Biden dispatches Yellen and Blinken to bolster support for Ukraine
A week after President Biden traveled to Ukraine to pledge American support in the fight against Russia, he dispatched two senior cabinet ministers to redouble efforts to shore up Ukraine’s economy and try to curb the Kremlin’s ability to withstand Western sanctions to bypass.
The visits of Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen to the capital, Kiev, and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken to the heart of what Moscow considers its sphere of influence in Central Asia underscore the Biden administration’s commitment to blocking Moscow’s ambitions in Ukraine when the war broke out goes into his second year.
The Biden administration’s diplomatic moves come as President Vladimir V. Putin has spent the past year strengthening Russia’s grip in Central Asia and deepening ties with China, which the United States says is preparing to more openly help Moscow .
Mr Blinken was due to arrive in Kazakhstan on Tuesday to urge senior Central Asian officials from the former Soviet republics convening there to uphold their independence from Russia and China and not be complicit in Moscow’s attempts to evade sanctions.
China is wielding its own diplomatic clout as it prepares to welcome President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, a staunch Russia ally, for a three-day visit starting Tuesday, during which he is expected to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
US officials say they are aware of their targets in Central Asia. They don’t think many of the nations that remained neutral in the war will soon be making bold statements against Russia, given their decades-long ties, including military ties, with Moscow.
And none of the Central Asian nations voted yes to the United Nations resolution last week calling on Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine and agree to a lasting peace that recognizes Ukraine’s full sovereignty.
“Our main goal is to show that the United States is a reliable partner and we see the difficulties these economies are facing – high food prices, high fuel prices, high unemployment, difficulties in exporting their goods, slow post-Covid recovery and a large influx of migrants from Russia,” said Donald Lu, US assistant secretary of state for South Asia and Central Asia, at a news conference on Friday.
For Ms. Yellen, Monday’s unannounced trip to Kiev highlighted just how closely intertwined national security and economic security are.
As Treasury Secretary, Ms Yellen – an economist and former Federal Reserve Chair – helped draft the sanctions the United States imposed on Russia last year to put pressure on its economy. She also drafted the price cap that the United States and its allies in the Group of 7 nations enacted to cap the price at which Russian oil can be sold.
Arriving on an overnight train from Poland, amid air raid sirens blaring — just as Mr Biden had done just days earlier — Ms Yellen crossed through Kiev and met with the country’s top officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky; honoring those killed in the conflict; and to argue publicly that billions of dollars in US taxpayer dollars are well spent.
“We applaud President Zelenskyy’s passionate commitment to using these funds in the ‘most responsible way,'” Ms Yellen said, quoting the Ukrainian leader’s words before Congress in December. “Transparency and accountability will become even more important as Ukraine rebuilds its infrastructure and recovers from the effects of war.”
Ms Yellen announced the transfer of $1.25 billion in economic aid to Ukraine – money to fund schools, firefighters and doctors. It is the first installment of about $10 billion that the United States is giving to Kiev this year as part of a $45 billion aid package approved by Congress in December.
She pledged that “America will stand by Ukraine for as long as necessary,” arguing that bolstering Ukraine’s economy is just as important as strengthening the nation’s military.
After meeting Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys A. Shmyhal in his gilded but barricaded offices, where sandbags filled the windows and doors, Ms Yellen said: “We both know that effective military resistance on the front lines of this struggle requires a functioning economy and Government.”
Funds can’t come fast enough for Ukraine.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that the country faces a monthly budget deficit of about $5 billion a month. The United States has urged its European allies to provide more aid and is encouraging the IMF to approve a full loan package for Ukraine.
Though the Biden administration’s commitment to Ukraine appears unwavering, political opposition is growing from Republicans, who increasingly argue that aid amounts to Ukraine risk becoming prohibitively expensive.
Ms Yellen’s visit was intended to counteract that sentiment a month after Mr Zelensky promised to crack down on corruption after a civil servant was sacked for embezzlement.
Even as Ms. Yellen came to Ukraine, the Biden administration expanded efforts to fend off Moscow’s own attempts to seek economic and other assistance abroad. American officials have noted the skeptical remarks made by some senior Central Asian officials, including those in Kazakhstan, about Putin and Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, another former Soviet republic.
The Biden administration wants to take advantage of this, starting with Mr. Blinken’s trip to Central Asia, his first since the Russian invasion. Both Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi visited us in September.
Mr Xi’s hosting of Mr Lukashenko this week will come with all the pomp of a state visit. Belarus is a staunch Kremlin partner and last year Mr Lukashenko allowed Russian forces to use his country as a base for their invasion of Ukraine.
Concerns are deepening in the Biden administration that China will provide deadly aid to the Kremlin’s war effort. And Ms Yellen told reporters who traveled with her this week that China must comply with American sanctions against Russia.
“In any case, we have told China that we expect them to comply with the sanctions and that any evidence that the government or private companies or financial institutions are providing material assistance in China that escapes our sanctions is something.” , which would have really serious consequences and is something we would not tolerate,” Ms Yellen said.
Such threats do not go down well with China. On Monday, Beijing accused the United States of being “hypocritical” by warning against giving Russia arms for use in Ukraine.
“While the United States has intensified efforts to supply arms to one of the parties to the conflict, leading to endless wars and no end to peace in sight, it has frequently disseminated false information about China’s arms sales to Russia,” said Mao Ning, ret a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry said at a news conference.
With US officials making frequent visits to Ukraine in recent months, the threat of violence, even far from the front lines, remains constant.
Ms Yellen traveled in a police-escorted motorcade, weaving through checkpoints, past concrete demolition walls and iron hedgehogs erected to stop Russian tanks. In some places, the trenches lining the roadsides served as a reminder of the remaining danger.
On Sunday night, Russia launched swarms of drones on Kiev and other targets across the country in a bid to exhaust Ukraine’s air defenses by staggering attacks, Ukrainian officials said. Ukrainian forces shot down at least nine of the drones over the capital during the attack, which began just before midnight and lasted until just before dawn, authorities in Kyiv said.
Russian shelling also damaged power infrastructure, causing blackouts in the southern Odessa region on Monday, authorities said, the latest setback for a power system that has endured months of Russian bombing.
During Ms Yellen’s visit, she spoke at Obolon School No. 168, which was badly damaged during the first Russian attack last year. The school, where teachers, administrative staff and support staff were paid directly by US budget support, was rebuilt last year.
Ms Yellen also stopped in the square in front of the gold-domed St. Michael’s Monastery to lay a wreath in memory of the dead and to watch a display of destroyed Russian tanks and armored vehicles.
The Treasury Secretary made it clear that American aid to Ukraine would continue to flow and that the United States would redouble its efforts against the Russian economy.
“We will continue to work with our international coalition to provide military, economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine,” Ms. Yellen said. “And we will continue to impose heavy costs on the Kremlin for its illegal war.”
Markus Santora reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Alan Rapport from Rzeszow, Poland. Matthew Mpoke Bigg And Olivia Wang contributed reporting.
https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/27/world/europe/ukraine-yellen-blinken-russia.html Biden dispatches Yellen and Blinken to bolster support for Ukraine