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Blinken Heads to Ukraine After Russia Sends 150K Troops to Border

FILE - U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, right, waits for the start of a meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (seated opposite; not pictured), in Brussels, April 13, 2021. Blinken is due to meet with Kuleba in Kyiv next week.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is heading to Ukraine next week as Washington coordinates closely with Kyiv over Russia’s recent military buildup along Ukraine border.

Blinken will travel to Ukraine on May 5-6, “where he will meet with President Zelensky, Foreign Minister Kuleba, other officials, and representatives of Ukrainian civil society to reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's ongoing aggression,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement Friday.

The United States is keeping a close watch on Russia’s movement after Moscow announced last Thursday that it would begin withdrawing its troops from the border of Ukraine.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said this week it is too soon to tell and are taking at face value Russia’s claims they are pulling everybody back, while noting “some departure of some [Russia] forces away from Ukraine.”

Senior American and European Union officials had said roughly 150,000 Russian troops massed along the border of Ukraine and in Crimea, more troops in the area than seven years ago when Russia invaded and seized Crimea in 2014.

The U.S. has reaffirmed its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrities, urging the Russian Government to immediately cease all aggressive activity in and around Ukraine.

Blinken’s trip to Ukraine would be his first as the U.S. secretary of state. In Kyiv, he “will also encourage continued progress on Ukraine’s institutional reform agenda, particularly anti-corruption action, which is key to securing Ukraine’s democratic institutions, economic prosperity, and Euro-Atlantic future,” said Price in the Friday statement.

Prior to traveling to Ukraine, the chief U.S. diplomat will attend a G-7 foreign ministers meeting in London from May 3-5, which is the first in-person such gathering in two years since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The United States will discuss how we can work with other countries to address the key geopolitical issues we face as we build back better from this pandemic,” said the State Department spokesman. “Tackling the COVID-19 and climate crises will feature prominently on the agenda, as will advancing economic growth, human rights, food security, gender equality, and women’s and girls’ empowerment.”

While in Britain, Blinken will also meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Raab “to discuss shared U.S.-U.K. priorities.”

In addition to G-7 countries, officials from Australia, India, South Africa, South Korea, and Brunei, in its capacity as Chair of ASEAN, will join the G-7 Foreign and Development Ministers’ meeting as guests. Price said, “these meetings will lay the groundwork for the 46th Leaders’ Summit in Cornwall in June.”

VOA's Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.