By Terri Moon Cronk | DoD News, Defense Media Activity
The United States will continue to back the Ukrainian military’s right to defend itself when Russian-separatist forces attack its positions, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Thursday.
In a joint news conference with Ukrainian Defense Minister Col.-Gen. Stepan Poltorak following their meeting during Poltorak’s first visit to the Pentagon, Carter reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to Ukraine and praised his counterpart for his leadership and fortitude “at a critical time for the security of his country, the region and the world.”
Ukraine has made “a genuine effort to live up to its Minsk commitments, and has shown considerable restraint in the face of provocations and attacks,” the secretary said, referring to a February ceasefire agreement.
Carter said the U.S. message to Russia stands firm as the United States is “adjusting its posture and investments to deter Russian aggression, and working with NATO and other security partners to do the same.”
The Defense Department will continue ongoing U.S.-Russia military talks on issues in Syria and countering the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, where mutual interests overlap, he said. But those talks will neither take away from the strong U.S. condemnation of Russian actions in Ukraine nor change U.S. sanctions and security support in response to destabilizing actions, he added.
The two leaders met previously at the recent NATO defense ministerial conference and discussed their nations’ strong defense relationship, Carter said.
“Today, we had a productive meeting and built on that discussion in Brussels [to find] ways to sustain and strengthen those commitments, including ongoing security assistance to Ukraine’s armed forces and border guard service,” the secretary said.
“[Poltorak] described to me today the very admirable steps he’s been taking to strengthen the Ukrainian armed forces, and I was very impressed,” he added.
While recent reports of a general reduction of violence in Ukraine are encouraging, the secretary said, the United States still sees a failure to fully uphold the Minsk commitments by Russia and the separatists. “That’s why we’re committed to helping Ukraine safely and effectively operate, secure and defend its border, and preserve and enforce its territorial integrity,” he said.
The secretary noted the United States has provided Ukraine with more than $244 million in equipment and training, including Humvees, counter-mortar radar, night vision gear, body armor and medical equipment, and he said strengthening Ukraine’s training capacity will strengthen its defense capability. And by the end of November, he added, “we will have trained 900 Ukrainian national guard personnel, and we are commencing training the regular Ukrainian armed forces.
Grateful for Support
Thanking all the nations that support Ukraine during what he called “a difficult time, Poltorak emphasized the particular importance of U.S. support as his country fights for its democracy.
The minister described the U.S.-Ukraine relationship “as good as ever before,” and said he invited Carter to visit his country and see the many changes made to its economy and its armed forces and how the nation is “building a Ukraine that will be a European country with democratic values in which its people are treated as [the] first priority.”
The United States and Ukraine must stand together going forward “to overcome all the challenges we’re facing right now,” the minister said.
“I’m very happy the United States and other countries … are supporting us,” he added. “Together, we will win.”