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Top U.S. officials heading to Kyiv as war shifts focus

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Kyiv on Sunday for the first time since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Saturday.

The show of American support comes as Russian forces are massing in the east for a renewed assault and Ukrainian troops are taking delivery of a round of heavy artillery pieces, tanks and drones donated by western allies.

A steady stream of European leaders have flown to Kyiv over the past two weeks to meet with Zelenskyy to pledge new rounds of weapons and humanitarian support, trips made possible after Russian forces retreated from their failed assaults on the capital region this month and reconsolidated in south and east of the country.

Austin will visit Kyiv just before traveling to Germany next week for a planned summit of 40 NATO and allied nations to discuss ways to continue arming and supporting Ukraine.

“I want us to have heavy powerful weapons,” Zelenskyy said during a press conference in a subway station in Kyiv Saturday.

He also staked out a maximalist attitude when it came to how Ukraine plans to conduct the war, adding, “My position as president is: everything that they occupy, we will take it all back. It will not be a matter of eight years, like from 2014, it will be immediately. This is a matter of weapons. If we have enough, we will immediately begin to regain the occupied territory.”

“I emphasize once again: last week, signals, messages, steps, deadlines, numbers — I am talking all this in relation to weapons from the United States — everything has improved. And I am grateful for this. And we are very much looking forward to this,” Zelenskyy added.

In a message posted to his Telegram account Friday night, Zelenskyy warned that the Russian invasion was “only the beginning,” of the Kremlin’s aggression, and that if President Vladimir Putin succeeds in Ukraine, Russia would “invade other countries.”

That warning is not unfounded, as Russian military leaders have suggested that they intend to seize territory that would create a land bridge to Transnistria, which would put the non-NATO Moldova at risk.

For now, thousands of Russian troops remain engaged in fierce fighting in Mariupol in the south, where Ukrainian troops and civilians are making a desperate last stand in a sprawling steel factory. The Kremlin needs those troops for what it says will be a renewed push to encircle Ukrainian forces in the east.

Pleading for countries to “fight alongside” Ukraine, Zelenskyy also warned that nations who choose to remain neutral in the fight are making “the riskiest bet, because you will lose everything.”

Over the past two weeks, the Biden administration has announced $1.2 billion worth of weapons shipments to Ukraine, bringing U.S. military aid to Ukraine to $3.3 billion since the start of the war.

Both the State Department and Pentagon declined to comment on the trip.

Christopher Miller and Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

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