U.S. Tells Russia to Return Crimea to Ukraine, Stop Cyber Attacks on America and Allies

The U.S. has affirmed Ukraine's sovereignty despite Russia's aggression within the nation.

In a meeting with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasized the U.S. and its allies support Ukraine's authority in the future of their foreign policy.

Zelenskyy has said that the U.S. is Ukraine's "chief partner in security and defense" as Russia annexation of Crimea in Ukraine threatens the country's territorial integrity.

Austin has criticized Russia for the Ukrainian take over of the peninsula and for their support of the rebels in East Ukraine.

"So we again call on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea, to stop perpetuating the war in eastern Ukraine, to end its destabilizing activities in the Black Sea and along Ukraine's borders, and to halt its persistent cyberattacks and other malign activities against the United States and our allies and partners," Austin said during a press conference in Kyiv alongside Zelensky.

Russia and U.S. relations have seen a cold-war low. The U.S. has continued to step up and partner with Russia's neighbors like Ukraine in an effort to show solidarity in military reforms.

"We will continue to do everything we can to support Ukraine's efforts to develop the capability to defend itself," Austin said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Lloyd Austin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, shakes hands with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during their meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

The tensions rose once again earlier this year when Russia increased troop numbers near its borders with Ukraine, including in Crimea, fueling international concerns.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 following the ouster of the country's Moscow-leaning president. Moscow also has thrown its weight behind a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine that erupted weeks after the annexation of Crimea and has killed more than 14,000.

The Kremlin has described Ukraine's bid for prospective membership in NATO as a red line and a major threat to its security.

Speaking after his talks in Kyiv on Tuesday, Austin underlined that "no third country has a veto over NATO's membership decisions."

"Ukraine, as you have heard me saying earlier, has the right to decide its own future foreign policy and we expect they will be able to do that without any outside interference," he said. "And again, we continue to work together with our partner to make sure that the right things are at place, to ensure that Ukraine can defend itself and protect its territories.