US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made an unannounced visit to Kiev to reassure Ukraine that Washington would continue to support its fight against Russian forces.
The United States has provided tens of billions of dollars in security aid to Ukraine and has repeatedly pledged to support Kiev "as long as necessary," but opposition from hardline Republican lawmakers has raised doubts about the future of American aid.
Austin "travels today to Ukraine to meet with Ukrainian leaders and to reinforce the United States' strong support for Ukraine's struggle for freedom," a Pentagon statement said of the trip, which was not announced in advance due to security concerns. AFP.
"He will also underscore the continued commitment of the United States to providing Ukraine with the security assistance it needs to defend itself against Russian aggression," the statement said.
The trip to Kiev - by train from Poland - is the Pentagon leader's second since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Washington is the biggest donor of military aid to Kiev, and cutting US aid would be a major blow to Ukraine, which is preparing for a second winter of war.
Austin and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken urged lawmakers at a hearing in October to maintain support for Ukraine, with the US defense chief saying "without our support, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin will succeed."
But some Republican lawmakers oppose continuing the aid, and new support for Ukraine was not included in the interim deal passed by Congress last week to avert a US government shutdown.
However, US aid has not been suspended and there is still previously authorized aid that can be used.
But Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said earlier this month that the aid packages "have been getting smaller as we've had to shift our support to Ukraine." /BGNES