The United States will reopen its embassy in Ukraine soon, its top diplomat said on Monday after he and the U.S. defense secretary visited Kyiv, promising more military aid and hailing its success in pushing back Russia’s invasion.
Both Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the fact they were able to come to Ukraine‘s capital was proof of its tenacity in forcing Moscow to abandon an assault on Kyiv last month.
“What you’ve done in repelling the Russians in the battle of Kyiv is extraordinary and inspiring quite frankly to the rest of the world,” Austin told President Volodymyr Zelenskiy at a meeting overnight after a train journey from Poland. “We are here to support you in any way possible.”
Blinken praised Ukraine‘s achievement “in pushing back this horrific Russian aggression.”
“In terms of Russia’s war aims, Russia has already failed and Ukraine has already succeeded,” he told a briefing in Poland on their way back from Ukraine.
Austin said: “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”
The two-month-old war has killed or injured thousands, reduced towns and cities to rubble and sent more than five million people fleeing abroad. But Russian forces were forced to pull back from the outskirts of Kyiv in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance and they have yet to capture a major city.
U.S. officials said the two pledged $713 million in new assistance for Ukraine and other countries in the region seen as potentially vulnerable to Russian threats.
An extra $322 million in military aid for Ukraine would take the total U.S. security assistance since the invasion began to about $3.7 billion, one official said.
Russia’s ambassador in Washington said Moscow had sent a diplomatic note demanding a halt to U.S. arms shipments to Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Russia was trying to disrupt arms supplies to Ukraine from its allies by bombing its rail infrastructure, Ukraine‘s military command said in a Facebook post on Monday.
Russia’s defence ministry said later its missiles destroyed six facilities powering the railways that were used to deliver foreign weapons to Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region.
Five railway stations came under fire in western and central Ukraine on Monday and one person was killed, Ukrainian television quoted state-run Ukrainian Railways as saying.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports of attacks on rail infrastructure.
Russia has consistently denied targeting civilians or intending to overthrow Ukraine‘s government.
President Vladimir Putin says he launched a “special military operation” on Feb. 24 because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia, and to protect Russian-speaking people in Ukraine. Kyiv and its allies dismiss those assertions as pretexts for a blatant land grab.
Normal life returning in Kyiv
Just weeks ago, Kyiv was a frontline city under curfew and bombardment, with tens of thousands of Russian troops on its northern outskirts and residents sheltering from artillery in its metro stations.
Today, the nearest Russian troops are hundreds of miles away, normal life is coming back to the capital, with Western leaders visiting and diplomats returning.
Blinken said U.S. diplomats would first come to the western city of Lviv and should be back in Kyiv within weeks. The White House said President Joe Biden had nominated Bridget Brink, now U.S. ambassador in Slovakia, to be the new envoy to Kyiv.
But away from the capital, war rages on in Ukraine‘s east and south where Russia last week launched a massive offensive.
Russian forces were continuing on Monday to bomb and shell the vast Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol where Ukrainian fighters are hunkered down in a city ravaged during two months of Russian siege and bombardment, Ukrainian presidential aide Oleksiy Arestovych said in a video address.
Moscow said it was opening a humanitarian corridor to let civilians out of the plant but Kyiv said no agreement had been reached and appealed to the United Nations for help in reaching one as “initiator and guarantor”.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who has been seeking a humanitarian truce in Ukraine, is due to meet Putin in Moscow on Tuesday and Zelenskiy in Kyiv on Thursday. Mariupol will feature in the Moscow talks, according to Russia’s RIA news agency quoting the foreign ministry.
Russia’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told reporters a ceasefire was not a good option and would only allow Ukrainian forces to regroup, though added that it was “not up to me to decide”.
Ukraine‘s general staff also reported Russian shelling of its second biggest city, Kharkiv, in the northeast as well as towns and villages to the south, but said that assaults on three settlements were repelled.
In Russia’s Bryansk region near northeastern Ukraine, authorities were battling a huge blaze at a fuel depot.
Unverified images on the internet showed a sudden explosion, and other images show blazes in two separate locations simultaneously.
Neither side publicly linked the fire to the war, but Russia has accused Ukraine of several cross-border strikes during the conflict. Ukraine has denied responsibility about one such incident and generally does not comment on such accusations.
Speaking in Moscow to Russia’s top prosecutors, President Putin on Monday accused the West of inciting Ukraine to plan attacks on Russian journalists, with one such attempt thwarted by the Federal Security Service.
The FSB service said it had arrested a group planning to kill TV talk show host Vladimir Solovyev, one of the most prominent voices in support of the invasion, at the behest of Ukraine‘s State Security Service (SBU).
The SBU dismissed the allegations as fantasies cooked up by Moscow.