• Tuesday, 16 April 2024

US defence chief Austin meets Zelensky in surprise visit to Kiev

US defence chief Austin meets Zelensky in surprise visit to Kiev

Kiev, 20 November 2023 (dpa/MIA) - US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin arrived in Kiev on an unannounced visit on Monday to assure Ukraine of Washington's full support in the war against Russia, despite a political debate over the aid issue in the United States.

"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," Austin posted on social media on Monday morning.

"We, along with our allies and partners, will continue to support Ukraine’s urgent battlefield needs and long-term defence requirements," he wrote on the platform X after meeting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksy.

General Christopher Cavoli, commander-in-chief of US troops in Europe, travelled to Kiev with Austin, according to US Ambassador Bridget Brink.

The Pentagon said Austin had spoken to Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov on the phone at the weekend.

Kiev and its allies are gearing up for the Wednesday meeting of the Ukraine Defence Contact Group, which brings together around 50 countries supporting Kiev in its fight against Russia.

Ukraine has been fending off a full-scale Russian invasion since February 2022. No other country has provided Ukraine with as much military equipment as the United States.

However, divisions have emerged in the US Congress over whether the aid should continue, and spending for Ukraine was left out of a temporary spending bill signed by President Joe Biden last week.

There are also concerns among Kiev's allies that, with all eyes on the war in Gaza, the war raging in Eastern Europe is no longer a top priority for some in Washington.

The fighting on the ground remains intense in parts of the front in the east and the south.

The Ukrainian army said it repelled dozens of Russian attacks along the nearly 1,000-kilometre-long front, with heavy fighting in particular around the eastern cities of Maryinka and Avdiivka.

The situation report from the General Staff in Kiev on Monday morning recorded 46 Russian assaults on Sunday. The battlefield clashes had all been repelled, it said.

International observers such as the Institute for the Study of War in the United States confirmed the fierce fighting around Avdiivka. Russian troops have been trying to encircle the Ukrainian defenders in the city for weeks. According to the British Ministry of Defence, the wet autumn weather is currently making fighting difficult for both sides.

Meanwhile, another exchange of soldiers' remains has taken place between the two warring sides.

The bodies of 94 Ukrainian soldiers were handed over to the Ukrainian side, Kiev's Coordination Headquarters for the Treatment of Prisoners of War said on Telegram on Monday.

The exchange had been organized by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

How many bodies the Russian side received and where the exchange took place was not disclosed.

Photo: MIA archive