US Defence Secretary Austin meets Ukraine's Zelenskyy in Kyiv

Congress expects fierce battle over aid to Washington's ally as war with Russia grinds on

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin makes surprise visit to Ukraine

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin makes surprise visit to Ukraine
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US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday in a surprise visit to Ukraine as questions loom over Washington's funding for Kyiv.

The trip is a high-profile bid to “reinforce” support for US ally Ukraine in its war against Russia, a Defence Department statement read, as global attention has largely turned to the Israel-Gaza war.

Mr Austin “underscored the continued US commitment to providing Ukraine with the security assistance it needs to defend itself from Russian aggression, while also discussing a long-term vision for Ukraine's future force”, said the Pentagon.

“I was honoured to meet President [Zelenskyy] in Kyiv today to reaffirm the United States’ steadfast support for Ukraine,” Mr Austin said on X, formerly Twitter.

“We, along with our allies and partners, will continue to support Ukraine’s urgent battlefield needs and long-term defence requirements.”

The Republican-led House of Representatives passed a $14.3 billion aid package this month, which included billions towards Israeli defence and excluded the administration's request of increased funding for Ukraine.

The Democratic-controlled Senate has warned the Republican bill would be “dead on arrival”, and Washington is anticipating an intense battle over supplemental funding for Kyiv.

Leading House Democrats have called the Republican supplemental a “partisan” move that “fails to meet the urgency of this moment or confront the numerous other challenges facing the United States”.

“The Israel-only supplemental would create a dangerous precedent by demanding poison-pill riders in return for meeting our national security needs,” read the statement, signed by Gregory Meeks of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Adam Smith of the Armed Services Committee and Jim Himes of the Intelligence Committee.

“Republicans must not waste any more time playing politics with our national security interests and the needs of allies and partners. The survival of the state of Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan are at stake.”

On the heels of Mr Austin’s trip, Washington on Monday announced an additional $100 million in funding for Ukraine.

The package includes ammunition, missiles and air defence capabilities authorised “under previously directed drawdowns for Ukraine”.

But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Congress to take action to approve more.

“Today’s security assistance announcement for Ukraine will help meet Ukraine’s immediate battlefield needs as it fights to retake its sovereign territory. But it is critical for Congress to take action to support Ukraine by passing the President’s supplemental funding request,” Mr Blinken said in a statement.

Washington has so far delivered more than $44 billion to Kyiv since Russia's invasion in February last year. Ukraine has also received more than $35 billion of hardware from other allies, including millions of bullets for air defence systems and advanced battle tanks, as well as pledges for F-16 fighter jets.

But Ukraine still needs more, and after almost 20 months of shipping arms to Ukraine, cracks are beginning to show. Some European countries such as Poland have scaled back support, citing their domestic need to maintain adequate fighting ability to defend themselves.

US President Joe Biden's administration is pushing for a $106 billion package that includes funding for Israel, Taiwan and Ukraine, as well as humanitarian aid.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Updated: November 20, 2023, 6:52 PM