Blinken Heads to Eastern Europe amid Concerns over Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Eastern Europe this week amid growing concerns about Russia’s advance in Ukraine, potential Russian interference in Moldova and the passage of a pro-Moscow bill in Georgia, the Department of State said. Blinken will arrive in the Moldovan capital Chisinau on Wednesday and will attend a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Prague on Thursday and Friday. The meeting will be the last major diplomatic gathering before the leaders’ summit to mark NATO 80th anniversary in Washington in July. The trip comes two weeks after Blinken’s surprise visit to Ukraine, during which he assured Kyiv of Washington’s support in the face of intensified Russian attacks in the north of the country. By some indications, Russia is considering new actions in Moldova and is behind anti-Western situation in Georgia that according to the U.S. contradict Moldova’s and Georgia’s desire to integrate into Europe. Blinken will meet with Moldovan President Maia Sandu in Chisinau to reaffirm U.S. support for Moldova’s progress toward EU membership, the Department of State said. The top US diplomat for Europe, James O’Brien, said Blinken would announce a “powerful” package of support for Moldova, where 1,500 Russian troops are stationed in the disputed territory of Transnistria. “We don’t see a direct military threat for now, but Russian influence operations are ongoing and that concerns us,” O’Brien told reporters without going into details of the support package. Moldova has repeatedly accused Russia of waging a “hybrid warfare” against the country, interfering in local elections and disinformation campaigns to topple the government and push the country off the path to EU membership. Russia denies the allegations, but the Moldovan government is wary of Moscow’s intentions. These concerns intensified after Transnistrian authorities asked Russia for “protection” in February because of alleged increased pressure from Chisinau. In Prague, Blinken will meet with Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky and other officials to discuss support for Ukraine, including a Czech initiative to supply Kyiv with additional ammunition, and then attend a NATO session. While Ukraine will top the agenda, NATO ministers will also discuss developments in Georgia, which, like Ukraine, is seeking to join NATO. There is controversy in the country over the bill, which many believe was passed under Moscow’s influence to thwart Georgia’s Western aspirations. According to the bill, media outlets and non-governmental organizations that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad must register as agents “pursuing the interests of a foreign power.” Blinken announced last week that the US would ban Georgian officials “responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia, as well as their family members, from entering the country.” “This includes those responsible for suppressing civil society and freedom of peaceful assembly in Georgia through a campaign of violence or intimidation,” he added.