KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine has made important progress in its counteroffensive against Russia’s invasion, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit overshadowed by a Russian attack on Wednesday that killed at least 17 people. President Volodymyr Zelenskiy condemned the attack, which officials said hit a crowded market in the city of Kostiantynivka, close […]
Deadly market attack in Ukraine overshadows visit by Blinken
KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine has made important progress in its counteroffensive against Russia’s invasion, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit overshadowed by a Russian attack on Wednesday that killed at least 17 people.
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy condemned the attack, which officials said hit a crowded market in the city of Kostiantynivka, close to the battlefield. He said a child was among the dead, and officials said at least 32 people were hurt.
“This Russian evil must be defeated as soon as possible,” Zelenskiy said, describing it as a deliberate attack on a “peaceful city”. Aides posted video footage showing an explosion after what sounded like a missile approaching, and people scurrying for cover or falling to the ground.
Russia did not immediately comment on the attack, and has denied deliberately targeting civilians.
Blinken, the first top U.S. official to visit Kyiv since the counteroffensive began in early June, was expected to announce a new package of U.S. wartime assistance worth more than $1 billion, a senior State Department official said.
In comments as he began his meeting with Zelenskiy, Blinken said he was encouraged by the results of the counteroffensive so far. He said he was looking forward to hearing the president’s account of two days spent near front line positions this week.
“But certainly we see the important progress that’s being made now in the counter-offensive and that’s very, very encouraging,” Blinken said.
Blinken had earlier met Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba as his two-day visit got under way.
“We want to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs, not only to succeed in the counteroffensive, but has what it needs for the long term, to make sure that it has a strong deterrent,” Blinken said standing alongside Kuleba.
U.S. media reports have cited unidentified U.S. officials as saying the Ukrainian counteroffensive has been too slow and hindered by poor tactics – criticism that angered Ukrainian officials and prompted Kuleba to tell critics to “shut up”.
Ukraine has retaken more than a dozen villages and small settlements in its offensive. But its push into Russian-held territory has been slowed by minefields and trenches.
U.S. officials have not publicly criticised Ukraine’s military tactics, and last week said they had seen progress in the southeast.
The State Department official said Washington wanted to discuss how the counteroffensive was going and assess battlefield needs as well as any steps that might be required to shore up Ukraine’s energy security before winter.
“I think what’s most important is that we get a real assessment from the Ukrainians themselves,” the official said. “We want to see, hear how they intend to push forward in the coming weeks.”
The new U.S. aid would include HIMARS missle launch systems, Javelin antitank weapons, Abrams tanks and other weapons systems, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Asked about Blinken’s visit, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow believed Washington planned to continue funding Ukraine’s military “to wage this war to the last Ukrainian”.
He said U.S. aid to Kyiv would not affect the course of what he called Russia’s special military operation.
RISING OPPOSITION TO UKRAINE AID
Blinken’s visit coincided with parliament approving the appointment of Rustem Umerov as defence minister following the dismissal of Oleksii Reznikov. Officials did not say whether Blinken would meet Umerov.
During his train ride to Kyiv, Blinken also held talks with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, who was visiting the same day.
Blinken thanked Frederiksen for Denmark’s donation of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine and its leadership of a coalition of nations to train Ukrainian pilots, a State Department spokesperson said.
Denmark and the Netherlands announced last month they would supply more than 60 U.S.-made F-16s as soon as pilots are trained to fly them – the first countries to offer the jets.
The U.S. government has provided more than $43 billion in weaponry and other military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February 2022. A new package of security assistance is set to be announced this week, Reuters reported on Friday.
Several Republican presidential hopefuls have questioned U.S. aid, fuelling concerns over whether Washington will still back Ukraine at the same level once the U.S. 2024 election campaign intensifies.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth in Kyiv; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Angus MacSwan, Peter Graff, Philippa Fletcher)