KYIV, Jan 5 (Reuters) – The European Union’s top diplomat visited the frontline of Ukraine’s war with Russian-backed forces on Wednesday, in what Kyiv welcomed as a show of solidarity against the threat of a major new military confrontation with Moscow.
Josep Borrell flew by helicopter to the easterly Luhansk region, the first EU High Representative to do so since the outbreak of the conflict in 2014, as part of a Western diplomatic push in support of Ukraine.
“A very timely visit against the background of Russian blackmail, escalation and threats,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a statement while accompanying Borrell.
“Ukraine has the support of the European Union in countering Russian aggression. In fact, this support is the strongest since 2014.”
Borrell was meeting soldiers and civilians in the east before flying back to Kyiv, where he was expected to hold talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Thursday.
“With Russia’s increased military build-up, I am here to show EU support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to support sustained reform efforts that are key for resilience,” Borrell tweeted.
Ukraine has scrambled to shore up support from Western allies in recent weeks, accusing Russia of massing tens of thousands of troops near its borders in preparation for a possible large scale military offensive.
Moscow denies U.S. assertions that it is planning an invasion of Ukraine and accuses Kyiv of building up its own forces in the east of the country.
Washington on Tuesday said there was strong consensus in Europe on the consequences for Russia if Moscow escalated the conflict with Ukraine.
Relations between Kyiv and Moscow collapsed after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and Moscow-backed forces seized territory in eastern Ukraine that Kyiv wants back.
Moscow wants guarantees that NATO will halt its eastward expansion and end military cooperation with Ukraine and Georgia, which have territorial disputes with Russia.