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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Remarks at a Meeting in Honor of Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you for joining us.

Minister Kuleba, it's an honor to welcome you back to the Pentagon at this critical, critical moment in history.  As we meet today, Russia's latest invasion is threatening the peace, security and prosperity of Ukraine and of the trans-Atlantic community.  I know that we've all heard Russia's recognition of the so-called DNR and L.N. -- LNR regions of Ukraine as independent states.  That violates international law and Russia's own inter -- international commitments, and it directly undermines Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Now, President Biden signed an executive order to respond to President Putin's actions yesterday, and together with our allies and partners, the United States will not hesitate to impose other severe economic costs as events dictate.

Now, I know that we've all heard President Putin's speech yesterday where he threatened war and -- and attacking the very notion of independent Ukraine, so let's be clear:  The U.S. support for Ukraine's self-defense, sovereignty and territorial integrity is unwavering.  Since 2014, the United States has committed more than $2.7 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, including $650 million in 2021 alone.

And Mr. Minister, I want to commend you for Ukraine's measured response and for continuing your nation's call for a peaceful diplomatic solution in the face of Russia's aggression, provocations and false accusations.  We will continue to work closely with you and remain in lockstep with our allies and partners in trying to find a way to avoid further conflict.  Mr. Putin can still avoid a full-blown, tragic war of choice.  Now, as you know, I was in Europe last week and I've never seen NATO more united and more resolute, standing firm as one alliance in support of Ukraine's right to defend its sovereign territory.

So Mr. Minister, thank you again for coming today.  It's great to see you back in the Pentagon, and we have much to -- to discuss, and I look forward to that and to working closely with you and other Ukrainian leaders to improve our defense partnership and to support our common values of democracy, security and sovereignty.

UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DMYTRO KULEBA:  Thank you, Secretary.  Since Ukraine's independence in 1991 and especially since 2014, the United States have been Ukraine's security partner number one, and every piece of the support that you extended to us in terms of defensive weapons, military equipment, training for our military -- for our armed forces has been deeply appreciated by the people of Ukraine and helped us to build our defense capacity.

I'm on a diplomatic mission here, but these days, diplomacy means also defense, and I will -- I'm looking forward to discussing with you the continuation of our partnership.  And my message is simple:  A strong Ukraine is the best deterrence of Russia.

And we are a peaceful nation.  We never attacked anyone.  We are not seeking war.  We want to find solutions through diplomacy.  But if the war is imposed on us by President Putin, we will be defending ourselves and we will be more than grateful for all the assistance that you can provide to us in that regard.

Yesterday's address by President Putin was not about the recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk; it was about the destruction of the Ukrainian statehood.  This is how we take it and this is how we will respond to it through diplomacy, with a lot of restraint.  We will not be -- we will not fall into provocations arranged by Russia.  This is the trap that we will avoid.  But again, if we are left no choice we will be fighting, because this is our land and these are our people.

So thank you for this opportunity to see you and to discuss how we can further develop our partnership.