Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s “main” plea when he meets with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Sunday will be for more arms, Ukraine officials said.
“First and foremost is the delivery of weapons,” said Igor Zhovkva, a top diplomatic adviser to Zelensky, to NBC’s Kirsten Welker.
“We really need armored vehicles. We really need artillery systems … We need tanks in order to defend ourselves on the ground, in order to unblock such cities as Mariupol, in order to withstand the potential offensive of Russian armed forces in the Donbas,” the official said.
“That’s what we need immediately. That’s what we need now. And that’s what we need in bigger quantities,” Zhovkva said. “The main subject of the discussion with the two distinguished guests will be delivery of weapons.”
On Saturday, Zelensky announced that Blinken and Austin would travel to Kyiv on Sunday, about two months since the beginning of Russia’s invasion — and that Biden himself will come when it’s safe for him to do so.
On Tuesday, Biden told reporters that he hasn’t yet decided if he will visit Ukraine, despite several world leaders including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently making the trip.
The preview of the top Biden aides’ meeting with Zelensky also comes after the US president announced Thursday that America is sending another $800 million in military aid to Ukraine, including “artillery weapons, dozens of howitzers, and 144,000 rounds of ammunition to go with those howitzers.”
“We are thankful for the US administration for having the deliveries, especially the last two announcements the US president made,” Zhovkha said.
Last week, Zelensky claimed his country would have already won the war against Russia if the US and NATO had sent more weapons. Zelensky has said he wants the US to provide Ukraine with jets and missiles, too.
During the Sunday morning appearance, Zhovkva specified that the war-torn country is in need of equipment to defend against Russia’s aerial attacks.
“We definitely need some more weapons in terms of defending the sky over Ukraine, because NATO countries refuse to close the skies over Ukraine,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“So, we also need anti-missile systems and anti-aircraft systems because daily and nightly, Ukraine cities are bombarded by cruise missiles.”
Yevheniya Kravchuk — a member of the Ukrainian Parliament and a Zelensky ally — also said she expects weaponry to be a key topic of discussion during the diplomatic face-to-face.
“We expect three main things with our closer partners, which [are] heavy weapons — it is essential [for defending against] Russia” she said on ABC, noting financial aid will also be spoken about during the meeting.
“Why do we need heavy weapons? Ukraine is still occupied, and it [has been] occupied since February, when the full-scale invasion started. We need to liberate our people who are in the south and eastern Ukraine, and that’s why we need these defensive weapons.”
Kravchuck explained that the United States sending more military equipment to Ukraine would send a signal to European countries to do so as well.
She also expressed appreciation about the talks between US officials and Zelensky.
“I think that the visit is a really, really symbolic and a powerful signal to Russia that Ukraine will not be left alone with this war,” Kravchuck said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Also Sunday, U.S and Ukrainian officials provided updates on the besieged southern port city of Mariupol — where residents are left without electricity and water and where President Vladimir Putin on Thursday claimed that Russia now controls.
Zhovkva, the Zelensky administration official, declared Putin’s declaration of victory “false,” though he conceded the city is nearly “wiped out.”
“No, that’s false. Russia does not control the whole city of Mariupol, though it controls some part of the city of Mariupol,” he said on NBC. “Ukrainian armed forces are still in town. They are concentrated now mainly on the Azovstal steel plant and they are concentrated there together with the civilians, so many Ukrainian soldiers are wounded. .
“Today we again turn to Russian authorities to open the humanitarian corridors for civilians, including for civilians who are living in the city of Mariupol because more than 100,000 civilians are still left in the city, and the city is almost wiped out. I mean, people are living without elementary conditions: without food, without water supply, without electricity.”
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal — who on Friday characterized the situation in Mariupol is the “biggest humanitarian catastrophe” of the century — explained that the city was “surrounded by Russians,” and that thousands of outnumbered Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are attempting to defend the territory.
“Soldiers are protecting the civilians, but the quantity of Russian soldiers is [many] time more than our soldiers,” Shmyhal said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” noting that the city has recently been bombed.
“There are terrible atrocities, terrible war crimes [in] the Mariupol territory,” he said.
Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer said Sunday that U.S. officials have “seen significant evidence of atrocities” in Mariupol.
“So we’ve been quite clear that we have seen significant evidence of atrocities, of war crimes,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“You’ve heard very strong language come out of our administration about a number of the tactics the Russians are using, deliberately targeting civilians in places like Mariupol and elsewhere,” Finer added. “That would be wholly consistent with how Russia has been prosecuting this war from the beginning.”
He also hinted that US officials do not believe Putin’s claims that Mariupol is now fully in Russia’s control.
“Our understanding is that Russian forces and Ukrainian forces are continuing to fight in that city,” said the national security advisor.
Despite the dire situation in Mariupol and elsewhere in Ukraine, Russia had “already lost” the war, according to Finer.
“In our view, Russia has already lost, has already lost many of its initial war aims. They have intended to divide the West. They have resulted in a West and a NATO alliance that is much more united than it’s ever been,” he said. “They thought that they would unsettle, and undermine, and maybe even overthrow the Ukrainian government. President Zelenskyy is firmly entrenched in power, and Ukrainian democracy continues.
“Russia is more isolated in the world. Its economy is weaker,” Finer added “They are failing at virtually every one of their initial objectives. And our objective is going to be to continue that trend.”