Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart on Thursday and expressed Washington’s “unwavering” support for Kyiv amid tensions with Russia.
According to a readout of the call, Austin “reaffirmed unwavering US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.” He also condemned what he called “Russian aggression.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart this week and made similar comments.
Ukraine has accused Moscow of stoking tensions by massing troops near Russia’s border with Ukraine. But Russia denies the troop movements are meant to be threatening. “The Russian Federation transfers the Armed Forces on its soil as it wants to,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday, according to Russia’s TASS News Agency. “This should not concern anyone and this is not posing any threat to anyone.”
Moscow also warned Kyiv against restarting fighting in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, where a ceasefire agreed to last year has held relatively well, although there have been recent violations. In one incident, four Ukrainian soldiers died, which Ukraine is blaming on Russia, although Moscow denies having troops in Donbas.
The fighting in Donbas was sparked by the 2014 US-backed coup in Kyiv. Separatists in Donbas rejected the post-coup government. Since then, the US has provided Ukraine with more than $2 billion in military aid. The Pentagon recently announced a new $125 million package for Ukraine that includes armed patrol boats.
Peskov also mentioned the increased NATO activity near Russia. “There is increased activity on the perimeter of Russia’s borders by NATO, other alliances, individual countries — it all obliges us to be vigilant,” he said. Ukraine is planning to build new military bases on the Black Sea with the help of NATO.