U.S. to Strengthen Security Assistance to Ukraine, Blinken Says

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. is taking steps toward boosting security assistance to help Ukraine counter Russia’s “aggressive” and “destabilizing” actions.

“We are actively looking at strengthening even further our security cooperation and security assistance,” Blinken told reporters following a meeting with Thursday with Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv without offering specific details.

Blinken called on Russia to cease its “aggressive” attempts to push more forces to Ukraine’s border.

“I admire the restraint Ukraine has shown in the face of these provocative actions,” he said.

Blinken’s trip to Ukraine is a significant show of support given the top U.S. diplomat’s limited travel schedule since taking office. It’s the only stop Blinken has outside the U.K. this week, after traveling to London for a Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting.

“I’m here really for a very simple reason, which is to, on behalf of President Biden, reaffirm strongly our commitment to the partnership between our countries,” Blinken said at the start of a meeting earlier Thursday with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba. “It was important as early as possible to say so in person.”

Zelenskiy said he’d invited President Joe Biden to make an official visit to Ukraine. Blinken said he knew the president would look forward to the opportunity to meet.

”I am grateful that the U.S. supports our sovereignty and territorial integrity not only in words but in deeds,” Zelenskiy said, adding, “Many steps were made to stop recent escalation near our borders.”

Earlier, Kuleba called the U.S. “Ukraine’s ally number one in security and defense.”

“We are a big democracy in this part of the world, and we are eager to work with you,” he said. “We value democratic values, human rights here in this region where they often face challenge.”

The meeting in Kyiv comes at a delicate moment in U.S.-Ukraine relations. The move by Zelenskiy’s government late last month to fire the board of the country’s main oil and gas company, Naftogaz Ukrainy, sparked fresh concerns about Ukraine’s corporate governance, the state’s role in the economy, and its commitment to overhauling key industries.

But concern about Ukraine’s domestic politics will likely take a back seat to U.S. interests in showing solidarity with an ally long under siege by Russia. Fears of war were renewed last month as President Vladimir Putin massed tens of thousands of troops along the Ukraine border, seven years after he annexed Crimea. Tensions have since dialed back, following Biden’s call for a summit between the U.S. and Russian leader.

In a BBC interview during the trip, Blinken pledged the U.S. would “respond” to Russian moves.

“What President Biden has said very clearly, is that if Russia acts recklessly or aggressively as it did with the Solar Winds cyber intrusion, as it did interference in our elections, as it did with what it’s done to Mr. Navalny, then we will respond.”

Blinken’s visit was also heavy with symbolism. Joining him in Kyiv was his new undersecretary for political affairs, Victoria Nuland, who, as the top State Department official for Europe during the Obama administration, was a lightning rod for pro-Russian criticism as she was working most closely with the local embassy.

Meeting Blinken on Thursday morning, Kuleba congratulated Nuland on her recent confirmation and said of the protests, “the only big moment I missed was your cookies.”

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