Russia-Ukraine Tensions: US Secretary of State To Visit Ukraine Amid Border Tensions With Russia

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will be visiting Ukraine where he is expected to reaffirm US support to the country amid its tensions with Russia.

Ukrainian officials have hailed Blinken’s trip as his “first full-fledged bilateral visit to the European capital.”

In Kiev, Blinken will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, local lawmakers and representatives of the civil society, the State Department said.

According to the State Department, Blinken will reaffirm “unwavering US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression.”

The visit comes as Russia is pulling troops back from Ukrainian borders after a massive buildup for a snap readiness check that scared Kiev and its Western patrons.

Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevhenii Yenin said in an interview to a local broadcaster Ukraina24 that Blinken’s visit sends “a signal of extremely strong support” and may result in increased political and defense assistance from the US.

Relations between Moscow and Kiev have deteriorated in the wake of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and Crimea’s reunification with Russia in 2014. Ukraine has since repeatedly accused Russia of meddling in its affairs. Moscow denies any role in the internal Ukrainian conflict and slams the accusations as unacceptable.

Blinken also plans to encourage “continued progress on Ukraine’s institutional reform agenda, particularly anti-corruption action.” The State Department described reforms as key to “securing Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic future.”

The US has recently lashed out at Ukraine for the management reshuffle in Naftogaz, the country’s major energy company. Blinken is expected to call again for “the respect for good, transparent corporate governance, especially in the state-run entities.”

“We will talk about enhancing cooperation in trade and investments; we will talk about increasing the potential for mutual cooperation within international organizations; and we will talk about the mechanisms of technical assistance that the Ukrainian economy, including the energy sector, needs so much today,” Yenin told Ukraina24.

Blinken comes to Ukraine from the UK where he attended the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ Meeting and had a series of bilateral engagements with foreign colleagues.

Russian Military Build-Up

Earlier, US Senator Rob Portman said he had a phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy who briefed him on Russia’s military presence at the border.

They talked ahead of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Ukraine.

“Today I had an excellent call with Ukraine President Zelensky. We reaffirmed our commitment to our strategic security partnership and he expressed his appreciation for the bipartisan support in Congress for Ukraine’s security interests,” Portman said in a statement.

Zelinsky briefed the senator on the number of Russian troops and their equipment remaining near Ukraine’s borders. Portman expressed his support for a NATO Membership Action Plan for Ukraine and “continued robust security assistance” from the United States.

Since 2014, the US has provided Ukraine more than $4.6 billion in total assistance, including security and non-security assistance, according to the State Department’s fact sheet released prior to Blinken’s visit.