U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday during a visit to Ukraine that Russia is "seeking to redraw international borders by force" and that U.S. sanctions against Russia will remain in place until the government in Moscow changes its behavior.
Mattis spoke alongside Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko after a meeting with him and other leaders in Kyiv.
The Pentagon chief reiterated U.S. support for Ukraine and its military, and said Washington does not accept Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea.
“Have no doubt, the United States also stands with Ukraine in all things. We support you in the face of threats to sovereignty and territorial integrity and to international law and the international order at large. We do not and we will not accept Russia’s seizure of the Crimea and despite Russia’s denials, we know they’re seeking to redraw international borders by force, undermining the sovereign and free nations of Europe.”
He also said sending lethal weapons to Ukraine is something being strongly considered by the Trump administration.
“We’ve just approved, just very recently, last couple of weeks, another $175 million worth of equipment including some specialized equipment that can be used to help defend the country, bringing it to a total of nearly $750 million in the last several years." Mattis said. "I would also point out that on defensive lethal weapons, we are actively reviewing it.”
The previous administration under president Barack Obama held the view that the provision of defensive lethal weapons to Ukraine would unnecessarily provoke Russia, but the administration of President Donald Trump has reopened considerations of the previously-rejected plan.
When asked whether Russia might see such a move as a threat, Mattis responded that “defensive weapons are not provocative unless you're an aggressor.”
President Poroshenko didn’t directly respond when asked about a timeline for any weapons transfers, but noted that defensive weapons “would increase the price if Russia made the decision to attack my troops and my territory.''
Mattis said Russia is not “adhering to the letter, much less the spirit” of commitments in the Minsk Agreements to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as well as other deals the country has endorsed.
“The U.S. and our allies will continue to press Russia to honor its Minsk commitments and our sanctions will remain in place until Moscow reverses the actions that triggered them," Mattis said. "As President Trump has made clear, the United States remains committed to diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.”