The US Secretary of State hopes to urge Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to follow the path of reforms and the fight against corruption.
The top U.S. diplomat will visit Kiev on Thursday to show his support after Russia massed troops near Ukraine’s eastern border in a weeks-long confrontation that worried Western nations.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is expected to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and urge the country to follow a path of reform and fight corruption, days after an energy reformist official was ousted.
U.S. President Joe Biden pledged “Unbreakable support” in Zelenskyy in April, while Kiev and Moscow denied blame for the clashes in the Donbass region of Ukraine, and Russia deployed troops and weapons at the border.
Moscow announced a withdrawal of his forces on April 22, helping pave the way for a summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could take place as early as June.
The confrontation prompted Ukraine to ask the US and Europe to help accelerate Kiev’s entry into the NATO military alliance. Blinken discussed the build-up of Russian troops at a meeting with NATO allies in Brussels last month, Reuters news agency reported.
Blinken’s visit to Kiev comes as the Biden administration seeks to resolve tensions with Moscow ahead of potential summit meeting with Putin.
“We see this visit as a sign of strong U.S. support to combat Russian hybrid aggression,” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Yevhenii Yenin said before Blinken’s arrival.
Blinken said on May 3 in London that he would use the visit to show “our unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the Associated Press news agency reported.
Other U.S. officials have said they would push for institutional reform and anti-corruption measures. “There is a lot of work to be done to ensure a brighter future for all Ukrainians,” Phillip Reeker, the top US diplomat in Europe, said last week.
Blinken will be accompanied by Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland, the department’s top 3 official. Nuland has long been critical of Moscow and a supporter of Western support for Ukrainian reformers.
Washington has been Kiev’s most powerful sponsor since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the outbreak of the Donbass conflict between Ukrainian soldiers and Russian-backed separatist forces, which killed 14,000 people in seven years.
The relationship was tested in 2019 when then-US President Donald Trump asked Zelenskyy to investigate Biden and the business activities of his son Hunter Biden in Ukraine. The Trump administration temporarily froze U.S. security aid to Kiev.
The aftermath of these events, which led to the first trial of Trump’s removal from the U.S. Congress, continued last week U.S. federal agents attacked the apartment and office of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in connection with his activities in Ukraine.
Giuliani’s lawyer has said federal investigators were studying Giuliani’s role forcing removal of former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in 2019.
Yovanovitch had campaigned against corruption in Ukraine during his tour as ambassador, irritating companies and allied governments of the Kremlin.
During his visit this week, Blinken is expected to pressure the Zelenskyy government over the removal of Andriy Kobolyev as head of state energy firm Naftogaz, a position he has held since 2014.