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Antony Blinken arrives in Kyiv to hear latest on Ukraine’s counteroffensive

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CNN
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv Wednesday on what is his third trip to the Ukrainian capital since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022.

The visit comes as Ukraine’s counteroffensive moves into its fourth month, with both political and military leaders in Kyiv talking up recent gains, especially in the south of the country, following growing concerns the concerted push on the battlefield has failed to produce results.

Blinken’s first stop on Wednesday was at a military cemetery, where he laid a wreath in honor of Ukraine’s fallen soldiers. Later he is scheduled to meet with, among others, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, from whom he can expect a first-hand report of Ukraine’s efforts to regain land around the eastern city of Bakhmut – the Ukrainian leader visited with his troops there on Tuesday.

The visit by Washington’s top diplomat is an opportunity for the United States and Ukraine to align ahead of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) later this month, a senior state department official told reporters traveling with Blinken.

“The Ukrainians have an important mission in New York to continue to explain – to their allies and partners around the world – what’s going on and their continued need for support. And it’s important for us to continue to lead that global effort to support them,” the official said.

“Having a chance to consult and align before we get to New York is very, very important.”

While some US officials have been privately critical of Ukraine’s counteroffensive strategy, the official would not delve into specifics other than to say that now is the right time to “come and assess” how the counteroffensive is going.

“We want to see, hear, how they intend to push forward in the coming weeks,” the official said, adding that the US sees the country making “some impressive advances in the south in particular, but also in the east in recent days and weeks.”

Blinken’s arrival in Kyiv comes less than a month after President Joe Biden asked Congress for more than $24 billion to help Ukraine defeat Russia in the ongoing war, as some polls show the American public’s support for continued funding begin to soften. This visit will help the administration make the case for that continued support to the American people, the official said.

The official reiterated an argument for supporting Ukraine that Biden has made in the past, saying that it is about “dictators and autocrats not being able to bite off a piece of their neighbor and get to keep it live that way with impunity.”

Blinken is also expected to announce more than a billion dollars in new US funding for Ukraine during the course of this visit with a portion of that being new security assistance, according to the official. When asked if the new package of support would include depleted-uranium munitions, after a report that the administration had decided to move ahead with the controversial munitions, the official would not comment.

Secretary Blinken arrived in Kyiv Wednesday morning after making an overnight journey by train from Poland, in common with almost all high-profile visitors to the war-torn city, including Biden.

In April 2022 Blinken made the trip with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, just a few weeks after Russian forces had withdrawn from areas immediately to the north of the Ukrainian capital. His second trip was in September last year as Ukraine’s first big counteroffensive was underway in the Kharkiv region.

According to the State Department, Blinken also briefly went into Ukraine in March 2022, when he met on the border with Foreign Minister Kuleba.

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