Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met Tuesday with Ukrainian leaders to strengthen ties with the country amid ongoing fighting between government forces and the Russia-backed separatists in a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives.
Mr. Austin met with Defense Minister Andriy Taran in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, to offer reassurance of U.S. support for the nation’s territorial integrity and sovereignty and continue the implementation of a strategic defense framework that was signed at the end of August.
“The United States calls on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea, to stop perpetuating the war in eastern Ukraine, to end its destabilizing activities in the Black Sea and along Ukraine’s border and to end its persistent cyberattacks and other malign activities against the United States and our allies and partners,” Mr. Austin said in a press conference following the meeting.
A retired four-star Army general, Mr. Austin also commended Ukrainian troops “who continue to stand up to defend our shared values and our core democratic principles.”
U.S. and Ukrainian officials also discussed the country’s progress with the implementation of defense reforms to advance its NATO aspirations and regional cooperation among allies and partners around the Black Sea, defense officials said.
Mr. Austin’s stop in Ukraine was the second leg of his tour of the Black Sea region. He visited Tbilisi, Georgia, on Monday, and Romania was his next stop before attending a meeting of NATO defense leaders in Belgium.
“The Secretary looks forward to meeting with his counterparts and other senior officials to reinforce the United States’ commitment to a safe, stable and prosperous Europe,” Pentagon officials said in a statement.
During the press conference in Kyiv, Mr. Austin told reporters that Russia is the obstacle to regional peace and said the U.S. will do whatever it can to support the country’s ability to defend itself and protect its sovereign territory.
The Biden administration has pledged to provide Ukraine with an additional $60 million in military aid, which would bring the total amount to more than $400 million, according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.