KYIV, Ukraine – US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Monday to reassure Ukraine that Washington will continue supporting its fight against invading Russian forces.
The United States has provided tens of billions of dollars in security aid for Ukraine and repeatedly pledged to back Kyiv for “as long as it takes,” but opposition from hardline Republican lawmakers has raised doubts about the future of American assistance.
Austin “travelled to Ukraine today to meet with Ukrainian leaders and reinforce the staunch support of the United States for Ukraine’s fight for freedom,” the Pentagon said in a statement on the trip, which was not announced ahead of time due to security concerns.
“He will also underscore the continued US commitment to providing Ukraine with the security assistance it needs to defend itself from Russian aggression,” it said.
The trip to Kyiv — via train from Poland — is the Pentagon leader’s second since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Washington is by far the biggest donor of military assistance to Kyiv, and a cut to American aid would be a major blow to Ukraine as it readies for the second winter of the war.
Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged lawmakers during a hearing in October to sustain support for Ukraine, with the US defense chief saying that “without our support, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin will be successful.”
But some Republican lawmakers oppose continued aid, and new support for Ukraine was left out of a temporary deal passed by Congress last week to avert a US government shutdown.
US assistance has not however been halted and there is still previously authorised aid to draw on.
But Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said earlier this month that assistance packages “have been getting smaller because we have had to meter out our support for Ukraine.”
The United States has spearheaded the push for international support for Ukraine, quickly forging a coalition to back Kyiv after Russia invaded and coordinating aid from dozens of countries.
Ukraine’s supporters have also provided training to Kyiv’s troops, while the United States and other countries imposed tough sanctions on Russia, with targets including financial institutions, technology imports and energy exports.