Blinken brings anti-graft message, previous Russia foe to Ukraine | Politics

WASHINGTON (AP) – When Secretary of State Antony Blinken travels to Ukraine this week, he will carry a tough anti-transplant message and strong US support for the country’s response to Russian aggression. He will also bring a familiar face to the tug-of-war between Washington and Moscow over the former Soviet republic: Victoria Nuland.

The one-day stop is set to demonstrate US continued commitment to Ukraine as it tackles Russia’s support for separatists and troop build-up along the eastern border, and Kiev pushes for corruption. It comes at a time of mounting US tensions with Russia not only over Ukraine but also because of US criticism of Russia over human rights, hacking and electoral meddling. Both countries recently ordered diplomatic deportations.

Beyond these major problems, the mere presence in Kiev of Nuland, now Foreign Ministry official No. 3, is likely to irritate Russia. As a Russian hawk, Nuland is reviled by the Kremlin and was a key target of Moscow’s attacks on the US during the 2013-14 Ukrainian Revolution and Russia’s annexation of Crimea when she was Deputy Secretary of State for Europe during the Obama administration.

Blinken said in London on Monday that he would use the visit to demonstrate “our unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine”. Other officials said he will also press for institutional reforms and anti-corruption measures. Much hard work remains to ensure a better future for all Ukrainians, “US senior diplomat for Europe Phillip Reeker said last week.

Blinken’s trip, however, also follows an FBI-related raid on former President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani in Ukraine and renewed questions about the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine, leading to the dismissal of a US ambassador to the United States Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch led and laid the groundwork for GOP attacks against President Joe Biden.

The East-West struggle for influence and prestige in Ukraine has been a recurring theme since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Nuland’s advocacy of reform-minded, pro-Western Ukrainian politicians has drawn the wrath of the Kremlin.

As a professional diplomat who retired from overseas service rather than serving in the Trump administration, Nuland drew Moscow’s anger and accusations at one point during the uprising that eventually overthrew pro-Russian leader of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych Meddle opposition rally in Maidan Square in Kiev.

Nuland, who is known by her nickname “Toria”, was also a thorn in the side of Moscow as the spokesperson for the State Department under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and regularly reprimanded Russia for its policies. This prompted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to comment on her resignation from the role of spokeswoman after John Kerry took over the post of top diplomat from President Barack Obama in 2013.

“My first trip after Toria left her post as spokeswoman, Secretary of State Lavrov looked at my staff and said to me, ‘John, I see you finally fired this Toria Nuland,'” Kerry said, laughing at her swearing-in ceremony for the Deputy State Secretary for Europe. “And I was very happy to look at him and say, ‘No, I got her promoted.'”

Then came the infamous phone call, leaked recording by Russian intelligence services, in which Nuland derided the European Union’s reluctance to broker a solution to the Ukraine crisis. “F – – – the EU,” said Nuland in the call with the then US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

The call leak went viral and was widely viewed as a Russian attempt to separate the US from its European counterparts in Ukraine. Although this caused a stir in the media, the US and Europe generally remained united on 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 continued her position until Trump’s election in 2016.

Now, after a four-year absence and eight years after Kerry Lavrov raised Nuland’s rise in the ranks, she has been promoted again: Secretary of State for Political Affairs, where she will have significant influence on political decisions across Europe and elsewhere.

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