Blinken to show support on trip to Ukraine after Russian troop movements

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Washington (AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Ukraine next week to show his “unwavering” support after Russian troops gathered at its border, the State Department said on Friday.

Russia has deployed in recent weeks up to 100,000 troops near the northern and eastern borders of Ukraine as well as in Crimea, seized by Moscow in 2014, raising fears of a major escalation.

But Moscow announced on April 23 that it had started withdrawing its forces, bringing at least momentary relief to Kiev and the NATO alliance.

Blinken’s visit on Wednesday and Thursday is aimed “at reaffirming the United States’ steadfast support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of ongoing Russian aggression,” the spokesman said. State Department Ned Price in a statement.

Blinken will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and also push for action against corruption, a long-standing demand from Ukraine’s western partners, Price said.

Blinken’s trip comes as President Joe Biden steps up pressure on Russia, but also prepares for a proposed summit with his counterpart Vladimir Putin in the hope of stabilizing relations.

“It’s the old-fashioned business of Secretaries of State, who go to places for photo ops to say yes, the United States cares about you and supports the government in charge of you. various political issues, “said Yuval Weber, an expert. on Russia and Eurasia at the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center and the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M in Washington.

Weber said Russia’s recent show of force was meant to send a message to the new Biden administration – and would keep Ukraine on edge.

While Russia withdrew its troops after its exercises, it left defense equipment behind in border regions, which Weber said was a clear parallel to Moscow’s preparations before its offensive with Georgia in 2008.

“The troop build-up has been normalized to some extent, so the next time there is a troop build-up it will be a little less surprising,” Weber said.

Russia signaled “that we have great capacities to do something in the future, and they can instill additional insecurity in the Ukrainian body politic and the Ukrainian spirit”.

Zelensky singled out Russian troop movements to demand an acceleration of NATO membership, a prospect opposed by West Europeans concerned about Russia’s response and which met with a cold reception in Washington.

– Focus on corruption –

More than 13,000 people have died in Ukraine since 2014 in the only active fight on European soil as Kiev clashes with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

A ceasefire that took root last July has been destroyed, with clashes increasing sharply between Ukrainian forces and separatists since January.

Biden has previously imposed sanctions and expelled Russian diplomats for alleged Russian election interference, hacking, and treating ailing dissident Alexei Navalny, a toughening of the resolution after former President Donald Trump expressed admiration for Putin and Ukrainian conspiracy theories.

Zelensky’s strong arming of Trump to dig up dirt on Biden sparked his first indictment and appears to be linked to an FBI raid on Wednesday on the home of Trump’s former personal attorney, the former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani.

The Biden administration has renewed pressure on Ukraine to root out corruption and improve governance.

The implementation of reforms will be “essential to guarantee democratic institutions, economic prosperity and the Euro-Atlantic future of Ukraine”, said Price.

On the eve of the trip’s announcement, the State Department slammed Ukraine for impeaching the head of the national energy company Naftogaz, saying the reshuffle showed “a contempt for fair and transparent corporate governance practices “.



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