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Blinken ends Ukraine trip with promise of U.S. help as Russia goes back on offensive

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has wrapped up his latest trip to Ukraine, saying that country's future is with the West and promising U.S. help to push Russian troops out. But the lengthy debates in Washington over aid to Ukraine have had an impact on the battleground. Russia is now on the offensive again, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Blinken is making up for lost time, announcing $2 billion in military assistance and speeding up arm shipments that were delayed for months by Congress.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: We're rushing ammunition, armored vehicles, missiles, air defenses - rushing them to get to the front lines to protect soldiers, to protect civilians.

KELEMEN: His Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, says the delays have hurt troops on the front lines.

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DMYTRO KULEBA: Every time there are delays in supplies and insufficient supplies, we are not winning. The law of the war is cruel, but very clear.

KELEMEN: For a news conference with two top diplomats, there was little talk of diplomacy. Blinken says Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn't seem interested in negotiations.

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BLINKEN: What Putin is demonstrating every single day is exactly the opposite.

KELEMEN: Thousands of Ukrainians have had to flee border towns and villages in the northeast Kharkiv region as Russian troops make new advances.

SERGEY RADCHENKO: It is very difficult to talk about diplomacy when the Russians are making gains.

KELEMEN: That's Sergey Radchenko, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies here in Washington. He recently coauthored an article about peace talks that failed in the spring of 2022, as Russia was retreating and as news of Russian atrocities hardened Ukrainian positions.

RADCHENKO: For diplomacy to work, fundamentally, you have to have both sides in a situation where they are quite exhausted, and they cannot go on or they feel that actually a cease-fire is better than a continuation of war.

KELEMEN: He doesn't see that happening until early next year. Ukrainian officials have pushed back on the idea that Russia was ever engaged in serious talks. Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations, Sergiy Kyslytsya, told the Security Council this week not to believe, as he put it, Russian lies about diplomacy.

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SERGIY KYSLYTSYA: The name of the person who actually ruined the prospect of peace is Putin. He has been ruining peace in Ukraine for more than a decade.

KELEMEN: He says the only way to stop the Russian aggression is for peace-loving countries to join Ukraine at a summit in Switzerland this June.

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KYSLYTSYA: It is really important - not only for Ukraine - that the majority of nations attend the summit. The more active the world is now in restoring a comprehensive, just and lasting peace for Ukraine, the more likely it is that the others in the world will not become the victims of similar aggression.

KELEMEN: But Radchenko, speaking via Skype, says there's no way to resolve this war without Russia at the table.

RADCHENKO: This is basically, you know, a solidarity summit to show the world's solidarity for Ukraine. But unfortunately, as previous examples have shown in failure of China to participate, for example, in failure of some other major powers to take part, actually kind of undermines this whole narrative of solidarity.

KELEMEN: There are geopolitics at play. China sees its partnership with Russia as a way to counterbalance U.S. global influence. And there are U.S. domestic politics at play. He says Putin understands that if Trump gets back into the White House, the U.S. will likely curtail its military assistance to Ukraine. So Russia is in a waiting game. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.