US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday pressed Russia to pull troops and end its “aggressive” actions in Ukraine on a visit to Kiev in which he vowed to expand US support.
The top US diplomat met Ukraine’s leadership and toured a somber memorial with photographs of some of the more than 13,000 people who have died fighting pro-Russian separatists since 2014, when Moscow seized the Crimean peninsula from Kiev.
“We stand strongly with you,” Blinken told a joint news conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“We look to Russia to cease reckless and aggressive actions,” Blinken said.
Russia last month amassed 100,000 troops near the border and in Crimea, its biggest buildup since 2014, but quickly announced a pullback in what many saw as a test for the new US administration of President Joe Biden.
But both Blinken and Zelensky said Thursday that the pullout had been limited.
“We’re aware that Russia has withdrawn some forces from the border with Ukraine, but we also see that significant forces remain there,” Blinken said.
Zelensky said Ukraine still saw Russia flexing its muscle on the Black Sea and said it had only removed 3,000 to 3,500 troops from Crimea.
But Zelensky said that there had been a decline in sniper fire, which has been a leading cause of casualties.
Zelensky welcomed US support but said that Ukraine “desperately” needed more.
“We think that the decrease (of Russian troops near the border) is slow, therefore, perhaps, there still may be a threat. Nobody wants these surprises,” Zelensky said.
The United States has earmarked $408 million in security aid for Ukraine this fiscal year and Blinken said he spoke in depth with Ukrainian leaders about their needs.