How Blinken and Austin Entered Ukraine Despite Security Risks

IN POLAND NEAR THE UKRAINE BORDER — Nearly 48 hours since leaving Washington on what should have been a clandestine mission, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III met reporters to present a ​to discuss surgery that was almost over before it started.

“This was an important moment to be there,” Mr Blinken said Monday morning. “An important moment for Ukraine, before the war, and an important moment to have personal conversations in detail.”

The visit also resulted in a striking redefinition of the success of America’s goals in Ukraine.

“We want Russia to be so weakened that it can no longer do what it did by invading Ukraine,” Austin said. “It had already lost a lot of military capability and a lot of its troops, frankly, and we don’t want them to have the ability to reproduce that capability very quickly.”

The two cabinet secretaries spoke in a warehouse that stood in front of high piles of humanitarian aid, while opposite them, green-painted wooden boxes containing ammunition for Soviet-designed weapons used by Ukrainian troops – striking visual reminders of the types of aid the United States provides in Kiev .

By the end of the day, everything would be within Ukraine’s borders, Mr. shine.

Last week, the staff of Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin planned a trip to an air base in Ramstein, Germany, to meet officials from other countries on Tuesday to discuss how they can help Ukraine in its fight against Russia. A handful of those same staffers worked simultaneously, on a need-to-know basis, to pre-plan a stop in Kiev so that Ukraine’s secretaries could personally inform President Volodymyr Zelensky that President Biden would soon restore the United States. embassy in the Ukrainian capital and hundreds of millions of dollars in additional military aid. It would be an unannounced trip by the highest delegation of US officials since the Russian invasion began.

Participants who ended their week thinking they would leave for Germany on Monday morning were informed Friday afternoon that plans had changed.

Both Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin boarded military C-17 transport aircraft at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland early Saturday morning, drove straight onto the tarmac, and took off with the secret of their mission intact.

That secret was kept until about halfway through the nine-hour flight to Poland.

In an apparently unwritten comment Saturday afternoon at a press conference in the Ukrainian capital, Mr. Zelensky pointed out that Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin would arrive in Kiev the next day. Shortly thereafter, a senior defense official from Mr. Austin’s quarters entered the C-17’s cargo hold and, somewhat sheepishly, informed the three reporters accompanying the Secretary of Defense that President Zelensky had ruined the coverage of the operation and that the future of the journey was uncertain.

Pentagon officials had planned a number of unforeseen events, however, and the leaking of details about the secret journey was one of them. So the planes of the two cabinet members continued.

After arriving in Poland early Sunday morning, Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin got into cars and were driven across the border into Ukraine to begin an 11-hour train journey to Kiev. They were accompanied by only a few of their staff members and their location was monitored minute by minute at a US military tactical operations center in Poland.

While the secretaries were on their way to Kiev, a senior State Department official and a senior defense official offered reporters in Poland a taste of what Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin would offer Mr. Zelensky.

The officials had no information about whether Marines would be stationed to guard the embassy in Kiev once it reopens, but they did add that Mr Biden plans to quickly designate an ambassador to help the embassy. lead.

According to the senior defense official, the first group of more than 50 Ukrainian artillery soldiers completed their training on Sunday on 155-millimeter howitzers supplied by the United States, which are somewhat different from the Soviet-era 152-millimeter guns used by Ukrainian forces since the start of the war. country became independent. A second group of Ukrainian artillery specialists would soon begin another six-day training course, the official added.

The cabinet secretaries returned to Poland on Monday morning, near the Ukrainian border, after traveling almost non-stop for the past two days.

Immediately after notifying reporters, Mr. Blinken and Mr. Austin met soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division and thanked the troops for their service, then boarded Air Force cargo planes to depart for Ramstein.

In Germany, Mr Blinken and Mr Austin will be joined by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov to give officials from more than 20 countries an update on the battlefield. They are also expected to discuss the deployment of new military aid to Ukraine and how each country can use its own defense industry to produce goods that Ukraine is in high demand for.

“The first step to winning is believing you can win,” Austin told reporters. “And so they believe we can win, we believe they can win if they have the right equipment and the right support.”

“We’re going to do everything we can – we’ll keep doing everything we can to make sure it reaches them,” he added.


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