Good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining us.
It’s great to be here and I’d like to thank Minister Taran for the warm welcome, and the Ukrainian people for their hospitality.
Minister Taran and I saw each other just a few weeks ago at the Pentagon and we had a productive discussion today about how we intend to implement the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Defense Framework that was signed in Washington on August 31.
The Strategic Defense Framework created a foundation for enhancing our defense and security cooperation, and we remain committed to strengthening our strategic partnership.
Let me underscore what President Biden said during President Zelenskyy’s recent visit to Washington. U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering.
So, 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… and to halt its persistent cyber attacks and other malign activities against the United States, and our Allies and partners.
Earlier today I had the solemn privilege of visiting the Fallen Warriors Memorial on the grounds here, and I know that every morning a ceremony honors the heroic Ukrainian soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice on the front lines of the war in eastern Ukraine instigated by Russia.
I want to commend Ukraine’s brave men and women in uniform who continue to stand up to defend our shared values and our core democratic principles.
Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $2.5 billion to support Ukraine’s forces … so that they can preserve their country’s territorial integrity and secure its borders and territorial waters.
Today, the Minister and I also discussed ways to promote deeper regional cooperation among our Black Sea allies and partners to deter Russia’s destabilizing actions.
In the support of these efforts the United States will continue to provide assistance to enhance the maritime capacities of not only Ukraine, but also Georgia, Romania, and Bulgaria.
We have long understood the importance of cooperation and unity among Allies and partners to deter Russian aggression.
At the June 2021 NATO Summit, the United States and its Allies reaffirmed our support for Ukraine’s right to decide its own future foreign policy course free from outside interference, including with respect to Ukraine’s aspirations to join NATO.
To that end, we encourage the government of Ukraine to remain committed to the deep and comprehensive reforms needed to advance its Euro-Atlantic aspirations, that means continuing to: enhance civilian control of the military; align defense industry institutions with global best practices; and introduce Human Resources Management reforms.
United States remains committed to helping Ukraine implement these reforms through a robust advisory effort.
So, Minister Taran, you can count on our continued support… I look forward to working with you on an even stronger and more enduring strategic partnership between our countries.
Question from Joe Gould from Defense News: Has the Biden Administration accepted the Russia-Ukraine conflict as frozen and is the goal right now is to defuse tensions or resolve the conflict? Why can’t the U.S. do more to strengthen Ukraine and convince Vladimir Putin that time is not on his side?
Secretary Austin: Well thanks. Let’s be clear, Russia started this war and Russia is the obstacle to peaceful resolution. They can start by respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and in the meantime, we will continue to do everything that we can to support Ukraine’s efforts to develop the capabilities to defend itself and protect its sovereign territory.
Question from Ihor Levenok, TV Channel Inter: Recently, Russia has started to militarize the Black Sea region and the Crimean peninsula basically turned into a large military base, where Russia pretends to be the master. Considering what I have mentioned before, I do have a question. Does the United States plan to increase their presence and influence in the region and do they plan to provide additional military aid to Ukraine to combat Russia’s presence and influence in the Black Sea basin and if so what type of aid would that be?
Secretary Austin: Thanks. There’s no change to our operational capability or deterrence posture. We continue to operate in the Black Sea and many other areas across the region. We’ve done that on a regular basis, and we will continue to do that going forward. And that’s part of our commitment to our partners and so you can expect that we will continue to do that. This region remains critical to us and we remain committed to security here and to helping our partners in any way possible.
Question from Karoun Demirjian from Washington Post: Secretary Austin, do you feel that it’s important for you to be reassuring Ukrainians of the United States’ commitment after Afghanistan, because this is the second time in less than two months that you are having a face to face meeting with your counterpart, and so was there’s something left unresolved after that last meeting or why there was a need for the extra one?
Secretary Austin: Well, first your question about whether or not there was anything unresolved, the answer to that is no. As you know, we agreed to continue to work together on a number of issues and that’s a continual body of work And I’d like to say I like the minister and that’s why I came back to see him so soon, and I like the people, and we’re committed to helping the people. You heard President Biden say a number of times that we’re committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and protection of its territorial integrity and we’re serious about that and part of why I am here is to continue to reassure that we are serious. And again, today we had some very productive talks about what we are going to do to work together to realize the agreement that we struck when he was back in Washington. So, this will continue on. And again, let me say again how much I appreciate the hospitality of the leadership of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.
Question from Iryna Lukhina from TV channel Ukraina and Ukraina 24: What are the real perspectives of Ukraine’s inclusion to NATO? Russia criticises this scenario and calls it the worst possible scenario. And with regards to the Action Plan of Ukraine’s inclusion to NATO, when will we have it and what will we have to do in order to receive it?
Secretary Austin: Okay regarding the first question, I would just point out, 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. And finally, I would say that our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty is unwavering and again we will continue to work together with our partners to ensure that the right things are in place to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself.