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14 Apr, 2022 16:29

Senior US official may soon visit Kiev – media

Secretary of State Tony Blinken or Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reportedly being considered for a trip to the Ukrainian capital
Senior US official may soon visit Kiev – media

With a series of Western leaders visiting Kiev in recent weeks, the US government is considering dispatching a top-level official to the Ukrainian capital, Politico reported on Wednesday. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have traveled as far as Poland, but have not visited Ukraine.

Among the names being considered are Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Politico reported, citing “two US officials.” The officials said that regardless of who is chosen, the trip likely won’t be announced in advance for security reasons.

Blinken visited Kiev in January, and has toured Europe extensively since Russia launched its military offensive in Ukraine in February, in a bid to rally support against Moscow. Austin also met with NATO allies prior to the outbreak of conflict, and on two separate trips to Europe since. Austin was joined by Blinken on his most recent trip in late March, during which the Polish government petitioned the two US officials to support direct intervention in Ukraine.

Despite sending Ukraine billions of dollars in military aid, including an $800-million package of heavy weapons announced on Wednesday, the US government has repeatedly ruled out sending American troops to Ukraine or enforcing a so-called “no-fly zone” over the war-torn country.

The rumored trip, therefore, would be a symbolic one. As Politico put it, “the US would affirm its commitment to Ukraine’s resistance against Russia’s invasion, while Ukraine would get to host a top American official in the capital.” Russian forces recently withdrew from the outskirts of Kiev, with Moscow stating that they would be redeployed to more strategically important battlefields in the country’s south and east – having successfully tied down Ukrainian forces near the capital – and Ukrainian officials framing the repositioning as a victory of sorts.

According to Russian Ministry of Defense spokesman Gen. Igor Konashenkov, the repositioning of forces is intended to “intensify operations in priority areas and, above all, to complete the operation for the complete liberation of the Donbass.”

Since Russia pulled its forces back, Kiev has hosted a succession of Western leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, as well as the leaders of Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

However, after a number of Ukrainian air raids on Russian territory, Konashenkov warned on Wednesday that Kiev may be targeted.

“We see the Ukrainian forces’ attempts to sabotage and conduct strikes against facilities in Russia,” he said. “If these cases continue, the Russian Armed Forces will strike decision-making centers, including those in Kiev, which the Russian army has so far refrained from doing.”

Russia attacked its neighbor in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements, signed in 2014, and Moscow'’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols were designed to give the breakaway regions special status within the Ukrainian state.

The Kremlin has since demanded that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two republics by force.