KYIV (Reuters) – The United States will reopen its Ukraine embassy, and President Joe Biden’s top diplomat and most senior defense official promised more military aid while visiting Kyiv as Russia warned against arming its enemy and battles raged in the east.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said their ability to come to Ukraine’s capital was proof of its tenacity in forcing Moscow to abandon an assault on the capital city last month.
“In terms of Russia’s war aims, Russia has already failed and Ukraine has already succeeded,” Blinken said after the visit.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov late on Monday said that the crisis will end with an agreement but its content will depend on the military situation, criticizing Kyiv for only imitating negotiations.
Earlier, Russia’s ambassador in Washington told the United States to halt arms shipments, warning that large Western deliveries of weapons were inflaming the conflict.
The two-month-old war has killed or injured thousands, reduced towns and cities to rubble and forced over five million people to flee abroad as the biggest attack on a European state since 1945 drags on.
Russian forces were forced to pull back from the outskirts of Kyiv in the face of stiff resistance and have yet to capture any of the biggest cities.
The United States pledged $713 million in new assistance for Ukraine and other countries in the region seen as potentially vulnerable to Russian threats. The White House also warned that more sanctions against Russia were likely.
An extra $322 million in military aid for Ukraine would take the total U.S. security assistance since the invasion began to about $3.7 billion, one official said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday attacked the West, saying it had failed to divide Russian society and accused it of inciting Kyiv to plan attacks on Russian journalists, in comments dismissed by Ukraine’s security service.
Russia was trying to disrupt arms supplies from Kyiv’s allies by bombing its rail infrastructure, Ukraine’s military command said.
Russia’s defence ministry said later its missiles destroyed six facilities powering the railways that were used to deliver foreign weapons to Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region.
Five railway stations came under fire in western and central Ukraine on Monday and one person was killed, Ukrainian television quoted state-run Ukrainian Railways as saying.
Two people were injured in shelling of a village in Russia’s Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, the regional governor said late on Monday.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the reports.
Russia has consistently denied targeting civilians or intending to overthrow Ukraine’s government.
Moscow says it launched a “special military operation” on Feb. 24 because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia, and to protect Russian-speaking people there. Kyiv and its allies say they are pretexts for an invasion.
NORMAL LIFE RETURNING IN KYIV
Just weeks ago, Kyiv was a frontline city under curfew and bombardment, with tens of thousands of troops on its northern outskirts and residents sheltering from artillery in its metro stations.
Today, the nearest Russian soldiers are hundreds of miles away, and normal life is coming back to the capital with Western leaders visiting and diplomats returning.
Blinken said U.S. diplomats would first come to the western city of Lviv and should be back in Kyiv within weeks. Bridget Brink, now U.S. ambassador in Slovakia, will be the envoy.
But away from the capital, war rages on in Ukraine’s east and south where Russia last week launched a massive offensive.
Russian forces were continuing on Monday to bomb and shell the vast Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol where fighters are hunkered down in a city ravaged by a siege and bombardment, Ukrainian presidential aide Oleksiy Arestovych said.
Moscow said it was opening a humanitarian corridor to let civilians out of the plant but Kyiv said no agreement had been reached and appealed to the United Nations for help in reaching one as “initiator and guarantor”.
Russia’s defence ministry said Ukraine had undermined evacuation efforts and that nobody had left the steel works via the humanitarian corridors on Monday.
Russia’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy told reporters a ceasefire was not a good option and would only allow Ukrainian forces to regroup, though it was not his decision.
Ukraine’s general staff also reported Russian shelling of its second-biggest city, Kharkiv, in the northeast as well as towns and villages to the south, but said that assaults on three settlements were repelled.
Russia was investigating the cause of a large fire that erupted in the early hours of the morning at an oil storage facility in the city of Bryansk, 54 km (96 miles) northeast of the border with Ukraine.
Neither side publicly linked the fire to the war.
Speaking in Moscow to Russia’s top prosecutors, Putin accused the West of inciting Ukraine to plan attacks on Russian journalists, with one such attempt thwarted by the Federal Security Service (FSB)
The FSB service said it had arrested a group planning to kill TV talk show host Vladimir Solovyev, one of the most prominent voices in support of the invasion, at the behest of Ukraine’s State Security Service (SBU).
The SBU dismissed the allegations as fantasies cooked up by Moscow.
(Additional reporting by Reuters journalists; writing by Peter Graff, Tomasz Janowski and Costas Pitas; editing by Mark Heinrich and Cynthia Osterm)