Can you comment briefly on which meetings you had today and which goals you have for these meetings?
– Today, it was, I think, really important for me to communicate with all the Ukrainian government officials that I met with that the United States is standing by Ukraine in this difficult time, and that we condemn Russia’s reckless act of aggression in the Kerch Strait, and that we continue to commit to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, extending into the maritime domain. So I met with a variety of officials, actually, to include the Parliament, and in all of those meetings we had very constructive discussions about how the U.S. has been supporting Ukraine with security assistance, and how we will continue to support Ukraine with security assistance.
And, if we go farther on that question, can we expect – Ukraine – can we expect any increase in cooperation between the United States and Ukraine on military issues after this last aggression of Russia in the Kerch Strait?
– I’ll say that, first of all, we had a strong record of support for Ukrainian security assistance since 2014, and at this point we have spent $1.1 billion in U.S. assistance. This coming year, the U.S. Congress has authorized $250 million in security assistance, so one of my goals for this visit was to discuss with the Government of Ukraine what its priority needs are for security assistance. Certainly we have already been talking about assistance in the maritime domain prior to this recent crisis and aggression, but now I think we’re considering how we might further expand our assistance in the maritime domain. We also have the recently published Ukrainian Naval Strategy, which really charts the course for how Ukraine wants to pursue maritime capabilities. So this gives us an opportunity to support that.
Was it discussed, the question of transferring those American frigates?
– Right now we’re in the process of transferring two Island-class patrol boats from the U.S. Coast Guard, and that is underway, and we had a really wonderful ceremony with President Poroshenko a few months ago where he came to the United States, and in Baltimore actually oversaw a ceremony for that transfer. And that process is underway. And we’re looking at the range of other possible requirements that Ukraine may have in the maritime domain. And we will consider how we might factor those into our assistance package.
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If coming from Ukraine to other allies of United States in Black Sea region – do you have any plans to do anything increasing of capabilities or increasing the presence in this region?
– I think it’s important to note that all of our assistance comes within an international context, a NATO context, certainly we’re helping support and train Ukrainian forces to meet NATO standards and we’re very fortunate to have NATO partners as part of the security assistance team, to include in the Defense Reform Advisory Board. So we consult frequently with all the NATO allies on how we might better support Ukraine. And then in terms of actual NATO deployments, we’ve seen a big increase in NATO presence in the Black Sea over the past year. The statistics are actually pretty impressive: in 2017, NATO countries had 80 patrols in the Black Sea, whereas we increased in 2018 to 120 days of patrols in the Black Sea. So you’re seeing already a substantial increase. You’re also seeing at NATO considerable dialogue on Black Sea security, which is quite impressive.
There’s another development that I’d like to make sure that you’re aware of from today, I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to hear about our Open Skies Treaty flight that occurred over Ukraine today. But I think this is important to mention because it’s yet another sign of international support for Ukraine in the midst of this aggression. So the United States actually piloted the plane, and it flew from Andrews Air Force Base to Germany, and then from Germany to Ukraine today, and this flight was part of the Open Skies treaty, which allows for reciprocal observation flights and is intended to promote transparency. So the United States was piloting it, but it’s really important to note that there were many other countries involved. In fact we had Canada, Germany, France, the UK, Romania, and of course Ukraine all on board the plane, with 25 U.S. crew members. So I think this is another important to mention – how we’re using an arms control mechanisms to increase transparency and show international support for Ukraine.
As I know, some countries have postponed or freezed some projects regarding the military assistance to Ukraine because of upcoming elections in Ukraine next year. Somehow want to wait until the results come in. Can you tell the position of DoD, of the United States, of that exist issue – so are you going to freeze or continue or wait until elections?
– I would say the United States is steady in its assistance to Ukraine, and we have been before the elections, we are during this period of time, and we will be after. One sign of that steady support in the security assistance domain is the fact that General Dayton, retired General Dayton who is also the director of the Marshall Center, visited last week in his new capacity as the Secretary of Defense’s senior advisor for defense reform. He is replacing retired General Abizaid who had that role previously. So you can see we’re maintaining the momentum even as General Abizaid moves on to a new assignment. Secretary Mattis has appointed General Dayton to be able to continue this very important defense reform work through this period of time. You know, you mentioned elections, and I think it’s important also to note that the United States’ interest in this election is just seeing a free and fair election. The United States has no particular candidate that it is advocating for, but we do want to see these democratic processes proceed.
As the open sources shows, Russia is developing some new military units near Ukraine-Russia border, deploying more forces, and those forces are mostly attacking by nature. Does the U.S. regard this information while developing relationships between the United States and Ukraine?
– The United States is monitoring very closely the situation in Ukraine and the surrounding region and closely monitoring Russian activities globally. In terms of Ukraine and our approach to Ukraine’s security assistance, it’s a dynamic approach. So as Ukraine’s security assistance needs evolve, as its capability needs evolve, we’re taking that into account. And we’re taking our cues from what the Government of Ukraine says it needs.
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Do you have some signs or some information that the last attack in the Kerch Strait was pre-planned?
– I would just point to what Secretary Mattis said about the attack. He described it as a flagrant violation of international law, and a cavalier use of force.
Laura K. Cooper. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia. Prior assignments in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy include: Director of the Strategy office, where she helped manage the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review; Acting Director for South Asia; and Afghanistan Team Chief, Stability Operations Office. Prior to joining the Department of Defense in 2001, Ms. Cooper was a policy planning officer at the State Department in the Office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism. She has also served as a Junior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Ms. Cooper has a Master of Science in Foreign Service degree from Georgetown University, a Master of Science in National Resource Strategy degree from the Industrial College of Armed Forces at National Defense University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Northwestern University.