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US Defense Secretary travels to Kyiv to assure President Zelenskyy of unwavering support for Ukraine’s defense

In an unannounced visit to Kyiv on Monday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pledged to keep money and weapons flowing to Ukraine even as resources are stretched by the new and global risks posed by the Israel–Hamas conflict.

Mr. Austin, who made just his second visit to Kyiv by train from Poland, met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and was scheduled to meet with Defense Minister Rustem Umerov and Chief of Staff Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi.

In Kyiv, Mr. Austin said that U.S. support would continue “for the long haul,” adding that driving out the Russian invaders “matters to the rest of the world.”

Mr. Zelenskyy thanked Mr. Austin for this “very important signal for Ukraine.”

“We count on your support,” Mr. Zelenskyy said, thanking Congress as well as the American people for their backing.

Mr. Austin’s first visit to Ukraine was in April 2022, barely two months after the start of the war. The Russian invasion had sparked worldwide outrage and global support for Ukraine was high, with Mr. Austin setting up an international cooperation of some 50 countries meeting on a monthly basis to coordinate on what weapons, training, and other support could be supplied to Kyiv.

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However, the recent Gaza conflict has threatened to draw attention and resources away from the war in Ukraine. The U.S. military has deployed two carrier strike groups, scores of fighter jets, and thousands of U.S. personnel to the Middle East, and has had to shift its force posture and conduct airstrikes against Iranian-backed militant groups that are now hitting U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria on a regular basis.

Not counting humanitarian aid, Ukraine has received over $44 billion in military supplies from the United States and more than $35 billion from other allies, ranging from bullets to air defense systems, advanced European and U.S. battle tanks, military training, and, finally, pledges for F-16 fighter jets.

But despite the weaponry shipped to Ukraine, 20 months of war have produced a large number of casualties but very little strategic success for Ukraine, tempering the initial international enthusiasm to support the country in its fight against Russia.

Some European countries such as Poland have scaled back support, citing the need to maintain the safety of their own nation and ensure a strong defensive deterrent along their border with Russia and Belarus.

Ukrainian officials have firmly rejected claims that they are in a stalemate in the war with Russia after their long-awaited counteroffensive this summer failed to produce the expected results.

In a visit to Washington last week, Andriy Yermak, the head of president Zelenskyy’s office, confirmed that Ukrainian forces had finally pushed through to the east bank of the Dnieper River, a front line between Ukrainian and Russian forces that had been virtually unmoved for months. No details of the advances were disclosed.

As winter sets in, ground conditions will make it more difficult for either side to make advances. Military intelligence experts believe that Russia will again be launching missiles at Ukraine’s infrastructure, such as the power grid, making air defenses critical.

Fred Kagan, a senior resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said it would be a mistake for U.S. lawmakers to think there is time to wait.

“If we stop providing aid to Ukraine, it’s not that the stalemate continues. The aid is actually essential to preventing the Russians from beginning to maneuver again in ways that can allow them to defeat Ukraine,” Mr. Kagan said. “So the cost of cutting off aid is that Russia wins and Ukraine loses and NATO loses.”

But quickly securing more funding for the Ukrainian troops may be difficult given that the Pentagon has already spent most of its 2023 budget.

Officials have been urging Congress to provide additional money, but a growing number of Senate Republicans have opposed additional aid to Ukraine unless there first comes additional funding for U.S. border control and stricter immigration laws.

A stopgap spending bill passed last week to avoid a government shutdown during the holidays did not include any money for Ukraine.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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