Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is on the first visit to Kyiv by a senior U.S. official from the administration of President Joe Biden, has called on Russia to cease its “reckless and aggressive actions” against Ukraine.
“We stand strongly with you…and we look to Russia to cease reckless and aggressive actions,” Blinken told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as the two met on May 6.
From the outset, Blinken’s one-day visit was being portrayed by the White House as a strong message of support for the country in the face of heightened tensions with Russia.
Before meeting Zelenskiy, he told Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba that he “strongly” reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to “the partnership between our countries, our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence.”
Last month, Russia amassed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders, the biggest mobilization since Moscow seized the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014 and war broke out in eastern Ukraine, where Russia is backing separatists.
“We’re aware that Russia has withdrawn some forces from the border with Ukraine, but we also see that significant forces remain there,” Blinken said.
“We’ll continue to strengthen our security partnership and in-flux collaboration with you to make sure Ukraine can defend itself against aggression,” he added.
Kuleba told Blinken that Kyiv “deeply appreciates” the U.S. aid his country has received to support its battle against Moscow-backed separatists in the east, where fighting has been intensifying since January.
Zelenskiy is expected to push Ukraine’s desire to join the NATO military alliance, as well as asking for more military aid from the United States.
A statement issued on the eve of Blinken’s trip by the U.S. State Department on the strategic partnership between Kyiv and Washington does not mention Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, but says the United States continues to monitor the situation regarding “Russia’s ongoing aggressive actions and rhetoric targeting Ukraine.”
The statement notes that since 2014, the United States has provided Ukraine more than $4.6 billion in total assistance.
The statement also reiterates the U.S. position that Donbas and Crimea are part of Ukraine and calls on Russia to return full control of the peninsula to Ukraine and work in good faith to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
While making a point of showing support for Kyiv, U.S. officials are also concerned about corruption, notably in Ukraine’s energy sector.
Blinken told Kuleba on May 6 that Washington will “work with you and continue to strengthen your own democracy, building institutions, advancing your reforms against corruption.”
Blinken’s statement came after State Department spokesman Ned Price this week slammed the move to replace the board of the state-owned oil and gas company Naftogaz, saying it “reflects a disregard for fair and transparent corporate-governance practices and complicates long-standing efforts to reform Ukraine’s energy sector and improve its investment climate.”
The government on April 28 announced the dismissal of Andriy Kobolyev, Naftogaz’s chief executive since 2014, citing the “unsatisfactory” results of the company’s operations last year, when it posted a loss of nearly $700 million.
The supervisory board, which was temporarily suspended in order to dismiss Kobolyev, issued a statement on April 30 saying that all its members were submitting notice of their resignations, effective May 14.