Blinken visits Ukraine to offer new US military aid for counteroffensive

KYIV/RZESZOW, Poland, Sept 8 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Kyiv on Thursday to pledge $2 billion in fresh security aid, including support the Biden administration hopes will bolster a Ukrainian counteroffensive aimed at pushing back Russian forces in the south and east.

Blinken’s second visit to the Ukrainian capital since Russia's February invasion comes as Ukraine reported progress in its effort to retake territory seized by Russia near Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv. read more

Meeting President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at his fortified presidential administration building in Kyiv, Blinken said his visit came at a "pivotal moment" for Ukraine, noting the counteroffensive was proving effective.

"I think the reason for this success is that this is your homeland, not Russia’s, and it’s as basic as that," Blinken told Zelenskiy.

Zelenskiy said Ukraine was grateful for the United States' “enormous support,” which he said was helping Ukraine “return our territory and lands.”

"This is a very important signal that the United States is with us," Zelenskiy said.

Blinken also visited a children's hospital, where he met youngsters injured in Russian bombardments, and toured damaged buildings in Irpin, a city just outside Kyiv that was the site of fierce fighting as Ukrainian forces resisted Russia's attempt to encircle the capital.

Blinken announced a new $2.2 billion foreign military financing package for Ukraine and 18 other countries deemed at risk of future Russian aggression. An official earlier said the package would be worth $2 billion.

Approximately $1 billion would be allocated to Ukraine, an official said. The rest would be divided among Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

The money is intended to defend sovereignty, modernize security forces, enhance partnerships with transatlantic military alliance NATO, and strengthen capacity "to counter Russian influence and aggression," the official said by email.

The aid comes in the form of U.S. grants and loans that enable countries to purchase weapons and defence equipment made in the United States. It requires U.S. Congress to be notified.

President Joe Biden also approved a separate $675 million in weapons to Ukraine, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin announced earlier on Thursday as ministers met in Germany to discuss how to support Ukraine long-term. read more

The latest tranche of weapons will include more ammunitions, Humvees and anti-tank systems, officials said.

COUNTEROFFENSIVE

The latest aid brings total U.S. security assistance to Ukraine to $15.2 billion since Biden took office in January 2021, Blinken said.

“All of this security assistance (to Ukraine) is trying to help ensure that Ukraine is successful in this counteroffensive,” said another State Department official, who briefed reporters in southeastern Poland ahead of the visit.

Blinken had travelled to Poland with reporters but officials did not allow media to accompany him into Ukraine citing security reasons.

Regaining territory currently occupied by Russia would put Ukraine in a stronger position in potential future talks to end the war, a third State Department official said.

“Right now, the Ukrainians do not have a viable map from which to negotiate,” the official said.

“That's why we're supporting this counteroffensive … to put them in the strongest possible position, and have (Russian President Vladimir) Putin understand that after hemorrhaging all this money, all this capital, all these weapons, all these young Russian boys - who have also been chewed up along with Ukrainians - that it's time for him to come to the table in good faith.”

The trip also comes ahead of the United Nations General Assembly later this month in New York, where Blinken will address world leaders as Washington attempts to hold together opposition to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Meeting Ukraine’s leaders would help Blinken push back on concerns about the economic impacts of the war, including in the global south where the raised cost of grain and fertilizer have led to food security concerns, the U.S. officials said. read more

Blinken travels to Brussels on Friday to rally support among U.S. allies for Ukraine as Europe braces for a winter of high energy prices and possible shortages with reduced gas inflows from Russia, the officials said. NATO said Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Blinken would hold a joint news conference.

Reporting by Simon Lewis; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, William Maclean and Hugh Lawson

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