U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin recently visited three countries in the Black Sea region, Georgia, Ukraine, and Romania.
He praised the strong security partnerships and values the countries share with the United States; recognized the sacrifices Georgia and Romania made as part of the coalition of forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; and reiterated U.S. support for the three countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, as they continue to face pressure from the Russian government’s malign activity.
“It goes without saying that the region is vulnerable to Russian aggression, and we have seen evidence of that by ongoing actions in eastern Ukraine, occupation of parts of Georgia, militarization of the Black Sea, and provocative actions in the air and at sea,” Secretary Austin said. “Russia’s destabilizing activities…reflect its ambitions to regain a dominant position in the region and to prevent the realization of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.”
Secretary Austin told reporters that the United States “treasure[s] the tremendous partnership and cooperation that we receive from our partners” in the region, and he noted that the U.S. will continue to provide assistance to enhance the maritime capabilities of Georgia, Ukraine, Romania, as well as Bulgaria, in support of efforts to deter and defend against Russia’s malign activities.
Secretary Austin’s visit to the three countries also underscored NATO’s interest in Black Sea security – Romania as a key NATO ally, and Ukraine and Georgia as partner states which aspire to NATO membership.
The Defense Secretary called Romania “an important example for Allied commitment on sharing responsibility, defense modernization, and contributing to NATO missions in Europe and beyond.” He also praised Romania for being one of the handful of NATO allies that hosts a significant number of U.S. rotational forces.
In Georgia and Ukraine, Secretary Austin made clear that strengthening democratic institutions is also a bulwark against corruption and aggression, and he encouraged both governments to follow through on reforms that will advance their Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
“Security and stability of the Black Sea are in the U.S. national interest and are critical to the security of NATO’s Eastern Flank,” Secretary Austin said. “We will stay focused on it, and we will continue to work with our partners in the region.”