Author: Michael Crowley
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken will travel to Kyiv next week, a clear signal of the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine’s government against threats from Russia.
In a statement announcing his trip, the State Department said that Mr. Blinken would “reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression.”
Mr. Blinken will meet in Kyiv on Wednesday and Thursday with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, senior officials and civil society representatives. His visit will be preceded by a three-day stop in London.
Mr. Blinken will be the most senior American official to visit Kyiv since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled there in February 2020, soon after Congress impeached and acquitted President Donald J. Trump on charges that he abused his power by leveraging U.S. policy toward the country in an effort to incriminate Joseph R. Biden Jr., then a Democratic candidate for president, and his son Hunter.
As president, Mr. Biden has offered strong support for Ukraine against Moscow, which annexed Crimea in 2014 — an act the United States has never recognized — and fomented a Russian-backed separatist rebellion in the country’s east that has claimed more than 13,000 lives.
But Russia has tested that support, intensifying its military intimidation of Ukraine this spring with a huge troop buildup along the countries’ shared border, which many analysts said could be a precursor to an invasion. Russia announced plans to withdraw many of those forces earlier this month. But earlier this week, John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that it was “too soon to tell and to take at face value” Russia’s claim.
Mr. Blinken will begin his trip with his first visit as secretary to London, the site of a Group of 7 foreign and development ministers’ meeting that will lay the groundwork for a gathering of the leaders of the Group of 7 countries in Cornwall in June.
The State Department framed Mr. Blinken’s visit as part of a global defense of democracy that Mr. Biden, in an address to Congress and the nation on Wednesday night, called vital to countering the rise of authoritarian China. The State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said Mr. Blinken would be “discussing the democratic values that we share with our partners and allies within the G7.”
Mr. Price added that the foreign ministers would also address the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, as well as issues including human rights, food security and gender equality.
Joining the ministers from the Group of 7 countries — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada — in London will be representatives from Australia, India, South Africa, South Korea and Brunei.
Their attendance may reflect a growing interest on the part of western nations to collaborate more closely with fellow democracies around the world as part of the broader competition with Beijing and other countries exporting authoritarian values, including Russia.
During his stay in London from Monday to Wednesday, Mr. Blinken will meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and his foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, and take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral honoring soldiers killed in World War II.
Even as Biden administration officials have stressed their support for Ukraine’s government, they have also pressured Kyiv to complete reforms within the country’s notoriously corrupt political system. The State Department said that would be a priority for Mr. Blinken, and that progress in that area “is key to securing Ukraine’s democratic institutions, economic prosperity and Euro-Atlantic future.”
Briefing reporters on Thursday, Mr. Price said that the United States was “deeply concerned” by a recent move by Ukrainian cabinet ministers to replace the management of the country’s leading energy company, Naftogaz. Mr. Price called the actions “just the latest example of ignoring best practices and putting Ukraine’s hard-fought economic progress at risk.”
The trip will be Mr. Blinken’s third overseas since taking office as in-person diplomacy slowly resumes even as the coronavirus ravages much of the world. Earlier this month, he visited Brussels and Kabul, and in March he traveled to Asia and then met with Chinese officials in Alaska.