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Blinken: U.S. supports Ukraine against Russian aggression

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Thursday that the United States stands with it against Russian aggression. Photo courtesy of Ukrainian President Volodymyr/Twitter
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Thursday that the United States stands with it against Russian aggression. Photo courtesy of Ukrainian President Volodymyr/Twitter

May 7 (UPI) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that the United States strongly supports its sovereignty as Russia maintains a significant military presence along its borders.

In Kyiv speaking alongside Zelensky during a press conference Thursday, Blinken reiterated the United States' support for Ukraine amid rising tensions with the Kremlin.

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"We are committed to Ukraine's independence, to its sovereignty, to its territorial integrity," he said.

Blinken made the trip to Ukraine weeks after Russia had amassed a military buildup of some 100,000 troops along Ukraine's borders last month. Following widespread condemnation, Russia said it was to end what it described as military exercises with all troops to return home by May 1.

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However, the United States' top diplomat confirmed during the press conference that Russia maintains significant forces and equipment at the border, and that they are watching the threat Russia poses "very, very carefully."

Zelensky added that tens of thousands of troops remain in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, with only some 3,500 having been withdrawn from the region.

Blinken vowed the United States will continue to work to strengthen their security partnership to ensure Ukraine can defend itself from Russia's aggression.

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"I can tell you, Mr. president, that we stand strongly with you," Blinken said. "Partners do as well."

Blinken made the trip to Kyiv following two days of meetings in London with the foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations during which they reaffirmed their support for Ukraine and called on Russia to withdraw all its forces, reduce tensions and return annexed Crimea to Ukraine.

Speaking to the press before a meeting of European Union defense ministers on Thursday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg agreed with the United States and Ukraine's assessment, stating they have seen a reduction in Russian troops from the eastern European country's border but tens of thousands remain.

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"Overall, there is a significant Russian presence, and there are many more Russian troops now, in and around Ukraine, than before the recent increase in tensions," he said, adding that NATO needs to remain diligent over the Russian threat.

In the United States, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the Biden administration supports Ukraine in its border fight with Russia and that it is committed to "ensuring NATO's door remains open" to it joining the intergovernmental military alliance once they "meet the commitments and the obligations of membership."

Blinken also told reporters Thursday that the Biden administration is committed to Ukraine's efforts to implement a strong reform agenda based on shared democratic values and to fight corruption.

During a virtually meeting Thursday with U.S. staff at the Kyiv embassy, the U.S. diplomat explained that fighting corruption and pushing back against Russia are "flip sides of the same coin" as internal aggression from corrupt oligarchs challenging Ukraine's democracy are used by Russia to advance its own interests.

"This is a very important relationship for us and something that we've invested in, as you know, over many years -- a relationship that President [Joe] Biden is deeply and personally committed to," Blinken said. "And he asked me to try to get to Ukraine as early as I could in my tenure on his behalf to send a clear message on two fronts: One, that we stand strongly with Ukraine .... and equally, we stand with Ukraine and strongly encourage its efforts to advance reforms, fight corruption and to build a strong democracy."

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