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Secretary of State Blinken meeting with NATO allies to talk about support for Ukraine

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Throughout its war with Russia, Ukraine has faced limits on how it can use Western weapons. European allies and the United States have sent weapons to Ukraine, but barred them from being used against military targets inside Russia. It was a bid to avoid escalating the conflict. Now, NATO foreign ministers are gathering in Prague this week and discussing whether to ease that rule. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary of State Antony Blinken chooses his words carefully when asked if the U.S. might ease its restrictions on how Ukraine uses U.S. weapons in its fight to push Russian troops out.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: We haven't encouraged or enabled strikes outside of Ukraine.

KELEMEN: But he says the U.S. has made sure that Ukraine has the weapons to defend itself.

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BLINKEN: And another hallmark of our support for Ukraine over these now more than two years has been to adapt. As the conditions have changed; as the battlefield has changed; as what Russia does has changed in terms of how it's pursuing its aggression, we've adapted and adjusted, too, and I'm confident we'll continue to do that.

KELEMEN: This will be a major topic as Blinken joins other NATO foreign ministers here in Prague to plan ahead for a summit in Washington this summer. NATO's Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, says Ukraine has a right to defend itself, and that includes striking legitimate military targets inside Russia.

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JENS STOLTENBERG: Because the most heavy fighting is now taking place in the Kharkiv region, close to the Ukrainian-Russian border, and part of the border is actually the front line.

KELEMEN: Stoltenberg says it will be hard for Ukraine to defend itself in Kharkiv if it cannot hit military targets on the other side of the border. Some NATO members don't have any restrictions on their military aid to Ukraine and some are now easing their restrictions. Secretary Blinken is suggesting the U.S. might, too.

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BLINKEN: We're always listening, we're always learning and we're always making determinations about what's necessary to make sure that Ukraine can effectively continue to defend itself.

KELEMEN: Before coming to Prague, Blinken visited one of Ukraine's neighbors, the former Soviet republic of Moldova. It's a country that could also be a flashpoint between the West and Russia, and President Maia Sandu says a lot is riding on Ukraine's ability to defeat Russia.

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PRESIDENT MAIA SANDU: We do see that Ukraine needs more support. Ukraine didn't start this war. Ukraine is defending itself, and Ukraine is defending Moldova, and we believe that Ukraine should be offered all the support it needs, not just to resist, but also to win this war.

KELEMEN: Moldova is heading into elections this fall, and Sandu is worried about Russian meddling. She says Russia is spreading a lot of disinformation and trying to corrupt politics in the country.

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SANDU: We do expect the situation to get more difficult in the next few months.

KELEMEN: This was Blinken's second trip to Moldova since the war began in Ukraine. He says the U.S. has spent more than $770 million to help Moldova continue on its path toward European integration.

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BLINKEN: And this in the face of bullying from Russia; of interference; efforts to spread misinformation, disinformation; weaponizing corruption; manufacturing anti-government protests.

KELEMEN: Blinken announced another $50 million to counter Russian disinformation, and another $85 million to help Moldova boost energy trade with Ukraine and Romania so that it becomes less reliant on Russia. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, reporting from Chisinau and Prague.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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