(CNN) — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv Wednesday on what is his third trip to the Ukrainian capital since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, seeking to double down on US support for Kyiv’s counteroffensive and make the political case back home that the US needs to commit billions of dollars more to help defeat Vladmir Putin.
Blinken said the US is “determined to continue to walk side-by-side” with Ukraine when he met with President Volodymyr Zelensky, as he called the country’s progress in the counteroffensive “very, very encouraging.”
Zelensky said it is always a “great message of support” for Ukraine when US officials visit, noting that this is a “tough period” for his country.
The visit comes as Ukraine’s counteroffensive moves into its fourth month, with both political and military leaders in Kyiv talking up recent gains, especially in the south of the country, following growing concerns the concerted push on the battlefield has failed to produce results.
The top US diplomat is expected to announce more than a billion dollars in additional funding for Kyiv’s war effort as the Biden administration braces for a political struggle to secure more money from Congress. Blinken’s arrival in Kyiv comes less than a month after President Joe Biden asked for more than $24 billion to help Ukraine defeat Russia, as some polls show the American public’s support for continued funding is softening. This visit will help the administration make the case for that continued support to the American people, a senior US State Department official said.
Speaking alongside Blinken, Zelensky expressed gratitude to Biden and to the US Congress for showing “great unity” in a bipartisan fashion on aid towards Ukraine.
Blinken’s first stop on Wednesday was at a military cemetery, where he laid a wreath in honor of Ukraine’s fallen soldiers.
Blinken also met Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. He said he was again “struck by the extraordinary bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people, the Ukrainian forces, Ukraine’s leadership.”
“We’ve seen good progress in the counteroffensive, which is very heartening. We want to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs not only to succeed in the counteroffensive, but it has what it needs for the long term, to make sure that it has a strong deterrent… so that in the future, aggressions like this don’t happen again,” Blinken added.
He added he wanted to work with partners to “build and rebuild a strong economy (and) a strong democracy” in Ukraine.
Aid package expected to include depleted uranium munitions
The aid package announced on Wednesday is expected to include depleted uranium munitions for the first time, another US official told CNN.
The munitions can be fired from the US-made Abrams tanks that are set to arrive in Ukraine this fall. The munitions can pierce armored plates like those found on tanks because they are made of a highly dense metal, a byproduct from fuel production for nuclear power plants. Depleted uranium rounds are nearly 70% denser than lead, which is the metal used in standard rounds of ammunition.
The UK Defense Ministry confirmed in March that it would be sending ammunition containing depleted uranium to Ukraine, which sparked a protest from Russia.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has said that depleted uranium is “considerably less radioactive than natural uranium.” The agency added that the “main conclusion” of studies done of the health of military personnel exposed to depleted uranium is that exposure could not be linked to any statistically significant increases in the personnel’s mortality rates.
Sabrina Singh, deputy Pentagon press secretary, told CNN on Wednesday that the munitions are “standard use” in the Abrams tanks and that the US is confident the Ukrainians would use the munitions responsibly if and when they are provided.
The visit by Washington’s top diplomat is also an opportunity for the United States and Ukraine to align ahead of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) later this month, the senior state department official told reporters traveling with Blinken.
“The Ukrainians have an important mission in New York to continue to explain – to their allies and partners around the world – what’s going on and their continued need for support. And it’s important for us to continue to lead that global effort to support them,” the official said.
“Having a chance to consult and align before we get to New York is very, very important.”
The official reiterated an argument for supporting Ukraine that Biden has made in the past, saying that it is about “dictators and autocrats not being able to bite off a piece of their neighbor and get to keep it live that way with impunity.”
While some US officials have been privately critical of Ukraine’s counteroffensive strategy, the official would not delve into specifics other than to say that now is the right time to “come and assess” how the counteroffensive is going.
“We want to see, hear, how they intend to push forward in the coming weeks,” the official said, adding that the US sees the country making “some impressive advances in the south in particular, but also in the east in recent days and weeks.”
Blinken arrived in Kyiv Wednesday morning after making an overnight journey by train from Poland, in common with almost all high-profile visitors to the war-torn city, including Biden.
In April 2022 Blinken made the trip with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, just a few weeks after Russian forces had withdrawn from areas immediately to the north of the Ukrainian capital. His second trip was in September last year as Ukraine’s first big counteroffensive was underway in the Kharkiv region.
According to the State Department, Blinken also briefly went into Ukraine in March 2022, when he met on the border with Foreign Minister Kuleba.
The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.