Russia’s war in Ukraine is likely to “go on for some time” and now is the time to increase military aid, the US secretary of state has said.
Anthony Blinken said “fierce” fighting continued along Ukraine’s eastern front – but Western partners were determined to “make sure the Ukrainians have what they need to recover what they have lost and to deal with Russian aggression”.
Appearing at a news conference in Washington alongside James Cleverley, the UK foreign secretary, Mr Blinken also warned that Russia would continue to “use energy to try to punish countries that support Ukraine”.
“I predict this is going to continue for some time, unfortunately,” Blinken said.
“But together we are determined … to ensure that Ukrainians have what they need to recover what they have lost and to fight Russian aggression.” That hasn’t changed.
Mr Cleverley traveled to Washington for talks on the war and spoke alongside Mr Blinken in an attempt to encourage Western leaders to step up support.
Pointing to the UK delivery of 14 tanks To Ukraine, Mr Cleverley said it was important to provide “the right equipment at the right time” so that Kiev could engage in the necessary kind of fighting.
Mr Blinken welcomed the UK’s decision to supply the British Army’s Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine.
The US secretary of state indicated that the US would make announcements in the coming days, and that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin would host talks with key allies in Ramstein, Germany, later this week.
“We’ve been continuously providing what Ukraine needs, and we’re doing it in a way that ensures we’re responding to what’s actually happening on the battlefield, as well as projecting where it might go,” he said.
“We are determined to ensure that Ukraine has what it needs to succeed on the battlefield.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called in around 300 modern Western battle tanks to enable his forces to take the offensive against the Russian aggressor.
In practice this probably means US Abrams tanks and German Leopard 2s – or a combination of the two – potentially available in far greater numbers than the Challenger 2.
The facts on the ground will trigger negotiations on the supply of weapons to Ukraine – and those facts have a potential shift
The key phrase from the press conference of the British Foreign Secretary and the US Secretary of State?
“Watch this space” – Secretary Blinken’s words when pressed if and when America will follow the British initiative to send tanks to Ukraine.
Secretary of State James Cleverley did not come to Washington to lecture an ally about what weapons should be delivered to Ukraine. After all, America has led the way in arming Ukraine to defend itself over the past 11 months.
However, the foreign secretary hopes the UK’s decision to supply its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine will gently encourage others to follow.
The “space” to watch is the meeting in Germany of the so-called Ukrainian contact group of Western nations this week.
Defense ministers and their military chiefs will discuss what’s next for Ukraine.
America’s top general, Mark Milley, will be there. He spent the past day meeting his Ukrainian counterpart at the border between Poland and Ukraine.
We’re told that General Milley wanted a first-hand battlefield assessment from Ukrainian General Valery Zaluzhny. You can bet Zaluzny told Milley “we need your tanks”.
Here in Washington, in addition to our questions and carefully noncommittal answers, the subtext from Cleverly and Blinken was an acknowledgment that this war has time to run, that winter turning to spring will bring a new Russian offensive, and that Putin has time on his side.
That, say the British, is the reason why now is the time to increase not only the quantity but also the type of weapons for Ukraine.
In war, the facts on the ground drive the negotiations that usually follow.
And those facts have the potential to change significantly one way or another as warmer weather for warfighting arrives.
Mr. Cleverly, who is in Washington to urge Americans to go “further and faster” in their support for Ukraine, praised the US’s efforts so far, pointing out that it is the largest single provider of aid – both military and economic – to Ukraine.
He said the US and UK had worked “hand in glove” – along with other allies – since the start of the conflict to ensure Ukraine had the support it needed.
“Never in living memory has Russia been more isolated and the Atlantic alliance more united,” he said.
“If Putin believed that the world would succumb to Ukraine fatigue and lose the will to resist his ambitions, then that was yet another colossal misjudgment on his part.”
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Mr. Blinken also reaffirmed the US administration’s call for an amicable solution to the dispute between the United Kingdom and the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
After speaking to Mr Cleverley, Mr Blinken said he had underlined President Joe Biden’s unequivocal support for the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.
“The United States believes that there must be an agreed solution to the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol that is acceptable to all parties,” he said. “We are delighted that in recent days the UK and the European Union have made substantial progress towards a negotiated solution.”
Meanwhile, China said it welcomed Blinken’s visit to the country amid reports he would travel there in early February.