U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was due on April 10 to embark on a series of overseas meetings with U.S. allies amid rising tensions between Ukraine and Russia and what Washington calls Moscow's "destabilizing behavior."
During the week ahead, Austin is due to meet with government and military leaders in Israel, Germany, at NATO Headquarters in Belgium, and in the United Kingdom, RFE/RL reported.
A Pentagon statement late on April 8 said Austin will "meet with his counterparts and other senior officials to discuss the importance of international defense relationships, and reinforce the United States' commitment to deterrence and defense, burden sharing, and enduring trans-Atlantic security."
The first stop on Austin's four-country tour is Israel where he was due to arrive on April 11. During his two-day visit there, Austin is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benjamin Gantz.
On April 13, Austin is scheduled to meet in Berlin with German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Chancellery Foreign and Security Policy Adviser Jan Hecker.
Read alsoBlinken talks about Ukraine with French, German foreign ministersThe Pentagon says the agenda of Austin's Berlin talks include "combatting the malign influence of our shared strategic rivals, and continued dialogue on U.S. force posture in Germany and elsewhere."
The Pentagon says Austin's April 14 meeting in Brussels with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will focus on "how the Alliance is tackling destabilizing behavior by Russia," as well as "rising China, terrorism, and global challenges such as COVID-19 and climate change."
The status of indirect talks in Vienna between U.S. and Iranian officials was expected to be on their agenda.
The Vienna talks are focusing on steps that the United States and Iran each need to take to get back into compliance with a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers – which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018.
The final item on Austin's agenda, after visiting NATO headquarters in Brussels, is talks in the United Kingdom with Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace.
Russian troops amassed along Ukraine's borders
- On March 30, 2021, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Colonel-General Ruslan Khomchak said Russia had deployed 28 battalion tactical groups along the state border of Ukraine and in the temporarily occupied territories. It is also said to be planning to bring up to 25 battalion tactical groups under the guise of preparing for military drills. Such actions pose a threat to Ukraine's military security.
- The U.S. Department of Defense said it was "aware of Russian troop movements" on Ukraine's borders and was concerned about recent escalations of Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine.
- On April 1, 2021, the Kremlin commented on the movement of Russian troops near Ukraine's borders, saying this should not cause "any concern" to anyone.
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Moscow is trying to put pressure on Kyiv by amassing its military forces along the Russian-Ukrainian border. At the same time, he assures Ukraine is ready to counter any provocation and continues to defend in the negotiations the position of maintaining a more effective ceasefire in Donbas.
- The Ukrainian Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate does not rule out that enemy forces may try to go for an incursion and deploy their troops deeper into the territory of Ukraine. According to intelligence reports, Russia is building up its military presence near the Ukrainian borders and is completing the preparation of a set of measures aimed at forcing Ukraine into a military response.
- On April 1, 2021, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Ukrainian Defense Minister Andriy Taran had a phone call on the initiative of the American side. Austin condemned the recent aggressive and provocative actions by Russia in eastern Ukraine and assured his counterpart of U.S. readiness to support Ukraine in the context of Russia's ongoing aggression in Donbas and Crimea.
- In turn, the Kremlin vowed "additional measures" if the U.S. troops are deployed on the territory of Ukraine.
- U.S. President Joe Biden in his first call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on April 2, 2021, affirmed the U.S. "unwavering support" for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity "in the face of Russia's ongoing aggression" in Donbas and Crimea.