Ukraine war.
Austin’s first visit occurred in April 2022, just two months after the start of the war. At the time, Ukraine was riding a wave of global rage at Moscow’s invasion, and Austin launched an international effort that now sees 50 countries meet monthly to coordinate on what weapons, training and other support could be pushed to Kyiv.
The U.S. has worked feverishly since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas on Israel, and the weeks of devastating bombardment on Gaza by Israel that has followed, killing more than 10,000 civilians, to keep those attacks from turning into a regional war.
The U.S. has already committed two carrier strike groups, scores of fighter jets and thousands of U.S. personnel to the Middle East, and has had to shift its force posture and conduct airstrikes against Iranian-backed militant groups that are now hitting U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria on a regular basis.