WASHINGTON — A top U.S. official is being dispatched to Ukraine and Russia next week amid an effort to ease tension between the two nations.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried, who oversees European and Eurasian affairs, will visit Kyiv on December 13 and later travel to Moscow, the State Department said in a statement.
Donfried will meet with senior officials in both countries “to discuss Russia’s military buildup and to reinforce the United States’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity,” the statement said.
Donfried’s trip comes on the heels of a December 7 call between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin to defuse the tension on Ukraine’s border.
The United States has said that Russia has as many as 100,000 combat-ready troops near its border with Ukraine and that it could be a prelude to an invasion, something Putin has denied.
The White House said on December 7 that the two leaders agreed their respective teams will hold follow-up meetings in an attempt to de-escalate the situation.
Analysts say the Russian buildup is driven by the Kremlin’s frustration over stalled peace talks to end the fighting in two eastern Ukraine provinces between government forces and Russia-backed rebels.
During her meetings in Kyiv and Moscow, Donfried will emphasize that diplomatic progress can be made on ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine “through implementation of the Minsk agreements,” the Statement Department said
The Minsk agreements are truces signed in September 2014 and February 2015 that provide a framework, albeit a disputed one, for a peace deal.
The Kremlin interprets the agreements as giving broad autonomy for the two Russia-leaning provinces within Ukraine, something that analysts say would essentially deprive Ukraine of its chances to join NATO.
However, Ukraine disagrees with that interpretation and no progress has been made on its implementation in years.
In the meantime, Ukraine has been strengthening its ties with the West, including on defense cooperation, angering the Kremlin.
Russia this week said it wants NATO to stop its eastward expansion, something analysts say the United States will never publicly agree to, setting the stage for potentially tough talks for Donfried in Moscow.
Donfried will finish the week in Brussels, where she will consult with NATO allies and the European Union on December 15-16 on her efforts to pursue a diplomatic solution.
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