Blinken to visit Ukraine next week after Russian troop build-up

US and Russian officials are 'actively discussing' holding a presidential summit in Europe this summer

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken participates in a virtual bilateral meeting with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta at the State Department in Washington, U.S. April 27, 2021. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Kiev next week to show “unwavering” support after Moscow’s recent military build-up along the Ukrainian frontier with Russia, officials said on Friday.

The Kremlin in recent weeks sent up to 100,000 troops to areas near Ukraine's northern and eastern borders as well as to Crimea, raising fear of a major escalation.

But on Friday, Moscow said it had started withdrawing its armed forces.

Kiev and Nato welcomed the announcement.

Mr Blinken’s visit on Wednesday and Thursday is intended “to reaffirm unwavering US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Mr Blinken will meet Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and other officials during the trip.

He “will also encourage continued progress on Ukraine’s institutional reform agenda, particularly anti-corruption action,” the statement read.

Kiev has been battling pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014, after Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

Tension between Moscow and the West flared again on Tuesday when Russia’s Black Sea fleet launched live-fire naval combat exercises. The US sent a coastguard vessel to the region.

The US Congress is considering increasing aid to Ukraine and last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously voted to authorise up to $300 million in annual military aid, including "lethal assistance" such as anti-aircraft weapons systems.

On Thursday, the Senate confirmed the nomination of Victoria Nuland as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs.

She is known for her strong views on Russia and supporting Ukraine, and in 2014 described Moscow’s invasion of Crimea as one that “shattered any remaining illusions about this Kremlin’s willingness to abide by international law”.

On Friday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told the Aspen Security Forum that Washington and Moscow were “actively discussing” holding a presidential summit in Europe this summer.

Mr Biden is expected to travel to Brussels in early June for the Nato summit.

The goal of the potential presidential meeting, Mr Sullivan said, would be to “get the relationship on a more stable path".

The US national security adviser spoke with his Russian counterpart Nikolay Patrushev to discuss plans for such an event. It was the second call between the two officials in 10 days.

Before visiting Ukraine, Mr Blinken will stop in London on Monday and Tuesday to attend the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting.

“The United States will discuss how we can work with other countries to address the key geopolitical issues we face as we build back better from this pandemic,” the statement said.

Australia, India, South Africa, South Korea and Brunei have been invited as guests. The meetings are part of preparations for the G7 Leaders Summit in Cornwall, England, in June, which US President Joe Biden will attend.

Mr Blinken will also meet Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab while in London.