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Austin cancels trip to Brussels for Ukraine meeting due to hospitalization

Austin “underwent non-surgical procedures under general anesthesia to resolve his bladder problem. We anticipate a successful recovery and will monitor him closely overnight,” his doctors said Monday. They anticipate Austin will be able to return to normal functions on Tuesday.

The Pentagon chief transferred his official duties to his deputy after arriving at the hospital, Ryder said in a statement.

It’s unclear how long Austin will remain hospitalized, but his doctors said he is still expected to make a full recovery from prostate cancer, diagnosed in December.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Rustem Umerov insisted that the Ukrainian meeting would be virtual if Austin did not attend in person, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General CQ Brown, was also expected to attend.

Both Austin and Brown will attend the contact group meeting virtually, Ryder said. Austin was also scheduled to attend the NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels on Thursday; Julianne Smith, the U.S. representative to NATO, will represent Austin at the meeting, he added.

The contact group’s last meeting, in January, was also held virtually. Austin’s health was a “factor” in the decision to meet this way, Ryder said at the time.

Austin’s canceled trip this week comes at a precarious time for continued U.S. support for Ukraine’s war effort. The Pentagon has no longer been able to send military equipment to kyiv since the end of December, after running out of money allocated by Congress to replenish American stocks.

President Joe Biden’s proposal to authorize an additional $60 billion in aid for Kyiv has been stalled on Capitol Hill for four months over Republican Party demands for border security. Former President Donald Trump opposed sending aid until the administration strengthened border security and pressured lawmakers to block additional aid.

Defying Trump, the Senate voted Sunday to approve a borderless version of the foreign aid supplemental spending bill, which includes $95 billion in aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. It is expected to pass the Senate this week, but its future is uncertain in the Republican-controlled House.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines are running out of ammunition and other weapons to fight Russian invaders because of the Pentagon’s cash flow problem, a senior official said last month.

This is the third time Austin has been hospitalized since learning of his cancer diagnosis in December. He underwent surgery to treat the cancer in December. He later experienced complications following this procedure and was admitted to the intensive care unit in early January. He remained there until January 15.

Austin and his team failed to promptly notify his deputy, many senior DOD leaders, Congress and the White House of the first two hospitalizations. It took him even longer to tell the president that he had been diagnosed with cancer.

“We didn’t handle this properly. I didn’t handle that properly,” Austin told reporters at the Pentagon on February 1.

Austin is scheduled to appear before the House Armed Services Committee later this month to discuss how he handled his medical issues.

Paul McLeary contributed to this report.

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