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Blinken offers new US aid as Kyiv reels from renewed Russian attacks

By Simon Lewis

KYIV (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday announced a $2 billion fund to help Ukraine build up its defense industrial base, as he concluded a two-day visit aimed at reassuring the country reeling after Russia opened up a new front in its war last week.

Blinken said the United States was working to quickly get more ammunition and weapons to the front lines to help Ukrainian forces fight a new Russian ground incursion into the northeastern Kharkiv region, which provided a gloomy backdrop to his fourth visit to Kyiv since Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion.

Blinken said the new funding, in the form of a “first-of-its-kind defence enterprise fund,” was coming at a “crucial time” and would help Kyiv get weapons it needs now.

It would also “strengthen even more (Ukraine’s) capacity to produce what it needs for itself,” he said. Kyiv can also use the funding to buy arms from other countries, he added.

The $2 billion in foreign military financing (FMF) draws mainly from $61 billion appropriated for Ukraine last month, a U.S. official said. It also includes $400 million of FMF that had not yet been allocated to a specific country and will now be going to Ukraine, the official said.

The move follows a U.S.-Ukrainian agreement signed in December to speed weapons co-production and data sharing to help Ukraine’s defence industry.

“We will continue to back Ukraine with the equipment that it needs to succeed, that it needs to win,” Blinken said in a news conference on Wednesday before departing Kyiv by train.

Blinken earlier visited Brave1, part of a Ukrainian government initiative to promote collaboration in the defence sector. In one facility that makes single-use drones capable of surveillance and carrying small payloads of explosives, a briefer explained to Blinken the constant need for advances to keep ahead of Russian efforts to down or sabotage the drones.

The U.S. top diplomat was given a brief lesson in flying a drone, and said the United States was learning about the fast-evolving technology from Ukrainians who are “testing this in ways no one else is.”

He also visited a company that makes high-tech prosthetics for amputees. At a grain transhipment facility, he praised Ukraine’s success pushing back the Russian Black Sea fleet that has helped to restore grain exports hit by Russian attacks on infrastructure and shipping.

‘RUSHING’ MILITARY AID

Kyiv has been on the back foot on the battlefield for months as Russian troops have slowly advanced, taking advantage of Ukraine’s shortages of troop manpower and artillery shells.

Blinken said during his visit that Ukraine’s move to mobilise more of its population for the war was “a difficult decision but a necessary one.”

Military aid from Washington, Kyiv’s main backer, was held up for months, blocked by Republicans in the U.S. Congress until they finally allowed a vote last month, when it passed with support from both parties.

“We’re rushing ammunition, armoured vehicles, missiles, air defences – rushing them to get to the front lines to protect soldiers, to protect civilians,” Blinken said.

Washington was “intensely focused” on making sure Ukraine gets Patriots and other air defense systems that Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told him are urgently needed to protect people in Kharkiv, Blinken added.

Ukrainian foreign minister Dmitro Kuleba told Blinken his visit “sends a message of encouragement not only to the people of Ukraine but most importantly to the troops, to our soldiers, who are heroically defending Ukraine” including in Kharkiv.

Blinken stayed overnight in the Ukrainian capital that faces frequent air raids and power shortages as Russia targets energy infrastructure.

The first senior U.S. official to visit since the new military aid was approved, Blinken sought to focus on Ukraine’s future, which he contrasted to Russia’s “strategic defeat” – the costs of the war to Moscow in terms of casualties, military hardware and international isolation.

In a speech to university students, Blinken pledged enduring U.S. support not only for Ukraine’s defence, but for it’s efforts to become “a free, prosperous, secure democracy – fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic community – and fully in control of its own destiny.”

(Reporting by Simon Lewis; ; additional reporting by Dan Peleschuk and Anastasiia Malenko; Editing by Alex Richardson, Alexandra Hudson)

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SWI swissinfo.ch - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR