Blinken to visit Ukraine after Russian troop movements

Washington (AFP) –


US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Ukraine next month in a show of "unwavering" support after a recent buildup of Russian troops along the country's borders.

Russia in recent weeks had deployed up to 100,000 troops near Ukraine's northern and eastern borders and in Crimea, raising concerns of a major escalation.

But last Friday, Moscow announced that it had started withdrawing its armed forces, with Kiev and NATO welcoming the announcement.

Blinken's May 5-6 visit is intended "to reaffirm unwavering US support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's ongoing aggression," said a statement from Blinken's spokesman Ned Price.

Blinken is to meet Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky during the stopover.

Kiev has been battling pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014, following Moscow's annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

A ceasefire that took hold last July has been shredded this year, with clashes sharply increasing between Ukrainian forces and separatists since January.

The separatists are widely seen as having Russia's political and military backing -- which Moscow denies -- in the conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives.