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Mattis vows US military support for Ukraine against Russian ‘aggression’

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (R) listens to US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis during a press conference after their meeting in Kiev on August 24, 2017. (AFP photo)

US Defense Secretary James Mattis has vowed continued American support for Ukraine’s military in the face of Russian "aggression."

Mattis said Thursday that US sanctions against Russia would remain in place until Moscow stops supporting pro-independence militias in eastern Ukraine and returns Crimea to Kiev.

"Have no doubt, the United States stands with Ukraine," Mattis said at a press conference in Kiev with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

“We support you in the face of threats to sovereignty and territorial integrity, to international law, and to the international order writ large," he said.

Mattis accused Moscow of "seeking to redraw international borders by force.”

"We do not, and we will not, accept Russia's seizure of 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."

Mattis's visit, timed to coincide with Ukraine’s independence anniversary from the former Soviet Union, comes one month after a trip by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Kiev in July.

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The US and its allies had levied broad economic sanctions against Russia over its alleged support for pro-Russia separatist forces in eastern Ukraine and Moscow's reunification with Crimea after a referendum in 2014.

The armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, which was initiated by Kiev after it deployed forces to crack down on pro-democracy autonomy-seekers in the Russian-speaking region, has left more than 10,000 people dead.

The United States has also deployed a contingent of troops to Eastern Europe near Russia’s border since 2014. The US deployments have been supplemented by four NATO battle groups of more than 1,000 soldiers.

The Pentagon chief also accused Russia of not abiding by the Minsk ceasefire agreement meant to end violence in eastern Ukraine.

"The US 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," he said.

Some comments made by US President Donald Trump during last year’s election campaign, such as appearing to recognize Crimea as part of Russia, provoked fears in Kiev that Washington might improve relations with Moscow at the Ukraine’s expense.

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