The U.S. will continue to stand by Ukraine amid rising tensions with Russia over troop buildups along the border. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said as he held talks with his Ukrainian counterpart at the Pentagon Thursday.
Ukrainian officials said Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov would be discussing the strategic partnership between Ukraine and the U.S. and how to best respond to the continuing threat from Moscow. Defense and domestic political reforms.
Mr. Reznikov told Mr. Austin that his country “has been repelling waves of Russia‘s hybrid aggression for eight years. We appreciate the full efforts of the United States to draw attention to the next phase of military preparations around Ukraine made by Moscow.”
Pentagon officials said they are closely monitoring the reports of the Russian troop movements near Ukraine‘s border. Mr. Austin said he is in frequent contact with Gen. Tod D. Wolters, the head of U.S. European Command.
“We’re not exactly sure what [Russian President Vladimir Putin] is up to,” he said. “I would urge Russia to be more transparent about what they’re up to and to take steps to live up to the Minsk agreement.”
“Our support for Ukraine‘s sovereignty and territorial integrity remains unwavering,” Mr. Austin added.
Mr. Reznikov accused Russia of “getting ready for the next phase of attack.”
“The signal from the U.S. will give a signal to the whole civilized world that we should unite against Russian aggression,” he said.
On Thursday, Mr. Reznikov also went to Capitol Hill to meet with Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Satellite imagery reviewed by Sen. Inhofe showed a variety of Russian military hardware, including tanks and artillery, arrayed along the border. The Russians even brought along ambulances to the alleged “exercises,” Sen. Inhofe said.
“Why would Putin be putting military ambulances if he was not expecting casualties?” Mr. Inhofe said. “The answer is he wouldn’t. So we have an idea of what’s going on.”
Experts are reporting more than 90,000 Russian combat troops massed along Ukraine‘s border. Mr. Inhofe said it might sound “crazy” that Moscow would want to send so many military personnel to the region in November, where winters are often brutally cold.
“But here is something not many people really think about,” Mr. Inhofe said. “Frozen ground is easier to move around heavy equipment like tanks and artillery.”
Putin is capitalizing on what he perceives as U.S. weakness following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, Mr. Inhofe said.
“He knows that our NATO allies are disturbed by the catastrophe in Afghanistan and that many European nations fear the United States is no longer interested in transatlantic security,” he said.
Russia blamed NATO expansion to the east, including U.S. naval exercises in the Black Sea region, as a leading cause of tensions between both countries. On Thursday, Mr. Putin claimed that armed strategic bombers from the U.S. routinely operate near their border and that Russia‘s essential interests regarding the countries on its border were not respected by the West.
“Our concerns and precautions about NATO’s expansion to the east were absolutely ignored,” Mr. Putin said in a foreign policy address Thursday, according to the Russian news agency TASS. “Our partners are very peculiar and, to put it mildly, do not take all our warnings and talks on ‘red lines’ seriously.”
Ukraine‘s president also slapped sanctions on about 30 members of Russia‘s intelligence and special services and six others alleged to be responsible for human rights abuses in Crimea. The people identified in the sanctions — which also included members of the media — were involved in what authorities called “an information war against Ukraine,” according to the website RFE/RL (Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty.)