By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets
KYIV (Reuters) – 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 the fight against Russia’s invasion.
Both Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the fact 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 hailed Ukraine’s success “in pushing back this horrific Russian aggression.”
“In terms of Russia’s war aims, Russia has already failed and Ukraine has already succeeded,” Blinken told a briefing in Poland on their way back.
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.”
U.S. officials said Austin and Blinken pledged new assistance worth $713 million for Ukraine and other countries in the region. An extra $322 million in military aid for Ukraine would take the total U.S. security assistance since the invasion to about $3.7 billion, one official said. It would help Ukraine’s armed forces transition to more advanced weapons and air defence systems that were essentially NATO-compatible, the official added.
Russia’s ambassador in Washington said Moscow had sent a diplomatic note demanding a halt to U.S. arms shipments to Ukraine.
Russia has consistently denied intending to overthrow Ukraine’s government. Western countries say that was its objective from the outset but it failed in the face of Ukrainian resistance.
Just weeks ago, Kyiv was a frontline city under curfew and bombardment, with tens of thousands of Russian troops massing 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 returning to the capital, Western leaders have been visiting and countries are reopening their embassies.
Blinken said U.S. diplomats would first return to the western city of Lviv and should be back in Kyiv within weeks. The White House announced President Joe Biden had nominated Bridget Brink, now U.S. ambassador in Slovakia, to be the new envoy to Kyiv. The post has been vacant for nearly three years.
But despite Ukraine having repelled the assault on Kyiv, the war is far from over. Russia has regrouped its forces and sent more troops into eastern Ukraine. Last week it launched a massive assault there in an attempt to capture eastern provinces known as the Donbas.
RAILWAY STATIONS HIT
Five railway stations came under fire in western and central Ukraine on Monday and there were an unspecified number of casualties, Ukrainian television quoted state-run Ukrainian Railways as saying. Oleksander Kamyshin, the company’s chief, said the attacks took place in the space of an hour.
All of the country was placed under an unusually long air raid warning for two hours on Monday morning.
Across the border in Russia’s Bryansk region near northeastern Ukraine, authorities were battling a huge blaze at a fuel depot.
Neither side publicly linked the fire to the war, but Russia had accused Ukraine of a helicopter attack in that area last week. Unverified images on the internet showed a sudden blast, and other images show blazes in two separate locations simultaneously. In the past, Ukraine has declined to comment or denied accusations of cross border strikes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow had thwarted an attempt to assassinate a high-profile Russian journalist by Ukrainian agents backed by the West. The FSB security service said it had arrested a group planning to kill Vladimir Solovyev, host of a talk show on Russia’s main state television station and one of the most prominent voices in support of the invasion.
Ukraine’s State Security Service denied on Monday having any plans to kill Solovyev.
Before the U.S. officials’ visit, Ukraine had drawn up a list of weapons urgently needed from the United States, such as anti-missile systems, anti-aircraft systems, armoured vehicles and tanks, Zelenskiy aide Igor Zhovkva told NBC News on Sunday.
In a daily update on the conflict, Britain’s defence ministry said Russia had made only minor advances in parts of Donbas.
“Without sufficient logistical and combat support enablers in place, Russia has yet to achieve a significant breakthrough,” it said.
WAR GRINDS ON
The relative calm in Kyiv is a contrast with the south and east of the country, where the war grinds on relentlessly.
Some 320 km (200 miles) southeast of Kyiv, Russian missile strikes on an oil refinery and power plant in Kremenchuk killed one person and wounded seven, the governor of the Poltava region said. Moscow said it had destroyed oil production facilities.
Russia also fired rockets at two towns in the central Vinnytsia region, causing an unspecified number of deaths and injuries, regional Governor Serhiy Borzov reported.
Ukraine’s general staff described Russian shelling and assaults along most of the front in the east, including missile and bomb attacks on a huge steel works in Mariupol where the last Ukrainian defenders are holed up in a city destroyed during two months of Russian siege and bombardment. Moscow said it was opening a humanitarian corridor to let civilians out of the plant; Kyiv said no agreement had been reached.
Moscow, which describes its actions in Ukraine as a “special military operation”, denies targeting civilians.
(Additional reporting by Reuters journalists; writing by Michael Perry, Peter Graff and Tomasz Janowski; editing by Clarence Fernandez, Philippa Fletcher and Mark Heinrich)