US Secretary of Defense Determined to Safeguard Eastern Europe

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the Biden administration was committed to strengthening Euro-Atlantic ties while securing countries squeezed (with Russia) east of NATO.

Speaking in Bucharest Wednesday (20/10), Austin praised Romania for setting an “important example for allies’ commitment to shared responsibilities” and modernization of defense.

Romania is one of the few NATO countries that budgets more than 2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on defense, with 20 percent of that spending on modernization which are two of NATO’s main spending goals.

The country also houses about 1,000 U.S. rotating troops that help keep the Black Sea region safe.

Austin thanked Romania for its years of participation in Afghanistan, before US and international troops began withdrawing in mid-August.

Days before the withdrawal was complete, the Taliban recaptured Kabul, an end that the top US military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley, called a “strategic failure.”

NATO countries other than the US lost more than a thousand military members in the war for 20 years. About 2,400 Americans have died fighting in Afghanistan.

Bradley Bowman, an Afghan War veteran and defense expert for the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told FLY that he believes America’s reputation has been “stained” by Afghanistan.

President Joe Biden continued to defend the team’s withdrawal, calling it “the right, wise, best decision for America.”

The NATO defense ministers meeting Thursday and Friday will be the first since the fall of Kabul, and Bowman said Austin needed to address concerns about whether the United States could be counted on to honor its defense commitments to allies.

“Because if the allies question it, so will the aggressors,” Bowman said.

Defense officials told FLY, Austin and NATO allies will discuss where their military focus is now that NATO forces are out of Afghanistan.

Austin’s visit to Romania follows visits to Ukraine and Georgia, two countries that want to join NATO and which are partly occupied by Russia and Russian-backed forces.

Tensions are rising between Russia and NATO, with Russia on Monday announcing it was suspending its permanent mission to NATO in response to the alliance’s expulsion of eight Russian citizens earlier this month.

Speaking in Kyiv Tuesday (19/10), Austin called Russia an “obstacle” to any peaceful resolution to the war raging in eastern Ukraine.

“We once again call on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea, to stop perpetuating the war in eastern Ukraine, to end its destabilizing activity in the Black Sea and along Ukraine’s borders,” Austin said.

Earlier this year, the largest number of Russian troops was deployed near the Ukrainian border since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea from Kyiv. However, Russia immediately withdrew its troops, after taking part in exercises near the Ukrainian border.

Russia still occupies about a fifth of Georgia’s territory. [my/lt]

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