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Saturday May 8th, 2021 7:28PM

Blinken off to London, Kyiv as Ukraine questions resurface

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken is headed to Europe next week for critical talks on Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan and frayed transatlantic ties that the Biden administration hopes to repair, the State Department said Friday.

The department said Blinken will visit London starting on Monday for a meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of 7 industrialized democracies and will then travel on to Kyiv amid a burst of concern over U.S. relations with Ukraine, including an FBI raid on former President Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani and new questions about Russia’s intentions there.

Blinken’s London trip is mainly designed to prepare President Joe Biden’s participation in a G7 leaders summit that Britain will host in June. But it’s also aimed at presenting a united front to address global challenges posed by China, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.

In Kyiv, Blinken plans to reaffirm U.S. support for Ukraine against the ongoing challenge of Russian support for separatists in the country’s east and its recent buildup of troops along the border. But, he'll also raise persistent U.S. concerns about corruption, a significant irritant in relations for years.

On Wednesday, federal investigators executed a search warrant on Giuliani's home as part of a probe into his interactions with Ukrainian figures and whether he violated a federal law that governs lobbying on behalf of foreign countries or entities. Giuliani had led a campaign to press Ukraine for an investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter, but has insisted all of his activities were on Trump's behalf.

The G7 meeting in London is being held against the backdrop of the Biden administration's desire to restore close, cooperative ties with U.S. allies, notably on confronting China, Russia and climate change. Yet it also comes at a time of widespread unease about Biden's decision to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in September.

Blinken “is looking forward to discussing the democratic values that we share with our partners and allies within the G7," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “The United States will discuss how we can work with other countries to address the key geopolitical issues we face as we build back better from this pandemic.”

Blinken's discussions in London, which will include separate meetings with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, will also focus on economic growth, human rights, food security, gender equality, and women’s and girls’ empowerment, Price said.

After the G7 meetings on Monday and Tuesday, Blinken will visit Kyiv on Wednesday and Thursday for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other senior officials. He will “reaffirm unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression," Price said.

But while Russian aggression will top the agenda, several other issues are likely to be addressed.

The first of those is rampant corruption, notably in Ukraine's energy sector, which has been a perennial problem and was at the center of Trump's first impeachment and Republican attacks on the Bidens. The issue resurfaced just this week with the State Department expressing “deep concern” over the government's replacement of the board of Ukraine's leading energy company.

“This calculated move using a procedural loophole to oust well-regarded experts from the boards of several key state-owned enterprises reflects a disregard for fair and transparent corporate governance practices and complicates long-standing efforts to reform Ukraine’s energy sector and improve its investment climate,” Price said on Thursday.

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