Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with Ukrainian officials in Kyiv on Tuesday, a day after visiting Georgia. The trip is part of Washington’s plans to increase support for the two countries that both share a border with Russia.
Ahead of the trip, Pentagon officials told The Washington Times that Austin would stress that there is an “open door to NATO” for Ukraine and Georgia. Russia has previously said that Ukraine joining NATO would be a “red line,” something Austin addressed Tuesday.
“No third country has a veto over NATO’s membership decisions. Ukraine, as you heard me say earlier, 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,” he said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is eager to join NATO, but the US says Ukraine must make some “reforms” before joining the alliance. “The United States remains committed to helping Ukraine implement these reforms through a robust advisory effort,” Austin said.
In 2008, NATO officials agreed that Ukraine could eventually be a member of the alliance. But those plans were shelved when Viktor Yanukovych became Ukraine’s president in 2010. But since Yanukovych was ousted by a US-backed coup in 2014, Ukraine has moved much closer to NATO’s orbit.
Georgia was also promised a NATO membership in 2008. In Georgia on Monday, Austin discussed the “reforms” the country was making for the potential membership. “Georgia continues to make progress in terms of military reform and capabilities,” he said. “Our embassy noted some problems with the recent elections, but we also expressed confidence in Georgia’s ability to improve as time goes forward.”
Austin and his Georgian counterpart signed an agreement extending US military support to Georgia for another six years. With respect to Georgia and Ukraine, Austin slammed Russia and vowed to support the “sovereignty” of each nation.