WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made a surprise trip to Ukraine on Monday, arriving hours before the US announced an additional $100 million in security assistance for the war-torn nation.
Austin visited Kyiv “to meet with Ukrainian leaders and reinforce the staunch support of the United States for Ukraine’s fight for freedom,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
“I’m here today to deliver an important message – the United States will continue to stand with Ukraine in their fight for freedom against Russia’s aggression, both now and into the future,” the secretary said in a post to X early Monday.
In the afternoon, the Pentagon announced the latest aid package, which includes anti-aircraft missiles, artillery rounds, small arms ammunition, a HIMARS rocket launcher, and cold weather gear as winter approaches in eastern Europe.
There has been a growing push among some House Republicans to cut American funding for Ukraine’s defense, especially as calls increase for the US to send Israel additional military aid as they fight Hamas terrorists in Gaza.
While Congress averted a partial federal shutdown last week by passing another temporary government funding package to last through January, it did not include a re-up of funding for Ukraine as the Pentagon seeks a supplemental spending bill to asist both Ukraine and Israel and bolster US defense production.
Biden asked Congress last month for a $106 billion supplemental funding request to send aid to Israel and Ukraine, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance and border security, but it remains unclear whether his request will be honored.
Still, Austin told reporters in Ukraine on Monday that he continues “to see bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.”
“I know that there are some things that we need to continue to work through to get the supplemental request approved, and we’ll continue to work with Congress to do that,” he said. “Our congressional members have have valid questions that we will answer, but again, I would point out that Ukraine matters. What happens here matters not just to Ukraine, but to the entire world.”
“This is about you know, not living in a world where a dictator can wake up one day and decide to to annex the property of his peaceful neighbor – that’s not the world that we want to live in,” he added.
As of this month, the Defense Department has spent more than 95% of the congressionally approved $62.3 billion for Ukraine military assistance, according to the Pentagon. Without a promise of future funding, the department admitted earlier this month that it has begun slowing delivery of aid.
“I wanted to reassure the leadership that the United States of America will continue to support Ukraine,” the defense secretary said. “We talked about the things that we’re going to continue to do to make sure that they have what they need to be successful on the battlefield.”
Austin visited Kyiv before hosting the next Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting virtually later this week from the Pentagon. The group, which he created, brings together top defense officials from more than 50 countries monthly to coordinate efforts to supply Ukraine with what it needs to beat back Russian forces.
Monday marked Austin’s third trip to Ukraine as defense secretary – and his second since Russia invaded the country in February 2022.
Characterizing the conflict as “a grinding fight,” Austin said the battle will remain “tough” for the foreseeable future.
“There is no silver bullet in a conflict like this,” he said. “It really depends on providing the right capabilities and also integrating those capabilities in meaningful ways so that you can create the right effects on the battlefield.”