Biden defense chief voices support for Ukraine in call

Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinGOP lawmakers press administration on US weapons left behind in Afghanistan Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation Milley tests positive for COVID-19 MORE spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart on Thursday as high-stakes discussions between Russia and NATO have appeared to falter.

Austin spoke by phone with Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov “to discuss Russia’s ongoing and unprovoked military buildup in and around Ukraine,” Pentagon press secretary John KirbyJohn KirbyRussia removing staff from Kyiv embassy: report Blinken to travel to Ukraine amid tensions with Russia Overnight Defense & National Security — Texas hostage situation rattles nation MORE told reporters.

The spokesman said there was no specific discussion of military items that the Biden administration might agree to provide to Kyiv to help the country defend itself against Russia.

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Austin did, however, reaffirm “unwavering U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, including ongoing efforts to build the capacity of Ukraine’s forces through the provision of defensive assistance,” the Pentagon said in a readout of the call.

Russia has amassed roughly 100,000 troops at its border with Ukraine, sparking warnings from Western world leaders that Russia may move to invade the former Soviet state.

Moscow, meanwhile, has denied that it is planning an invasion, claiming its forces are there to respond to threatening military moves by NATO, which Ukraine hopes to join. The Kremlin has also released security demands for the U.S. and NATO, including that the alliance cease expansion, thus denying Kyiv’s application to the organization.

In an attempt to quell tensions, U.S., NATO and Russian officials have met for talks this week, including bilateral discussion between Washington and Moscow on Monday in Geneva and between Russia and NATO on Wednesday in Brussels.

The Russian delegation is now expected to return to Moscow and brief Russian President Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinUS raises concerns about Russian troop movements to Belarus Putin tests a model for invading Ukraine, outwitting Biden's diplomats White House says Russia could launch attack in Ukraine 'at any point' MORE about the offers for ongoing dialogue, though it's unclear if they will return for more talks.