Blinken’s Zelensky meeting signals momentum for on-the-ground diplomacy
Secretary of State Antony Blinken's surprise meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — reported this evening by the AP — came the same day the only Ukrainian-born member of Congress called for the U.S. to resume diplomatic services in the country.
Why it matters: The trip by Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was fraught with risks — but just the kind Ukrainian-born Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) said the U.S. must take.
- "In any job, whether it's a political job or diplomatic job, you do take some risks — you need to be smart — but, also, that's a part of your job: to do your service," she said on CNN's "State of the Union” from Kyiv.
- "A lot of people, a lot of countries are actually bringing [diplomats] back to Kyiv, but the least we can do actually is bring it maybe to Lviv."
- "If you're not on the ground, it's very difficult to do your job. So, I think, it's important, and also sends a strong message for Ukrainian people," Spartz said.
Blinken and Austin are the highest-ranking U.S. officials to meet with Ukraine's leader since the war began on Feb. 24.
- The secretary of State stepped briefly onto Ukrainian soil while visiting Poland in March. He met then with the country's foreign minister.
Between the lines: Blinken's trip to Europe — cloaked in such secrecy administration colleagues refused to discuss it prior to him arriving — starts a big week for him.
- An administration source said the secretary will testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.
- Among his stops, Axios has learned, are appearances before both the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees.
- He'll testify Tuesday before the Senate panel, and will appear again on Thursday before the House committee, committee aides confirmed to Axios.
Committee members are eager to ask Blinken publicly about the administration's response to Ukraine, its decisions regarding the timing and amount of military assistance, as well as the specific weapons the U.S. has sent to Ukraine.
- Member questioning is also expected to go beyond Ukraine, committee staff told Axios.
- They expect it to extend to the administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan, its work to protect Taiwan from a potential Chinese invasion, as well as President Biden's upcoming trip to South Korea and Japan.
The backdrop: The U.S. closed its embassy in Ukraine in mid-February, as Russia built up its forces along the border.
- Many staffers went west to Lviv, Ukraine, and then into Poland.
- Politico reported last week that members of Congress and former diplomats are among those eager for them to return.
The latest: Spartz (R-Ind.) spoke to CNN from Ukraine, where she was visiting her grandmother over the Orthodox Easter holiday.
- Igor Zhovka, an adviser to Zelensky, used an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" to plead for even more weapons.
- "We also need anti-missile systems and anti-aircraft systems, because daily and nightly, Ukrainian cities are bombarded by the cruise missiles," Zhovka said.
The president announced last Thursday the U.S. will send another $800 million in military assistance to Ukraine, including heavy artillery.
- That will bring the total U.S. military aid since Russian invaded to about $3.4 billion.
- Appearing separately on "Meet the Press," U.S. principal deputy national security adviser Jonathan Finer said: "We have been announcing deliverables — which is a fancy word for things that we are providing to the Ukrainians to enable their fight — just about every day, and if not every day, every week."
- "We will have more to say about that in the week ahead."