Fri, 07 May 2021

Ukraine, Afghanistan in Spotlight asBlinkenVisits Brussels

Voice of America
14 Apr 2021, 04:05 GMT+10

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday the United States supports an autonomous Ukraine, as Russia continues its buildup of forces along the border it shares with Ukraine.

Blinken made the remarks before talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Brussels, where he also met with other European and NATO allies on a range of issues, including Russia's actions along the border with Ukraine and coalition operations in Afghanistan.

"The U.S. stands firmly behind the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine," the secretary said, adding that he would discuss Ukraine's "Euro-Atlantic aspirations" this week.

The White House said President Joe Biden also "emphasized the United States' unwavering commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," during a phone call Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"The president voiced our concerns over the sudden Russian military build-up in occupied Crimea and on Ukraine's borders, and called on Russia to de-escalate tensions," the White House said in a readout of the conversation, adding Biden "proposed a summit meeting in a third country in the coming months to discuss the full range of issues facing the United States and Russia."

The Kremlin is overseeing the largest movement of Russian troops, tanks and missiles along the Ukrainian border since the annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, according to Ukrainian and U.S. officials. Russia has conducted at least three military training exercises adjacent to the Ukrainian border since mid-March.

In this handout photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian nuclear submarines Prince Vladimir, above, and Yekaterinburg are seen at a Russian naval base in Gazhiyevo, Kola Peninsula, April 13, 2021. In this handout photo released by Russian Defense Ministry Press Service, Russian nuclear submarines Prince Vladimir, above, and Yekaterinburg are seen at a Russian naval base in Gazhiyevo, Kola Peninsula, April 13, 2021.

"This meeting is extremely timely given what is happening along the Ukrainian border with Russia," Kuleba said. The Ukrainian foreign minister expressed confidence that Western countries would also act to temper Russian aggression, which he said would force Ukraine to pay too high a price if left unchecked.

Two U.S. warships are set to arrive in the Black Sea this week amid an escalation in fighting in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed troops.

The conflict began when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has since killed some 14,000 people, according to Ukraine's government.

Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces walk on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk, Ukraine, April 11, 2021. Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces walk on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Donetsk, Ukraine, April 11, 2021.

The visit comes three weeks Blinken was in Brussels for a summit with his counterparts from NATO member states in which he spoke about the priority for the United States to focus on strengthening ties with allies.

Blinken spoke with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg about the situation Monday and said there was mutual agreement that "Russia must end its dangerous military buildup and ongoing aggression along Ukraine's borders."

Stoltenberg expressed support for Ukraine as he spoke alongside Kuleba on Tuesday, saying "NATO stands with Ukraine."

"Russia's considerable military buildup is unjustified, unexplained and deeply concerning," Stoltenberg said. "Russia must end this military buildup in and around Ukraine, stop its provocations and deescalate immediately."

Kuleba said Ukraine "does not want war" and is "devoted to diplomatic and political means of settling the conflict."

But while highlighting the support of NATO, Kuleba also said, "Should Russia take any reckless move or start a new spiral of violence, it will be costly in all senses."

Joining Blinken in Brussels is U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Another major topic of discussion will be the situation in Afghanistan just weeks before a May 1 deadline set an agreement between the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump and the Taliban for the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 U.S. forces from the country.

(VOA's Jamie Dettmer contributed to this story.)

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