Biden visits Kiev

(Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden promised new military aid to Ukraine worth $500 million during a surprise visit to Kiev on Monday, nearly a year after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Biden also said that additional sanctions will be announced this week against Russian elite and companies trying to evade sanctions to “support the Russian war machine.”

The military aid package will include artillery munitions, anti-armor systems and air surveillance radars “to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardment,” he said.

“The cost that Ukraine has had to pay is extraordinarily high. The sacrifices have been very great,” Biden told reporters in Kiev, where he had talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Biden seemed to make no mention of fighter jets, which Ukraine has been seeking from Western allies to help it repel Russian forces.

Air raid sirens sounded as Biden, 80, walked with Zelenskiy through central Kiev, but there were no reports of Russian air strikes or missiles.

Visiting the Ukrainian capital for the first time since the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, Biden said Washington will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes.

Biden said his trip seeks to “reaffirm our unwavering and relentless commitment to the democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

The United States has been by far the largest provider of military assistance to help Ukraine repel the better-equipped Russian invaders.

“This visit of the US president to Ukraine, the first in fifteen years, is the most important visit in the entire history of Ukraine-US relations,” Zelenskiy said.

Zelenskiy’s chief of staff posted pictures of Biden in sunglasses walking side by side with Zelenskiy, who was wearing his trademark military-style clothing.

Kiev is preparing for a possible new major Russian offensive that some military analysts say is already underway in the east.

In a speech, Biden praised Ukraine’s courage during the war, adding, “I knew it would be back.”

Sirens warning of air strikes sounded as Zelenskiy and Biden stood inside St. Michael’s Cathedral in a square in central Kiev, where burning Russian tanks were placed.

Biden’s trip fell on the day Ukraine marked the deaths of more than 100 people — now known as the Hundred Heavens — in anti-government protests that eventually toppled a Moscow-backed president in 2014.

Several major roads in central Kiev were closed to traffic Monday morning. Drivers waited in traffic while gathering crowds of pedestrians peered over the barricades to get a sense of who had come to the capital.

Ukraine pressures members of the U.S. Congress for F-16 fighter jets

Ukrainian officials have urged members of the U.S. Congress to lobby President Joe Biden’s administration to send F-16 fighter jets to Kiev, saying the aircraft would increase Ukraine’s ability to target Russian missile units with U.S.-made rockets, lawmakers said.

The lobbying occurred this weekend on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference in talks between Ukrainian officials, including Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, and Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives.

“They told us they want (the F-16s) to suppress enemy air defenses so they can take their drones” beyond the Russian front lines, Senator Mark Kelly, a former astronaut who flew in U.S. Navy combat, told Reuters on Saturday night.

Last month, Biden said “no” when asked if he would approve Ukraine’s request for F-16s manufactured by Lockheed-Martin.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that the United States should focus on providing weapons that can be used immediately on the battlefield, rather than fighters that require extensive training.

“The focus should be on what they can use and use effectively in the next few months, not the next few years,” Blinken said on ABC’s “This Week” program.

Four Senate and House delegations gathered in what members called the largest number of U.S. lawmakers to attend Europe’s premier security meeting since it began in 1963, demonstrating clear bipartisan support for Ukraine.

The conference – focused primarily on Ukraine – took place days before the anniversary of the Russian invasion on February 24. The teams fought tough battles, mainly in the eastern Donbass region, following a series of Russian defeats.

Kelly and three other lawmakers who spoke to Reuters about their talks with Ukrainian officials said they believe congressional support is growing for providing Ukraine with F-16s, one of the world’s most versatile multi-function fighters.

Ukraine’s Air Force has adapted U.S.-made AGM-88 HARM rockets to fire from its Soviet-designed MiG-29 fighters.

The Ukrainians said their pilots could more effectively hit Russian S-300 and S-400 air defense missile units with the AGM-88 if the rockets were fired using F-16s, the parliamentarians said.

“They claimed they need that plane for the SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) mission,” Kelly said. “They probably think they can do a better job destroying the S-400s.”

He said that while it takes at least a year of training to master all of the F-16’s capabilities, Ukrainian pilots can be taught to do “a limited number of things…in a few months.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said that U.S. lawmakers broadly support training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s and said he believed the Biden administration would soon agree to do so.

Washington has provided about $30 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the beginning of what Moscow calls a “special military operation.”

*** Translated by the DEFCONPress FYI team ***

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