In a major sign of support for a key U.S. ally, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Ukraine on Wednesday to demonstrate solidarity as the Pentagon urged Congress to pass up to $200 million in additional aid to help the country fend off aggression from Russia.
The unannounced visit comes as the Biden administration seeks to bolster relations with Ukraine, which has been at the center of a years-long conflict with its eastern neighbor. Since 2014, Russia has acted aggressively towards the country, sending forces into the Crimean peninsula and occupying eastern Ukraine.
Speaking at a joint news conference in Kyiv, Austin and Ukraine’s defense minister expressed their commitment to working together to confront Russian aggression.
“Russia seeks to undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine and other countries,” Austin said. “We will not accept this.”
He added that the U.S. is committed to helping Ukraine strengthen its military capacity and thwart aggression from Russia.
“The Biden-Harris Administration will continue to provide political, economic and military assistance to Ukraine and other partners to support their sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Austin said.
The Pentagon urged Congress to pass additional aid for Ukraine, which could include funding for anti-tank and anti-defensive weapons, as well as defensive capabilities.
In a statement on Tuesday, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said the additional aid was needed to “help Ukraine defend and deter further Russian aggression, secure United States national interests, and secure the peace and stability of Eastern Europe.”
Austin’s visit comes just days after Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv to discuss ways to assist the country in its conflict with Russia.
U.S. support of Ukraine has come into focus in recent years as the Justice Department investigates the country’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
The steadfast security and economic assistance to Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression is an important part of the Biden administration offering support to a key U.S. ally at a critical moment. Austin’s visit is yet another sign that the U.S. will not back down in the face of Russian aggression towards Ukraine.