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US Defense Secretary Austin makes surprise visit to Kyiv to reemphasize support for Ukraine

By Haley Britzky, CNN

(CNN) — US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin visited Kyiv on Monday, in a surprise trip to Ukraine to reemphasize the US’ support for the embattled country amid other pressing challenges abroad.

“The message that I bring you today, Mr. President, is the United States of America is with you,” Austin told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “We will remain with you for the long-haul. What happened here in Ukraine – that not only matters to Ukraine but it matters to the rest of the world. It certainly matters to the United States of America.”

According to a Defense Department news release, Austin traveled to Ukraine to “reinforce the staunch support of the United States for Ukraine’s fight for freedom.”

During Austin’s visit, the Defense Department announced a new security package for Ukraine totaling $100 million — one of the smallest packages yet as available funding for US assistance begins to run low.

The package — which is the 51st to be provided from DOD inventories — includes one High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and additional ammunition; 155mm artillery rounds; stinger anti-aircraft missiles; and Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided (TOW) missiles. It also includes cold weather gear, demolition munitions to clear obstacles, and more than three million rounds of small arms ammunition.

As he announced the package, Austin said he sees “bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress.”

“I know there are things we need to continue to work through to get the supplemental request approved. And we’ll continue to work with Congress to do that. And Congress, our congressional members, have valid questions that we will answer,” he said.

Senior defense officials, in a briefing with traveling press, emphasized the critical nature of Austin’s visit and the message it sends that the US will continue to support Ukraine despite other challenges, specifically in the Middle East with Israel’s fight against Hamas.

While US funding for aid to Ukraine is dwindling, the official said a “number of capabilities” that were procured over the last year and a half will begin coming online in the next few months and “throughout 2024.”

“So, there will be a steady supply of capabilities immediately and for some time,” the official said.

The official also said they anticipated Russia targeting critical infrastructure in the winter months as they did last year.

“They did it last winter. We’ve already seen some of those strikes actually in the last couple of days. But we are on track to provide a steady stream of artillery, ammunition, longer-range fire throughout these months so there’s that,” the official said. “We can do both at the same time.”

Upon his arrival in Kyiv, Austin met with roughly 25 Americans in Ukraine as part of the Defense Department’s Embassy Kyiv team. In remarks before their meeting, Austin thanked them for their work and assured them what they’re doing matters.

“When you’re working hard each and every day and things are going not quite like you want them to go every day, you sometimes question whether or not what you’re doing at that time is really making a difference. It is,” Austin said. “You are enabling us to provide support to a country that’s fighting for its existence. There’s probably nothing more important than that.”

Austin’s trip comes just days before he will host the 17th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, virtually from the Pentagon.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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