San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
Top U.S. envoy visits to show solidarity against Russia
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to Kyiv, Ukraine, this week, a clear signal of the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine’s government against threats from Russia.
In a statement announcing the trip, the State Department said Blinken would “reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression.”
Blinken will meet in Kyiv on Wednesday and Thursday with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine, senior officials and civil society representatives. His visit will be preceded by a threeday stop in London.
Blinken will be the most senior U.S. official to visit Kyiv since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled there in February 2020, soon after Congress impeached and acquitted former President Donald Trump on charges that he abused his power by leveraging U.S. policy toward the country in an effort to incriminate Joe Biden, then a Democratic candidate for president, and his son Hunter.
As president, 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 Russianbacked 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 in April. But last week, John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters that it was “too soon to tell and to take at face value”
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 major industrialized countries in Cornwall, England, in June.
The State Department framed Blinken’s visit as part of a global defense of democracy that Biden, in an address to the nation on Wednesday night, called vital to countering the rise of authoritarian China. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Blinken would be “discussing the democratic values that we share with our partners and allies within the G7.”
The meeting of G7 ministers, planned for Tuesday, will open with a session specifically devoted to China, Erica BarksRuggles, the senior official in the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, said in a news briefing.
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 G7 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 reflects 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 China and other countries exporting authoritarian values, including Russia.
Officials from those nations will join a discussion on Wednesday about open societies, including media freedom and combating disinformation, an administration official said.
During his stay in London from Monday to Wednesday,
Blinken will meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain and his foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, and take part in a wreathlaying 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 Blinken, and that progress in that area “is key to securing Ukraine’s democratic institutions, economic prosperity and EuroAtlantic future.”
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. Price called the actions “just the latest example of ignoring best practices and putting Ukraine’s hardfought economic progress at risk.”
The visit will be Blinken’s third overseas trip since taking office, as inperson diplomacy slowly resumes even as the coronavirus ravages much of the world.