Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III is greeted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 19, 2021. Austin is visiting allies in Georgia, Ukraine and Romania reaffirming U.S. support for sovereignty and territorial integrity and underscore the importance of the strategic partnerships in addressing regional and global security challenges. Austin will also travel to Brussels, Belgium to participate in the NATO Defense Ministerial. (DoD photo by Chad J. McNeeley)
The United States and its allies support Ukraine's authority in the future of their foreign policy, said U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday.
Zelensky said that the U.S. is Ukraine's "chief partner in security and defence" as Russia annexation of Crimea threatens the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
Austin has criticized Russia for the Ukrainian takeover of the peninsula and its support of the separatists in East Ukraine.
"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 cyberattacks and other malign activities against the United States and our allies and partners," Austin said during a press conference in Kyiv alongside Zelensky.
"We will continue to do everything we can to support Ukraine's efforts to develop the capability to defend itself," Austin said.
Austin: No third country has a veto over NATO's membership decisions
Also, speaking after his talks in Kyiv, Austin underlined that "no third country has a veto over NATO's membership decisions."
"Ukraine, as you have heard me saying earlier, has the right to decide its own future foreign policy and we expect they will be able to do that without any outside interference," he said.
"And again, we continue to work together with our partner to make sure that the right things are at place, to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself and protect its territories," he added.
Earlier, Moscow described Ukraine's bid for prospective membership in NATO as a "red line" and a major" threat" to its security.