US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounced trip to Kyiv on Sunday where they met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials, making them the highest-level US officials to have traveled to the country since the Russian invasion began.
Though Zelensky announced the visit in a press conference Saturday, US officials had declined to comment.
While in Kyiv, Blinken and Austin met Zelensky, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, and Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky for an extended, roughly 90-minute bilateral meeting, a senior State Department official said.
Blinken said US diplomats would return to Ukraine this week, the senior State Department official said, in a strong message of solidarity from the United States.
Blinken also relayed that US President Joe Biden would nominate Bridget Brink as US Ambassador to Ukraine, according to the senior State Department official. The post that has been without a confirmed ambassador since Marie Yovanovitch was recalled in May 2019. Brink is the current US ambassador to Slovakia.
In addition, Blinken and Austin discussed the deliveries of recent US military assistance to Ukraine, the ongoing training for Ukrainian soldiers, and the Biden administration’s intention to provide $713 million in additional foreign military financing to help Ukraine transition to NATO-capable systems, according to the senior State Department official and a senior Defense Department official.
Both officials briefed press who traveled to the region shortly before Blinken and Austin were due to arrive in Kyiv; the traveling US press corps did not travel with the secretaries to the Ukrainian capital.
In the background briefing, the officials made clear that the US military would still not be involved directly in the war. “The President has been very clear there will be no US troops fighting in Ukraine and that includes the skies over Ukraine,” the defense official said.
“This visit does not portend actual involvement by US forces,” they added.