The U.S. secretaries of state and defense met Sunday night for three hours face-to-face with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin traveled to the war-torn nation as Ukraine turned up pressure for heavier weapons to defend against the Russian invasion.
Before the session, the Ukrainian president implored the U.S. delegation to not just show up with “presents or some kind of cakes.” He insisted his country’s defenders need both heavy arms and security guarantees.
In a video address Monday, Zelenskyy described the wartime meeting with Blinken and Lloyd as “encouraging and, importantly, effective.” The president announced they agreed on the next steps to strengthen his country’s armed forces and meet the “priority needs” of the Ukraine army.
Those needs are changing with Russia’s shift in focus to the campaign in Donbas, and Zelenskyy told the delegation that defending the region requires tanks, artillery, and other munitions.
A steady lineup of Western leaders has visited the capital city of Kyiv in recent weeks, including UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who walked the streets with Zelenskyy. The UK just announced it is reopening its embassy in Kyiv.
The three leaders of NATO countries Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovenia also recently traveled to Kyiv. Zelenskyy lauded their courage, saying they “fear nothing” and Ukraine will defeat Russian aggression by having “such neighbors and partners.”
Meanwhile, Russian forces on Monday continued their airstrikes on the Azovstal steel works where thousands are holding out. Moscow pledged to allow a humanitarian corridor Monday to allow those inside to leave, and the British Ministry of Defense said the last defenders in Mariupol are tying up Russian forces from moving on to other targets.
Perhaps due to this, Russian missiles and planes launched long-range attacks Monday far from the front lines of the current offensive, striking infrastructure targets hundreds of miles away. Several railway facilities and an oil refinery in central Ukraine were reportedly struck in the attack.
Just after the clandestine visit by secretaries Blinken and Austin Sunday evening, Moscow’s ambassador to Washington told the U.S. to stop sending arms to Ukraine. In demanding an end to the shipments, Anatoly Antonov said the U.S. is “pouring oil on the flames.”
Reports emerged about a pair of oil storage facilities within Russia itself that were on fire Monday morning, though no cause has been given for either blaze. Ukrainian helicopter gunships last month struck an oil storage facility in Russia near the border. The possible new strikes in Russian territory reinforce that Ukraine, with much Western assistance, has put up a valiant defense. But Russia’s aims continue to shift and expand, and no one should expect a quick resolution.