US Secretary of State Blinken assures continued support for Ukraine in surprise visit amidst Russian offensive

US Secretary of State Blinken assures continued support for Ukraine in surprise visit amidst Russian offensive
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a surprise visit to Kyiv where he said progress was being made on a security deal with the US but warned Bankova to continue the fight against corruption. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews May 15, 2024

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an unannounced visit to Kyiv on May 14, reaffirming America's commitment to Ukraine amidst Russia's intensified offensive in the north-eastern Kharkiv region.

Blinken also revealed details of a security agreement between Ukraine and the US as well warning that endemic corruption could make Ukraine “become like Russia”.

Weapons on the way

During a surprise meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Blinken assured him of continued military aid, stating that the much-needed weapons are "now on its way" to bolster Ukraine's defences amidst an ongoing Russian offensive. The top US diplomat underscored the significance of the weapons delivery, expressing confidence that they will "make a real difference" on the battlefield.

During the window opened earlier this year thanks to the tardy arrival of new US financial and military aid, Russia has been making significant advances with a new assault on the eastern city of Kharkiv, one of the most significant ground attacks since the onset of the war, as well as causing devastating damage to Ukraine’s power system.

A senior US official told the BBC that the American-funded weapons being dispatched to the front line include air defence interceptors, artillery, and ATACMS long-range precision guided missiles.


Blinking said that Ukraine needs not only to defeat Russia, but must also stamp out the endemic corruption to avoid "becoming like Russia."

Corruption has been a lingering problem and highlighted by several procurement scandals in the Defence Ministry, including orders for eggs and winter jackets that were billed at a cost several times higher than the open market cost. Blinken called on the Ukrainian leaders to continue reforms and ensure that new laws are not only adopted, but also implemented.

"It means rooting out the scourge of corruption once and for all. Winning on the battlefield will prevent Ukraine from becoming part of Russia. Winning the war against corruption will keep Ukraine from becoming like Russia," Blinken said in a speech to the Ihor Sikorskyi Kyiv Polytechnic Institute during his visit, Ukrayinska Pravda reports.

Putin is trying to use corruption to sow discord in Ukraine, Blinken warned, and despite progress, "eight in ten Ukrainians still believe that there's one set of law for the elites and another for everyone else," Blinken said.

"Ukraine's defences against corruption have to be just as strong as its military defences," Blinken added.

US-Ukraine Security deal

Blinken revealed some details of a security agreement being negotiated between Kyiv and Washington that is designed to put support on a longer-term and more predictable basis, as well as bringing Ukraine a step closer to Nato membership, according to Blinken.

"Under our own ten-year agreement, the United States will support the defence and security across a range of essential capabilities – from its air force to its air defence, from drones to demining," he added.

Starting with the UK that signed a ““security assurance”” deal in January, Ukraine is in talks on security deal talks with a total of seven countries. However, the agreements stop short of committing Ukraine’s partners to committing troops should it be attacked. Blinken made clear that the US was also offering a limited security agreement which is slated to be finalised in May. The most recent agreement was concluded with Latvia on April 11.

"If Russia or anyone else were to attack Ukraine, we will work with Ukraine immediately at the highest levels to coordinate how to help you beat back the threat,” Blinken said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has been pushing for full Nato-like bilateral security deals with his Western partners in lieu of full Nato membership. These security deals were at the heart of the Istanbul peace deal that was thrashed out in April 2022, but ultimately failed when Ukraine’s Western partners refused to offer the needed deals. Famously, former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Zelenskiy to “keep fighting” and he rejected the Russian offer of a ceasefire.

Blinken made it clear that the mooted US deal is more focused on helping by allowing Ukraine to help itself. Blinken said that the security agreement will help to accelerate efforts to build the Ukrainian military industry, allowing it to rely less on military assistance from other countries in the long run while also promoting economic growth. Last year Zelenskiy called for making Ukraine a military production hub in partnership with US and European arms producers.

"All of these [measures] will ensure that, the moment conditions are met and allies agree, Ukraine’s invitation and accession to [Nato] will be swift and smooth," Blinken said, as cited by Ukrayinska Pravda.

Using western weapons to strike Russia

As part of the talks, Ukrainian officials were lobbying Blinken to lift the standing ban on using weapons supplied by Nato members to strike targets inside Russia, saying the policy kept them from attacking Russian positions as they prepared for their major march toward Kharkiv, Politico reports.

In parallel to Blinken’s visit to Kyiv, a group of Ukrainian parliamentarians are in Washington to lobby the Biden administration to lift the restriction. Ukraine’s military wants permission to hit supply dumps and logistical support on the Russian side of the border that are being used to supply the growing assault on Kharkiv.

“The main problem right now is the White House policy to limit our capability” to strike military targets inside Russia, David Arakhamia, chair of the ruling Servant of the People party in the Ukrainian parliament, said during a visit to Washington Politico reports.

Russia massed at least 30,000 troops and equipment on the border without fear of being hit by long-range US-supplied Army Tactical Missile Systems, which Ukraine has used to devastating effect on Russian troops inside Ukraine.

“We saw their military sitting one or two kilometres from the border inside Russia and there was nothing we could do about that,” Oleksandra Ustinova, the head of Ukraine’s special parliamentary commission on arms and munitions, said in a separate interview cited by Politico.

But it seems the Ukrainian delegation's pleas are falling on deaf ears. An anonymous official reportedly said that the US weapons are for “Ukraine’s defence and not for offensive operations in Russian territory.”

Kharkiv is turning into a strategic location. Putin said in March that he was considering establishing a buffer zone near Kharkiv to make it harder for Ukraine to launch small drones targeting Russian oil infrastructure that has reduced Russia’s refining capacity by 14% since a drone war began at the start of this year.

During a visit to Ukraine earlier this month, British Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron suggested that London has lifted the restriction on using British and French long-range missiles for striking targets inside Russia proper. Those statements provoked a sharp retort by Moscow that suggested if UK missiles strike targets in Russia, Moscow would respond by hitting UK targets outside of Ukraine in retaliation. Putin then ordered snap nuclear missile exercises to send a message to the UK of the consequences of escalation.

Politico reports that veterans from the former Wagner paramilitary unit have been subsumed into the Russian army and folded into units that will be used in the new Kharkiv offensive.

Ukraine striking targets inside Russia but exclusively using home-made drones that can only do limited damage to Russia’s oil refineries. Kyiv insists it needs more powerful Western missiles to break through Russian air defences along the border to destroy the refineries.

“We keep coming back to the same problem — that it’s Russia telling us what we should be doing,” Oleksandra Ustinova, the head of Ukraine’s special parliamentary commission on arms and munitions said in an interview with Politico. “You’re giving us a stick but you will not let us use it.”

Too little too late

Amidst mounting concerns over Ukraine's security, UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps acknowledged the international community's oversight regarding Ukraine's urgent need for arms.

Blinken's arrival by an overnight train journey from Poland, was a morale boosting exercise to show solidarity with the embattled Ukrainian authorities.

This visit marks Blinken's fourth trip to Kyiv since the commencement of the Russian invasion in February 2022. It coincides with the recent approval of a $61bn aid package on April 20 for Ukraine by the US Congress, unlocking crucial resources for the country's embattled troops after months of political deliberations.

A senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to AFP, emphasised the trip's dual purpose of extending reassurance to Ukraine amidst the ongoing conflict and addressing the escalating tensions along the Eastern Front.

The White House reiterated its commitment to expediting arms deliveries to Ukraine, with National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan hinting at the announcement of a new arms package in the coming days.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s General Staff conceded that Russia had made “partial advances” near the village of Lukiantsi in the Kharkiv Oblast as its capacity to intercept Russian missile attacks has diminished, according to The Wall Street Journal. Ukrainian Energy Minister Herman Halushchenko cautioned that Ukraine may encounter "challenges with electricity supply in the summer" and urged preparations for a "difficult winter" due to Russia's assaults on energy infrastructure throughout the country.

Ukrenergo announced rolling blackouts throughout most of the country as demand jumped following a bout of cold weather in recent days.