WASHINGTON – Soaring U.S. tensions with China, fears of a new Russian offensive against Ukraine and a stalemate with Turkey over NATO expansion will top Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s agenda as he heads to Europe this week.
Blinken will leave Washington on Thursday for nearly a week of meetings in Germany, Turkey and Greece, the State Department said Wednesday.
He starts his six-day trip at the Munich Security Conference, where he will join Vice President Kamala Harris in representing the Biden administration.
Speculation is high that Blinken might use the opportunity to meet top Chinese foreign policy official Wang Yi who will also be attending the Munich conference. No such meeting is yet scheduled but if one takes place it would be the first high-level discussion with China since Blinken postponed a trip to China last week over its suspected spy balloon.
A wide array of other senior foreign officials will also be at the Munich conference and apart from increasing worries over Chinese surveillance activities, the situation in Ukraine ahead of an anticipated Spring offensive by Russia is expected to be a prime concern.
The conference is taking place on the eve of the one-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and last year's iteration was dominated by warnings from the U.S. and its NATO allies that a war was imminent.
From Munich, Blinken will travel to Turkey, where he will stop first at Incirlik Air Base to look at relief and recovery operations for the victims of last week's devastating earthquake, before going on to Ankara for expected talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other senior officials.
One of his priorities in Ankara will be trying to unblock Turkey's objections to Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Erdogan has complained that the Finns and, more particularly the Swedes, are too lenient toward groups it deems terror organizations or existential threats, including Kurdish groups.
Unanimity among the alliance is needed to accept new members and all 30 current allies except Turkey have either ratified or signaled their intent to ratify Finland and Sweden's entry.
At the same time, Washington has other issues with Ankara, including Turkey's persistent desire to purchase advanced U.S. fighter jets, something that a number of powerful lawmakers are opposed to on human rights grounds.
Blinken will wrap up his trip in Athens, where he will discuss festering Greek-Turkish tensions, and other issues, including energy security in the eastern Mediterranean and defense cooperation.