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Blinken says US ‘actively looking’ at boosting security cooperation with Ukraine during trip to Kiev

(CNN)Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the Biden administration is “actively looking” at strengthening security assistance to Ukraine as he pledged support for the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression.

The top US diplomat arrived in the Ukrainian capital Wednesday night after meeting with the G7 Foreign Ministers in London, as Russia maintains “significant forces” on the border between the two nations, and as relations between Moscow and Washington have plummeted.

In a press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Thursday, Blinken told reporters that the threat from Russia’s build-up of forces remains. Although Moscow has pulled back some troops and equipment, Blinken said, “Russia has the capacity on fairly short notice to take aggressive action if it so chooses, and so we are watching this very, very carefully.”

    “We discussed in some detail the support that we’re providing, we’ll continue to provide to Ukraine to continue to strengthen its security, its defenses,” Blinken said. “And that’s something that we are working on very, very actively, and, by the way, other strong supporters of Ukraine are looking at the same thing.”

      “Nothing to announce today, but it’s something that we’re very actively looking at,” the top US diplomat said.

      The Trump administration was a 'difficult time' for Ukraine, says foreign minister

      Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told CNN Wednesday he planned to discuss a “list” of US military support with Blinken, including a request for air defense systems and anti-sniper technology.

      In March, the Pentagon announced a $125 million package of assistance to Ukraine, including two armed patrol boats and “additional counter-artillery radars and tactical equipment,” according to a Defense Department release.

      Former President Donald Trump’s attempt to leverage US military assistance to Ukraine to pressure Zelensky into doing political favors was at the crux of the 45th US President’s first impeachment. Blinken’s trip to Kiev — the first by a Biden administration official — signaled a clear break from the tumult of the prior administration — a period that Ukraine’s foreign minister called “a difficult time.”

      Speaking alongside Zelensky, Blinken said he made the visit “to convey personally on behalf of President (Joe) Biden how deeply we value our friendship, our partnership with Ukraine.”

      “I think we are in the process of really reinvigorating that partnership,” he said.

      The Ukrainian President said he invited Biden to visit; Blinken said he would convey the message, noting that “he looks very much forward to the opportunity to meet” and the US President “will welcome the opportunity at the right time to come back to Ukraine”

      Former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch — who was recalled from her post after a smear campaign by Rudy Giuliani and his allies, denigrated by Trump, and served as an impeachment witness — said Thursday that she thought it was “really important that Secretary Blinken is out in Ukraine fairly early on in the administration.”

      “I think he’s sending a clear very statement … and a message, not only to Russia, but also to Ukraine, but also to our European and other like-minded countries and institutions, and that is that Ukraine is in a two-front war,” she said at an event hosted by the Partnership for Public Service. “The first one is with Russia — not only the kinetic war … but also the cyber front, the economic front. I mean the list goes on of how Russia is abusing Ukraine.”

      “The second issue is, what kind of country does Ukraine become?,” she said, noting anti-corruption efforts in the country.

        The top US diplomat discussed the importance of reforms in his meetings with Ukrainian government officials Thursday.

        “We oppose Russia’s destabilizing actions toward Ukraine for the same reason we believe these anticorruption and rule of law reforms are so important, because corrupt interests and Russian aggression both seek in different ways to do the same thing, and that is to take away from the Ukrainian people what is rightfully theirs: their right to make their own decisions, to use their resources as they see fit, and whether that be resources, territory, justice, or simply the ability to chart the country’s future, those are decisions for a sovereign Ukraine and the Ukrainian people to make, and no one else,” Blinken said at the press conference.

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