Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin is making a surprise visit to Ukraine on Monday intended to assure Kiev of Washington’s “unwavering” support in the face of the Russian invasion, as he announced on the social network “very important signal” visit for Ukraine. The American Congress is divided on the question of military aid to be provided to kyiv, while the country faces ammunition shortages in the midst of a counter-offensive.
Reassure its Ukrainian ally. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Kiev on Monday (November 20) as part of a visit to assure Ukraine of US support in the face of Russia’s invasion of the country.
“The message I bring to you today, Mr. President, is that the United States is with you and will remain with you for a long time,” declared Lloyd Austin, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described this visit as “a very important signal” for Ukraine.
“I am here today to deliver an important message: the United States will continue to support Ukraine in its fight for freedom against Russian aggression, today and in the future,” he said before this meeting, the American Secretary of Defense on X, formerly Twitter.
This visit comes against a backdrop of growing divisions over aid to Ukraine within the US Congress. The United States has provided tens of billions of dollars in aid since this war began in February 2022, and has repeatedly pledged to support Kyiv for as long as necessary, but that pledge is being undermined by the opposition growing number of certain Republican elected officials.
The trip to kyiv – by train from Poland – is the Pentagon chief’s second since Russia launched its full-scale invasion. Washington is by far the largest provider of military aid to Kiev, and a reduction in U.S. aid would deal a major blow to Ukraine and its efforts to liberate occupied regions in the country’s south and east.
US Congress divided over military aid
While voices in the Republican camp are raised against the billions of dollars in aid to Ukraine released by the Democratic administration of Joe Biden, Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged lawmakers to maintain their support for Kiev during an October hearing, with the US defense chief declaring that “without our support, [le président russe Vladimir] Putin will succeed.”
The aid is all the more crucial for Ukraine as its summer counter-offensive to liberate the occupied territories is slow to bear fruit.
Russia went on the offensive again in the east in October, and Kiev says that Moscow also intends to resume its winter bombing campaign to plunge millions of Ukrainians into the cold and the dark.-
On the ground, the situation remains tense on Monday. In Kherson, a large southern city shelled almost daily by the Russian army, the bombing of a parking lot left two people dead and two injured in the morning, the regional administration said.-
For Ukraine, which does not have a self-sufficient arms industry, Western aid, and American in particular, is crucial, as Russia has turned its budget and its economy towards the war effort.
But some Republican lawmakers are opposed to continuing the aid, and are hammering it. Enough to fuel doubt as to the extent and sustainability of American support in the months to come. Thus, a new extension to Ukraine was excluded from a budget agreement adopted by Congress last week.
Despite this, a senior US defense official insisted to journalists of his “conviction” that “Congress will ultimately provide that support.” Deputy Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh nevertheless said earlier this month that aid programs “have been reduced because we have had to balance our support for Ukraine.”
In addition to internal conflicts over continued aid to the United States, the conflict between Israel and Hamas is distracting attention from Ukraine.
Last week, in front of the international press, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky publicly expressed concern about the lack of ammunition his army has been facing for some time, despite intense fighting around the Dnieper River. A shortage that kyiv directly relates to the return of war to the Middle East for more than a month. “In the Middle East, what do you think they started buying first? 155 caliber shells. Our supplies have dwindled. We have problems […]. It’s normal, everyone is fighting to survive. This is life and we must defend what is ours.”
However, the United States claims to be able to provide assistance to both the Ukrainians and the Israelis. “The question does not arise as to whether there is competition or compromise to be made when it comes to US support” for Ukraine and Israel, said a senior US defense official. “There are overlaps, but when there is overlap for certain munitions […] we are not reducing the supply of resources to Ukraine,” added the official.
A joint Ukraine-US military industry conference is scheduled to be held in Washington next month. This event, which will be held on December 6 and 7, aims to stimulate domestic arms production in Ukraine.