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Blinken announces upcoming $2 billion tranche of military aid for Ukraine

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken. (State Department Photo by Freddie Everett)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States is fast-tracking $2 billion in military aid for embattled Ukrainian forces, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, as they struggle to stave off a Russian advance in the northeastern Kharkiv region.

Blinken, who made the announcement at a news conference in Kyiv on May 15 with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, said the funds, which are part of a recently approved $61-billion U.S. military aid package for Kyiv, are earmarked “to provide weapons today” for the outgunned and outmanned Ukrainian troops.

The package was approved several weeks ago following months of delays due to political bickering in the U.S. Congress.

Blinken’s announcement came after President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appealed to him the previous day to speed up deliveries of desperately needed Patriot air defense systems, particularly in Kharkiv and its surroundings.

“We’re rushing ammunition, armored vehicles, missiles, air defenses to get them to the front lines,” Blinken said, adding, “For anyone who is tempted to bet against Ukraine, don’t. It will be a big mistake.”

Blinken, who has engaged in a round of personal diplomacy on a trip highlighted by meals at a local pizza place and a guest stint as a guitarist in a basement bar in the capital, said a bilateral security agreement with Ukraine could be signed in the coming weeks as most of what he called “the heavy lifting” of the negotiations had already been done.

“We’ve been through challenging times together, I have every confidence that together we will get through these difficult moments.”

The top U.S. diplomat said President Joe Biden could meet with Zelenskiy within weeks and voiced strong American support for a peace conference in Switzerland that is expected to be held next month.

He said Washington will be “robustly represented” at the event.

Blinken said that while the United States is not in favor of Ukraine’s using American weapons to strike inside Russia, such a decision ultimately belongs to Kyiv.

“We have not encouraged or enabled strikes outside of Ukraine, but ultimately Ukraine has to make decisions for itself about how it’s going to conduct this war,” Blinken said.

In a sign of the difficulties Ukrainian forces face on the battlefield due to lack of weapons and ammunition, Zelenskiy on May 15 postponed all his upcoming foreign trips.

Zelenskiy was due to visit Spain and Portugal in the coming days and sign a bilateral security agreement in Madrid with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on May 17. He was also due to meet with Spain’s King Felipe.

“Volodymyr Zelenskiy has instructed that all international events involving him scheduled for the coming days be postponed and new dates coordinated. We are grateful to our partners for their understanding,” Zelenskiy’s press secretary, Serhiy Nykyforov, wrote on Facebook on May 15.

No specific reason was given for the postponement, but Nykyforov wrote that Zelenskiy held a meeting on May 15 with his military commanders, including commander in chief Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskiy, where the situation in the Kharkiv region was discussed.

“Additional reserve forces are being deployed to the area,” he wrote.

Russia has been pressing forward into the north of the Kharkiv region, and the Ukrainian military said on May 15 it was taking steps to prevent Russian forces from moving into the northern part of the disputed town of Vovchansk, situated just 5 kilometers from the Russian border.

Vovchansk has become the focal point of Russias latest offensive as the Kremlin’s forces attempt to take settlements just east of Kharkiv — Ukraine’s second-largest city, with a prewar population of some 1.4 million people.

Moscow’s troops entered the Kharkiv region on May 10, opening a new, northeastern front. The advance could draw some of Kyiv’s depleted forces away from the east, where Russia has been slowly advancing.

Analysts say Russia is attempting to gain maximum momentum on the battlefield before a new wave of military aid for Kyiv from the United States and Kyiv’s European allies arrives in the coming weeks.

Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov told Ukrainian television on May 15 that despite constant Russian shelling, there are currently no plans to evacuate the city.

However, Ukraine’s Emergency Situations Ministry said some 8,000 people have been evacuated from Kharkiv region.

In the Dnipropetrovsk region, a Russian strike on the city of Dnipro killed two people on May 15, regional administration chief Serhiy Lysak said on Telegram.

Separately, Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Russian-installed governor of Ukraine’s occupied Crimea, said a “massive” Ukrainian missile attack was repulsed over the city of Sevastopol early on May 15.

Razvozhayev said several missiles were shot down over the sea and in the area of the Belbek airfield. No casualties have been reported.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said its air defenses had shot down 10 long-range missiles over Crimea.

The Russian claims could not be independently verified. Moscow in recent weeks has accused Ukraine, without providing evidence, of having started using the U.S.-supplied Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS).