Is it really time to send U.S. diplomats back to Kyiv?

Is it really time to send U.S. diplomats back to Kyiv?
Sarah Silbiger, Pool via AP

By last night we were seeing plenty of breathless coverage of the return of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin from their “secret” high-level trip to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. By all accounts, the meeting went smoothly enough, with Zelensky making his usual pitch for more and better weapons and ammunition. Blinken and Austin stayed on script and assured Zelensky that we are standing with him and the military and humanitarian aid to his country would continue to flow. They even sweetened the deal by promising to toss in some tanks and advanced drones. It really sounds like the entire thing could have been handled with another video conference call, but I suppose the White House wanted to make a statement by sending some high-ranking officials in person. The more disturbing part of the announcement, delivered from Poland after the two had safely left Ukraine, was when they began talking about moving our diplomats back into the country. (Washington Examiner)

After a secret, high-level trip to Ukraine on Sunday, the United States announced over $700 million in military assistance for Ukraine and allies and the return of U.S. diplomats to the war-torn country.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin left reporters across the border in Poland on Sunday, for security reasons, as they ventured into Ukraine to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in what was the first official U.S. visit to Ukraine since Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion. The pair of Cabinet secretaries reportedly informed Zelensky that the U.S. would provide $713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine and 15 allied and partner countries, which included $322 million specifically for Kyiv.

First, let me clarify why I put the word “secret” in scare quotes at the top of the article. That’s how Sunday’s trip is being described almost everywhere. But how much of a secret could it have been? Zelensky himself was out on social media announcing the visit on Saturday. At that time, I questioned whether or not this was a smart way to handle the planning.

Clearly, they managed to keep the trip secure for these officials… this time. But that doesn’t mean that Kyiv is suddenly some sort of secure, normalized place. Ukraine is still a war zone. And the Russians haven’t exactly been precise with their rockets and missiles, some of which are still falling in and around Kyiv. Either they have some lousy targeting and fire control systems or they are intentionally hitting apartment buildings and hospitals. Most likely it’s a combination of both. But let’s not forget that this is the same Russian army that managed to shoot down at least one of its own planes, so let’s not count on their accuracy too much.

As for the embassy, the good news is that we aren’t talking about fully reopening the one in Kyiv and sending everyone in this week. Blinken talked about starting with a smaller number of staff going back into Lviv for “day trips” this week. Then they would evaluate the situation and determine when people could begin heading back to the capital and reopening that office “over a couple of weeks.”

Do we really believe that Kyiv will be sufficiently stable and secure in a matter of weeks? As long as the fighting in the Donbas is still going on – and it seems highly unlikely that Putin will simply stop that quickly – then the war is still going on. And there is no reason to believe that the Russians will stop shelling all of the other major cities entirely. What happens if a missile takes out our embassy and our diplomats are killed? That’s not the same as an American reporter taking a bullet while covering a hot battle zone. Taking out an embassy and diplomatic personnel would be a massive escalation. Would we finally be forced to respond in kind or simply write those diplomats off as the price of doing business? These are questions that the Biden administration needs to be prepared to answer before moving forward with this plan.

Meanwhile, it’s not as if Putin is suddenly in the mood to be more reasonable. This morning, Russia sent an “angry” demand that we stop sending weapons to Ukraine. We responded by sending even more powerful armaments to Zelensky. By this point, we should all realize that when the Madman of Moscow’s “angry demands” are not met, he tends to lash out. And some American diplomats inside of the country he’s already shelling anyway might prove to be a target of opportunity.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on June 02, 2023