Blinken will head to eastern Europe as concerns mount about Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to eastern Europe next week as concerns mount about Russia’s advances in Ukraine, potential Russian interference in neighboring Moldova and pro-Moscow legislation being promoted in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, the State Department said Friday.

Blinken will visit the Moldovan capital of Chişinau on Wednesday before attending a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Prague on Thursday and Friday. That meeting will be the military alliance’s last major diplomatic get-together before leaders meet at a summit to celebrate NATO’s 80th anniversary in Washington in July.

The trip comes just two weeks after Blinken made an unannounced trip to Ukraine to reassure Kyiv of Washington’s support in the face of intensified Russian attacks in its north. There are also signs Russia may be considering new actions in Moldova and is behind anti-Western moves in Georgia that the U.S. believes run counter to Moldovan and Georgian aspirations to integrate with Europe.

At his first stop in Chişinau, Blinken will meet Moldovan President Maia Sandu to reaffirm U.S. backing for Moldova’s progress on joining the European Union, the State Department said. The top U.S. diplomat for Europe, James O’Brien, said Blinken would announce a “robust” support package for Moldova, where there are 1,500 Russian troops stationed in the disputed territory of Transnistria.

“There’s not a direct military threat that we see at this time, but there’s ongoing Russian influence operations, and that is of concern,” O’Brien told reporters. He did not give details of the support package.

Moldova, like Ukraine, is a candidate member for EU membership and has repeatedly accused Russia of conducting a “hybrid war” against the country, meddling in local elections and running vast disinformation campaigns to try to topple the government and derail its path toward joining the 27-nation EU.

Russia has denied the accusations, but the Moldovan government is wary of Moscow’s intentions, particularly after Transnistrian authorities appealed to Moscow in February for “protection” due to what they said was increased pressure from Chişinau.

In Prague, Blinken will meet Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský and other officials to discuss support for Ukraine, including a Czech initiative to supply more munitions to Kyiv, before attending the NATO gathering.

With Ukraine as the top agenda item, NATO ministers also will be looking at developments in Georgia, which like Ukraine, aspires to join NATO and is embroiled in controversy over legislation that many believe is driven by Moscow and intended to thwart Georgia’s Western aspirations.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili vetoed the “Russian law” targeting media that has sparked weeks of mass protests, but the ruling party has a parliamentary majority sufficient to override her veto and is widely expected to do so.

The legislation would require media and nongovernmental organizations to register as “pursuing the interests of a foreign power” if they receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad. Critics say it closely resembles legislation the Kremlin used to silence opponents and that it will obstruct Georgia’s bid to join the EU.

Late Thursday, Blinken announced that the U.S. would impose travel bans on Georgian officials “who are responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Georgia, as well as their family members. This includes individuals responsible for suppressing civil society and freedom of peaceful assembly in Georgia through a campaign of violence or intimidation.”

Blinken’s announcement did not identify anyone who has already been targeted, but it also said the U.S. would undertake a comprehensive review of U.S.-Georgia cooperation.

“It remains our hope that Georgia’s leaders will reconsider the draft law and take steps to move forward with their nation’s democratic and Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” he said. “As we review the relationship between our two countries, we will take into account Georgia’s actions in deciding our own.”

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