Blinken travels to Eastern Europe as Russia presses war on Ukraine

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken plans to spend this week showing U.S. support for nations facing a hostile Russia during visits to Moldova and the Czech Republic, where he will participate in a meeting of NATO foreign ministers discussing on how to strengthen Ukraine.

Mr. Blinken, who stopped in Kiev more than two weeks ago, is expected to fly to Chisinau, Moldova's capital, on Wednesday and meet with Maia Sandu, the nation's president, who is running for re-election. Ms. Sandu supported Moldova's membership of the European Union and scheduled a referendum vote on EU membership on the same day as October's general elections.

He is expected to run against a pro-Russian candidate, and U.S. and European analysts say Moscow will likely try to interfere in the election, as it has in other votes in Europe. The Biden administration has spoken publicly about Russian agents carrying out such interference using a variety of means, from hacking to boosting social media campaigns to doling out money to favored politicians.

U.S. officials said Blinken will speak with Ms. Sandu and other senior officials about potential threats to the country's democratic processes, as well as efforts to wean the nation from electricity generated in the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria. Moldova recently ended its dependence on gas imports from Russia.

“I expect he will have a solid package of support for Moldova's transition, whether energy independence or less dependence on sources in the east, but also support for democracy against Russian threats,” James O'Brien, Deputy Secretary of State for Europe. and Eurasian affairs, he said in a call with reporters on Friday.

Blinken plans to announce more details about American aid to address these problems during his visit, O'Brien said.

He added that the secretary's message “will highlight Moldova's progress on its path towards European integration, the consolidation of its democracy and the threat posed by Russian interference in its internal processes.”

About 1,500 Russian soldiers are in Transnistria, which is located in the eastern part of Moldova and on the border with Russia. U.S. officials are watching closely for any signs that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin may try to annex the territory. Russia officially says it wants to obtain special status for Transnistria.

In the Czech Republic, which State Department officials now call the Czech Republic, following the lead of the country's government, Blinken plans to attend a two-day North Atlantic Treaty Organization planning session and meet with Czech officials .

The NATO session in Prague, the nation's capital, is aimed at preparing the 80th anniversary of the alliance's leaders meeting in Washington in July. The group is not expected to declare that Ukraine is joining NATO now, an aspiration that President Volodymyr Zelensky has stated repeatedly both before and after Russia's full-scale invasion, which began in 2022. However, officials NATO officials in Prague are expected to work out modalities. The details for a substantive show of support for Ukraine's progress towards NATO membership will be announced in July, O'Brien said.

Russian troops are launching an offensive in Kharkiv, Ukraine's second largest city. Ukraine's war effort is largely weakened by shortages of weapons and ammunition, and there are fewer citizens able to join the fight. President Biden recently signed into law a bill passed by Congress, despite some Republican opposition, granting new tranches of military aid to Ukraine, as well as Israel.

However, Russia is producing munitions at a rapid pace, and sanctions imposed by the United States against the nation have not crippled its military industrial capabilities, as American officials had once hoped. Biden and his aides say China has played a decisive role in strengthening Russia through sales of dual-use equipment and other exports that have allowed Moscow to boost weapons production. Blinken is expected to highlight China's support for Russia in his discussions with NATO counterparts in Prague.

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