© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Members of Ukrainian Armed Forces Gather in Trench at Battlefields Near Russian-Supported Rebel Line near Crimea in Luhansk Region, Ukraine, January 3, 2022. REUTERS / Maxim Levin
KIEV (Reuters) – The top diplomat of the European Union visited the front line of Ukraine’s war with Russian-backed forces on Wednesday, which Kiev hailed as a show of solidarity against the threat of a new major military conflict with Moscow.
Josep Borrell flew by helicopter to the eastern region of Lugansk, the first EU High Representative to do so since the outbreak of the conflict in 2014, as part of Western diplomatic support for Ukraine.
“A very timely visit amid Russian blackmail, escalation and threats,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a statement while accompanied by Borrell.
“Ukraine has the support of the European Union in countering Russian aggression. In fact, that support is the strongest since 2014.”
Borrell met with soldiers and civilians in the east before returning to Kiev, where he was expected to hold talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday.
“With Russia’s increased military strength, I am here to show EU support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to support ongoing reform efforts that are key to resilience,” Borrell wrote on Twitter.
In recent weeks, Ukraine has sought to secure the support of Western allies, accusing Russia of amassing tens of thousands of troops near its borders in preparation for a possible large-scale military offensive.
Moscow denies American claims that it is planning an invasion of Ukraine and accuses Kiev of building its own forces in the east of the country.
Washington said on Tuesday that there is a strong consensus in Europe on the consequences for Russia if Moscow escalates the conflict with Ukraine.
Relations between Kiev and Moscow collapsed after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and Moscow-backed forces occupied territory in eastern Ukraine that Kiev wants back.
Moscow wants assurances that NATO will halt its expansion eastward and end military co-operation with Ukraine and Georgia, which have territorial disputes with Russia.
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