KYIV, Ukraine — American funding for teachers, firefighters and medical workers is as important in helping Ukraine prevail against Russia as U.S. missiles and bombs are, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said Monday during a visit to Kyiv.
Yellen’s appearance in the Ukrainian capital, one week after a surprise trip by President Biden, provided another vivid display of Washington’s resolve in helping to repel the Russian invaders, even as Moscow shows no willingness to halt its war.
Yellen met with President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials and highlighted the huge sums of economic assistance from the United States, Kyiv’s biggest backer in both military and nonmilitary support.
Speaking at a heavily guarded event at a school in Kyiv’s Obolon district, Yellen said economic support for the Kyiv government was “critical for Ukraine’s resistance.”
“We have a basic moral duty to stand by you in your darkest hour,” she said. “It is in our vital interests to see a free and stable Europe. And it is critical that we deter any other would-be aggressors who may be emboldened to otherwise seize territory.”
Yellen announced the transfer of $1.2 billion in U.S. funding to Ukraine, the first tranche in a $10 billion commitment of budgetary support that will pay for salaries of civil servants, emergency workers and others paid by Ukraine’s government. That pledge adds to $13 billion in already disbursed American funding for Ukraine’s budget.
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According to the Biden administration, the United States has provided Ukraine nearly $50 billion in humanitarian, economic and security aid over the past year.
While U.S. economic support to Ukraine has received less attention than the larger flows of security aid, which now top $30 billion in direct military assistance, the funds represent a crucial boost at a moment when Ukraine is grappling not only with the human toll of Putin’s invasion a year ago, but also the staggering economic costs.
The war has displaced millions of Ukrainians, and relentless air attacks have decimated the country’s infrastructure — leading to a 30 percent contraction in the Ukrainian economy. Russia controls roughly a fifth of Ukrainian territory, including key industrial areas and the country’s largest nuclear power plant. The war also has dealt a major blow to Ukraine’s important agriculture sector.
Biden’s surprise visit on Feb. 20 was the capstone of an effort to highlight Western support for Ukraine and to telegraph Washington’s commitment as Russian and Ukrainian troops prepare for what is likely to be a punishing spring.
On Friday, as Ukraine marked the first anniversary of the Russian invasion, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate’s top Republican, said U.S. aid was a “core” American interest and “not an act of charity” — a statement that potentially dented hopes in Moscow that Republicans would turn away from Ukraine if they won fuller control of Congress.
Yellen’s trip also followed a visit by International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva, who held talks with Ukrainian officials last week as they sought to finalize a $15 billion loan package to close what is expected to be a yawning budget gap through the reminder of 2023.
Zelensky, after meeting with Yellen later in the day, thanked the United States for imposing broad sanctions on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine.
“The United States has been powerfully supporting us since the first days of this war not only with weapons, but also on the financial front,” he said in a message on Telegram.
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While the Biden administration has led an international campaign to impose harsh economic penalties on Russia, the impact has been blunted by Moscow’s continued energy exports.
In her remarks, Yellen highlighted Zelensky’s commitment to transparent governance and promised scrupulous oversight of U.S. aid to Ukraine. Ensuring effective use of American assistance becomes more important as the sums reach staggering levels and lawmakers, especially in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, voice mounting concerns about monitoring taxpayer-provided funds.
Yellen said thorough oversight also would help Ukraine as it seeks to deepen its political and economic integration into Europe and join the European Union. “Transparency and accountability will become even more important as Ukraine rebuilds its infrastructure and recovers from the impacts of the war,” she said.
An air-raid siren sounded across Kyiv on the morning of Yellen’s visit, a reminder of the insecurity that plagues much of Ukraine even far from the front lines. On the night before her visit, a prolonged alert across Ukraine marked a Russian air assault in which Ukrainian forces shot down 11 Iranian-made drones, including nine around Kyiv, according to Ukrainska Pravda.
In his nightly address, Zelensky addressed the drones and said such attacks illustrated Ukraine’s need for modern fighter jets to complement the ground-based systems it has received from partner nations. “Air defense is complete only when it is backed by aviation,” he said. “We will be able to fully protect the sky when the aviation taboo in relations with our partners is lifted.”
While Zelensky’s government has been pressing for jets such as F-16s from its Western backers, Biden said last week that he was not going to approve that request, for now at least.
Ukrainian forces are gearing up for a spring offensive in which they hope to reclaim more Russian-controlled territory and end a months-long period of hardened front lines.
Ahead of that operation, the president fired a senior military commander, Zelensky’s office said Sunday. The announcement gave no reason for the removal of Eduard Moskalyov from his position as commander of the joint forces of Ukraine, which have been fighting in the country’s east.
Jeff Stein in Washington contributed to this report.