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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for Patriot air defence systems for the city of Kharkiv, which is routinely threatened by Russian missiles.

Two of these systems are necessary to protect Ukraine’s second biggest city and its surrounding area, which borders Russia, Zelensky said in Kiev during Blinken’s surprise visit.

US assistance for the campaign against the Russians was of crucial importance and air defence was the “biggest deficit,” Zelensky said.

According to Ukrainian media reports, Blinken promised Ukraine weapons aid that could change the situation on the battlefield.

Blinken said on X: “I returned to Kyiv (Kiev) today to demonstrate our unwavering support for Ukraine as they defend their freedom against Russian aggression.”

The visit, which as usual was not announced for security reasons, is Blinken’s fourth since the start of the war in February 2022 and is also the first visit since the US approved a long-delayed aid package of $61bn.

Ukraine has been on the defensive for months due to a lack of weapons, ammunition and soldiers. Russia has been bombarding Kharkiv and last week Russian troops also began a ground offensive on the border and have already captured several Ukrainian villages.

Meanwhile, following the transfer of Russia’s former defence minister Sergei Shoigu to other duties amid corruption investigations, another high-ranking Russian general has been arrested for taking bribes, state media reported on Tuesday.

Lieutenant-General Yuri Kuznetsov had received money from a company for favours, according to the state news agency TASS.

Cash totalling 100mn roubles ($1.1mn), including foreign currency, was seized in searches of his offices and home, a spokeswoman for investigators told the agency. Gold coins, luxury watches and other jewellery were also found.

The well-connected military blog Rybar said officials were probing Kuznetsov’s activities in his previous post within the general staff dealing with state secrets.  In late April, another high-ranking general and deputy defence minister, Timur Ivanov, was arrested by Russian authorities for accepting bribes.

Responsible for construction projects, Ivanov was considered a close confidant of Shoigu, whom President Vladimir Putin on Sunday replaced as defence minister during a shuffle of top officials.

However, Shoigu, 68, was given an honourable exit with his appointment as Secretary of the National Security Council, replacing another Putin confidant and ally, Nikolai Patrushev.

The uncovering of scandals at the defence ministry follow Russia’s more than two-year-long war against Ukraine, which has failed to achieve the Kremlin’s initial goals.

As Putin’s defence minister since 2012, Shoigu presided over Ukraine operations for over two years, despite major battlefield setbacks and high casualties that led to frequent changes in the senior command.  

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