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Day 60: US leaders on first wartime visit to Kiev with arms pledges

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
This picture shows an apartment building damaged after shelling the day before in Ukraine's second-biggest city of Kharkiv on March 8, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

The US military chief will visit Kiev to discuss ways to continue offering more weapons and other support to Ukraine’s military, as other NATO countries support continues.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has announced that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will visit Kiev on Sunday to discuss Ukraine’s call for more powerful weapons.

Zelensky gave little detail about logistics of the encounter but said he expected concrete results. Speaking at a news conference held in an underground subway station in the Ukrainian capital on Saturday, Zelensky said, “We are expecting specific things and specific weapons.”

“As soon as we have [more weapons], as soon as there are enough of them, believe me, we will immediately retake this or that territory, which is temporarily occupied,” Zelensky said.

The visit would be the highest-level by US officials since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The White House declined to comment.

Biden, who has previously suggested he wants to go to Ukraine, said earlier this month that he was working with his team to determine whether he should dispatch a senior member of his administration to the country.

The trip by the US military chief comes prior to his visit to Germany next week for a planned summit of 40 NATO and allied nations to discuss ways to continue offering more weapons and other support to Ukraine’s military.

Russia has informed the US and its allies that any weapons shipment to Kiev would be targeted for destruction. It further sent a diplomatic note to Washington, warning of “unpredictable consequences” if the deliveries continued.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in a phone conversation with the Ukrainian president, confirmed that Britain will supply more military equipment to his country.

“The Prime Minister confirmed that the UK is providing more defensive military aid, including protected mobility vehicles, drones and anti-tank weapons,” readout of the call published by Johnson’s office said.

Johnson also confirmed the UK would be reopening its embassy in Kiev next week, a move first announced yesterday. He said that this was a demonstration of “our support and solidarity with the Ukrainian people.”

In the conversation, Zelensky thanked Johnson for the training of more than 20 Ukrainian troops who arrived in the UK last week. The Ukrainian soldiers receiving training in the UK are being instructed on how to use 120 armored vehicles.

Meanwhile, Russia’s top state investigative body said on Saturday that it is investigating whether sabotage experts from the United Kingdom’s Special Air Service (SAS) have been deployed to western Ukraine.

Russia to probe presence of British SAS special forces

Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency on Saturday quoted a Russian security source as saying about 20 SAS members being sent to the Lviv region in Western Ukraine. The SAS is an elite military force trained to conduct special operations, surveillance and counter-terrorism.

The UK has said it sent military trainers to Ukraine earlier this year to instruct local forces in using anti-tank weapons. But on February 17, a week before Russia-Ukraine war began, the UK said it had pulled out all troops except those needed to protect its ambassador.

However it is not clear what steps the Investigative Committee has planned to take in response to a NATO country’s military involvement in Ukraine.

Turkey closes airspace to Russian planes flying to Syria 

Turkish air space has been closed to military and civilian planes carrying troops from Russia to Syria after consultation with Moscow, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has been quoted as saying by local media.

“We closed the airspace to Russia’s military planes – and even civilian ones – flying to Syria. They had until April, and we asked in March,” Cavusoglu said Saturday.

Cavusoglu said he conveyed the decision to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, who then relayed it to President Vladimir Putin. There was no immediate response to Turkey’s announcement from Russia.

NATO member Turkey has good relations with both Russia and Ukraine and has sought to mediate in the war between them, hosting meetings between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators in Istanbul, and another between Lavrov and Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba in Antalya.

Ankara is now trying to arrange an Istanbul summit between Putin and Ukrainian President, although Cavusoglu conceded that the prospects of such talks at this point is still unclear.


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