“We are looking to Russia to stop its dangerous and aggressive actions,” said Antony Blinken, during his meeting in Kiev with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“We are aware that Russia has withdrawn some forces from its border with Ukraine, but we see that there are still significant forces,” he stressed, promising to work with Ukraine so that it ” can defend itself against aggression “.
For his part, Mr. Zelensky criticized a Russian withdrawal “too slow”. This withdrawal was announced by Moscow on April 23 after weeks of tension following the deployment of some 100,000 men on the border between Russia and Ukraine and on the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.
This show of force made Kiev and the West fear a possible offensive, or even an invasion.
Especially since this massive deployment was accompanied by a resurgence of violence in the conflict with pro-Russian separatists whose war with the Ukrainian army in the east of the country has killed more than 13,000 since 2014.
On Thursday again, a Ukrainian soldier was shot dead on the front line, according to the army.
“To date, an insignificant part of the troops has been withdrawn: only 3,500 soldiers” have left Crimea, assured Mr. Zelensky. “The forces placed along the Ukrainian border would allow the Russian side to start a military operation against Ukraine at any time,” he added.
Widely regarded as the military and financial godfather of the rebels in eastern Ukraine, Russia had claimed that its troop movements “did not threaten anyone”, and that it was a response to “aggressive” operations by NATO in Eastern Europe.
Washington, Brussels and NATO have multiplied the declarations of support for Kiev, but have not acceded to the Ukrainian request to accelerate its accession to the Atlantic Alliance, a red line for Moscow.
– Tens of thousands of Russian soldiers –
Despite “a certain reduction in the number of Russian soldiers”, there are still tens of thousands “,” much more “than before the resurgence of tensions in April, for his part warned on Thursday the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg.
The first senior US official to visit Ukraine since Joe Biden’s inauguration in January, Antony Blinken prayed at a memorial to soldiers killed in the war with the separatists.
“We are firmly on your side,” he told the Ukrainian president.
This year, Washington plans to provide Kiev with security and military aid worth more than $ 400 million. Ukraine also hopes, analysts said, for continued deliveries of lethal US weapons.
Zelensky also invited President Biden to attend a summit on Crimea scheduled for Kiev in August, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Ukrainian independence.
The US president has increased pressure on Russia with new sanctions and expulsions of diplomats, but he is also seeking to hold a summit with Vladimir Putin as early as June.
The US Secretary of State urged Kiev to more actively attack corruption, a hot issue in the country and in relations with the West.
Ukraine faces two challenges: “external forces like Russia but also internal forces like oligarchs” who “pursue their own interests through illegitimate means to the detriment of the interests of the Ukrainian people,” Blinken stressed.
A recent Ukrainian decision has gripped both Washington and Brussels: the dismissal at the end of April of the boss of the national energy giant Naftogaz, Andriï Koboliev, renowned reformer, and of the observatory board of this company.
Washington had denounced a decision testifying to a “contempt for fair and transparent governance practices”.