Blinken plays guitar during visit to Ukraine

At the end of a somber day in the Ukrainian capital, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken sat at Barman Dictat, a crowded basement cocktail bar where a punk-jazz band screamed.

After a few songs, the band's frontman called Mr. Blinken to the stage on Tuesday and, sure enough, America's top diplomat slung a red Epiphone guitar over his shoulder.

“I know this is a really, really difficult time,” said Mr. Blinken, who ditched his trademark dark suit and tie for blue jeans and a dark button-down shirt. It was a reference to recent Russian military gains. Ukrainian soldiers, particularly in the northeastern city of Kharkiv, he said, “are suffering tremendously.”

“But they need to know, you need to know, the United States is with you, much of the world is with you,” he said, capturing the central message of his unannounced visit to Kiev, a trip intended in part to highlight Nearly $61 billion in additional military aid signed into law by President Biden in April, after months of delays caused primarily by a small group of right-wing House Republicans.

The troops, he said under the stage lights, “are fighting not only for a free Ukraine but for the free world – and the free world is with you too.”

“So, maybe we can try something?” She added. “I don't know if we'll be able to do it.”

A moment later, the band had started and Mr. Blinken — a longtime guitarist who has played in a few bands and even has a few songs available on Spotify — began strumming the opening chords of Neil Young's anthem “Rockin' in the Free World”. with at least basic skills.

With its 1989 vintage and a chorus that matches the title, the song evokes American triumphalism as Soviet communism began to collapse. It was clearly chosen to underline one of the central messages of Blinken's tenure and the Biden presidency: that Western democracies are in a vital struggle with reactionary authoritarian forces.

For Blinken, Ukraine – a young democracy at war with Vladimir V. Putin's Russia – is the front line of that battle.

Critics may question the song choice: Mr. Young, born in Canada, is not an American nationalist, and the song's lyrics speak cuttingly of the state of an America with young mothers addicted to drugs, and mock the promise of President George HW Bush of a “kinder, gentler nation.”

In this sense, the song is often misunderstood, much like Bruce Springsteen's “Born in the USA” – which is not a patriotic anthem but a stinging indictment of Reagan-era America. (That may be one reason Young is suing President Donald J. Trump to stop him from playing his song at 2020 campaign rallies.)

Blinken's foray onto the stage quickly drew criticism online from critics who, citing hunger in Gaza or horror in Kharkiv, said it was not the right time for a government official to perform in jeans. “This is not a serious administration,” a Republican National Committee account posted on social media.

But the moment seemed to serve its purpose. A policy speech by Blinken earlier in the day about long-term support for Ukraine was something less than a hit on social media. By Tuesday afternoon, however, his politically tinged rock was going viral.

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