“We again call 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 borders,” Austin said during a press conference in Kiev, Ukraine, alongside his Ukrainian counterpart Andrii Taran.
“And to halt its persistent cyberattacks and other malign activities against the United States and our allies and partners,” he added.
Austin’s visit to Ukraine is his second stop in Europe this week “to reassure allies and partners of America’s commitment to their sovereignty in the face of Russian aggression,” according to the Pentagon. The US defense secretary on Monday visited Georgia, where Russia still occupies roughly 20% of the nation, and plans to visit Romania, ahead of attending the NATO Defense Ministerial in Brussels.
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the move was in response to the alliance’s expulsion of eight Russians earlier this month.
On Tuesday, Austin stressed that the US’ support for Ukraine sovereignty is “unwavering” and “we will continue to do everything we can to support Ukraine’s efforts to develop the capability to defend itself.”
Asked about Russia’s opposition to Ukraine’s accession to NATO, Austin argued that Ukraine “has a right to decide its own future foreign policy and we expect that they will be able to do that without any outside interference.”
“No third country has a veto over NATO’s membership decisions,” he said.