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Mattis in Kiev: Russia 'Seeking to Redraw International Borders by Force'

Defense Secretary Jame Mattis joined President Petro Poroshenko for a military parade in Kiev today to mark Ukrainian independence, calling the day a “refreshing sense of independence, of freedom, and a reminder to me, as an American, not to take something for granted, because our country’s had it so long.”

Poroshenko said Mattis had promised to attend the parade during his June visit to the Pentagon, and followed through as “a real and genuine friend of Ukraine.”

At a joint press conference, the Ukrainian leader said he’s “grateful” that Mattis supports the position that Crimea “belongs to Ukraine and it should come back to Ukraine.”

“I would like to thank you for your visit, for your presence and for your participation in the military parade in Ukraine,” Poroshenko added. “This is the position of the real and genuine friend of Ukraine.”

Mattis said he should “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 writ large,” he said. “We do not, and we will not, accept Russia’s seizure of the Crimea. And despite Russia’s denials, we know they are seeking to redraw international borders by force, undermining the sovereign and free nations of Europe.”

“Russia put its reputation on the line when it accepted the Minsk ceasefire agreement, which called for an immediate ceasefire, withdrawal of all the heavy weapons, and to grant the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe unfettered access under the Minsk agreement,” the Defense secretary continued. “In 1994, Russia signed the Budapest memorandum, as the president said, and alongside the United States, the United Kingdom and Ukraine. And that provided Ukraine with assurances that all parties — all parties would respect its independence, its sovereignty and its existing borders.”

“And in that memorandum, Russia also promised to refrain from the threat or use of force in exchange for the Ukraine’s relinquishment of nuclear weapons. Once again, under the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, Russia agreed to refrain from the threat or use of force against each other or any other state, its sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence. Unfortunately, Russia is not adhering to the letter, much less the spirit, of these international commitments.”

Mattis said the United States understands “the strategic challenges associated with Russian aggression” and remains “committed to upholding the widely accepted international norms that have increased global stability since the tragedy of World War II.”

“By being here, I’m making a statement that we intend to strengthen the relationship between our two countries. I need to come here and to better understand the situation your soldiers face on the front lines,” Mattis said. “This permits me, better informed, to go back and advocate for what I believe you need, as brought to me by your minister of defense and, certainly, your president. For example, 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 to a total of nearly $750 million in the last several years.”

“So we are in this very, very much in support of you. I would also point out that, on the defensive lethal weapons, we are — we are actively reviewing it. I will go back, now, having seen the current situation, and be able to inform the secretary of State and the president in very specific terms what I recommend for the direction ahead.”

Mattis emphasized that “defensive weapons are not provocative unless you’re an aggressor, and clearly, Ukraine is not an aggressor, since it’s their own territory where the fighting is happening.”