Blinken takes anti-graft message, previous Russia foe to Ukraine

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WASHINGTON (AP) — When Secretary of State Antony Blinken travels to Ukraine this week he’ll be carrying a tricky anti-graft message and powerful U.S. backing for the nation’s response to Russian aggression. He’ll even be taking alongside a well-known face within the Washington-Moscow tug-of-war over the previous Soviet republic: Victoria Nuland.

The one-day cease is meant to display America’s continued dedication to Ukraine because it copes with Russia’s assist for separatists and a buildup of troops alongside its jap border, in addition to to press Kyiv on corruption. It comes at a time of heightened U.S. tensions with Russia not solely on Ukraine but in addition due to U.S. criticism of Russia over human rights, hacking and interference in elections. Both international locations not too long ago ordered tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions.

Yet past these main points, the mere presence in Kyiv of Nuland, now the No. 3 State Department official, is probably going to irritate Russia. A Russia hawk, Nuland is reviled by the Kremlin and was a fundamental goal of Moscow’s assaults on the U.S. throughout Ukraine’s 2013-14 revolution and Russia’s annexation of Crimea when she served as assistant secretary of state for Europe through the Obama administration.

Blinken mentioned Monday in London that he would use the go to to point out “our unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” Other officials have said he would also press on institutional reform and anti-corruption measures. “There is a lot of hard work to be done to ensure a brighter future for all Ukrainians,” the highest U.S. diplomat for Europe, Phillip Reeker, mentioned final week.

But Blinken’s journey additionally comes on the heels of a Ukraine-related FBI raid on former President Donald Trump’s private lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and renewed questions in regards to the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine that led to the firing of a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and laid the muse for GOP assaults towards President Joe Biden.

The East-West battle for affect and standing in Ukraine has been a recurrent theme because the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Nuland’s advocacy for reform-minded, pro-Western Ukrainian politicians incurred the Kremlin’s wrath.

A profession diplomat who retired from the overseas service reasonably than serve within the Trump administration, Nuland drew Moscow’s ire and accusations of meddling for showing at an opposition rally in Kyiv’s Maidan sq. through the rebellion that finally overthrew Ukraine’s pro-Russia chief Viktor Yanukovych.

But even whereas serving as State Department spokeswoman underneath Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Nuland, who goes by her nickname “Toria,” was a frequent thorn in Moscow’s facet, frequently chiding Russia for its insurance policies. That prompted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to comment on her departure from the spokeswoman’s position after John Kerry took over as President Barack Obama’s prime diplomat in 2013.

“My first trip after Toria left her post as spokesperson, Foreign Minister Lavrov looked at my staff, and he said to me, ‘John, I see you finally fired that Toria Nuland’,” Kerry mentioned to laughter at her swearing-in ceremony for assistant secretary of state for Europe. ”And I took nice pleasure in him and saying, ‘No, I promoted her.’”

Then came the infamous phone call, a recording of which was leaked by Russian intelligence services, in which Nuland derided the European Union’s hesitancy in attempts to mediate a resolution to the Ukraine crisis. “F – – – the EU,” Nuland said in the call with then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

The leak of the call went viral and was widely seen as a Russian attempt to split the U.S. from its European partners on Ukraine. But, while it did cause a media stir, the U.S. and Europe remained generally united in their positions, Russia found a new target for its hostility, Nuland’s successor as spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, who is now Biden’s press secretary, and she carried on in her position until Trump’s election in 2016.

Now, after an absence of four years, and eight years after Kerry teased Lavrov about Nuland’s elevation in the ranks, she’s been promoted again: undersecretary of state for political affairs, where she’ll enjoy considerable influence in policy decisions about Europe and elsewhere.

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