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U.S. wants Russian military ‘weakened’ from Ukraine invasion, Austin says

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said April 25 that the U.S. wants Russia's military capability weakened so that it cannot carry out another invasion. (Video: The Washington Post)
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IN POLAND, NEAR THE BORDER WITH UKRAINE — The United States hopes the war in Ukraine will result in a “weakened” Russia that no longer has the capacity to invade its neighbors, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday — a sharpening of rhetoric toward Moscow as the conflict stretches into its third month.

“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine,” Austin said.

Austin was in Poland, answering questions from reporters after a brief trip Sunday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Kyiv, where the pair met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian officials.

The defense secretary was asked how he defined “America’s goals for success” in Ukraine. He first said Washington wants to see “Ukraine remain a sovereign country, a democratic country, able to protect its sovereign territory.”

Then, he said, the United States hopes Russia will be “weakened” by the war. “It has already lost a lot of military capability and a lot of its troops, quite frankly, and we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability,” Austin said.

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Austin said the United States hopes “to see the international community more united, especially NATO.” He cited the sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and its allies as an example of how the war in Ukraine has made the security alliance more unified.

Speaking in a hangar in Poland filled with crates of humanitarian aid, including diapers, destined for Ukraine, the top Biden administration officials announced more than $700 million in new military aid to Ukraine and other countries, and said the United States intends to resume diplomatic operations in Ukraine this week. Blinken said diplomats will begin by making day trips from Poland to Lviv, in western Ukraine, ahead of the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv reopening its doors, probably in the coming weeks.

“We will have American diplomats back in Ukraine starting next week,” Blinken said. “They’ll then start the process of looking at how we actually reopen the embassy itself in Kyiv” — a process that could last “a couple of weeks.”

“We’re doing it deliberately, we’re doing it carefully, we’re doing it with the security of our personnel foremost in mind — but we’re doing it,” he said.

President Biden on Monday announced his intention to nominate Bridget Brink to serve as the next U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Blinken said Brink, who is serving as U.S. ambassador to Slovakia, is “deeply experienced in the region” and “will be a very strong representative for the United States in Ukraine.”

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Ukraine has not had a U.S. ambassador since 2019, when President Donald Trump removed Marie Yovanovitch from the position — a move that was scrutinized during Trump’s first impeachment inquiry.

Blinken and Austin said their visit to the Ukrainian capital, which Russian forces were unable to capture despite an attempt in the initial weeks of the war, highlighted the failure of Putin’s aims in Ukraine.

“The strategy that we’ve put in place — massive support for Ukraine, massive pressure against Russia, solidarity with more than 30 countries engaged in these efforts — is having real results,” Blinken said. “And we’re seeing that when it comes to Russia’s war aims, Russia is failing, Ukraine is succeeding.”

Blinken said Russia’s main goal was “to totally subjugate Ukraine, to take away its sovereignty, to take away its independence.” From Washington’s point of view, Moscow has “failed” in that objective. Instead, Blinken said, the sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States and its allies have hurt its economy, while the Russian military is “dramatically underperforming.”

Blinken argued that another of Russia’s goals — “to divide the West and NATO,” which the Kremlin says it views as a threat to its security — has also failed. Instead, the war in Ukraine has prompted Finland and Sweden, two traditionally neutral states near Russia, to consider joining the security alliance.

“We don’t know how the rest of this war will unfold, but we do know that a sovereign, independent Ukraine will be around a lot longer than Vladimir Putin is on the scene, and our support for Ukraine going forward will continue … until we see final success,” Blinken said.

María Luisa Paúl contributed to this report.