On October 18th, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin began his three-nation visit by landing in Georgia’s Tbilisi.
Wheels down in Georgia. The United States is committed to helping Georgia build its defense capacity and advance its Euro-Atlantic integration, and I’m looking forward to my meetings here. pic.twitter.com/TJy25tfn90
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) October 18, 2021
Austin also tweeted that he looked forward to meeting with his “counterparts and other senior officials” to reiterate the United States’ commitment to its allies in the region.
He is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili and other high officials of the Black Sea nation.
From Georgia, Austin will move on to Ukraine and Romania before ending up in Brussels on October 21 to take part in a two-day NATO summit.
The Biden administration needs to pay more attention to Georgia to head off a potential tilt toward Russia as well as China, said political scientist David Kramer at Florida International University, who is a former senior US diplomat.
“There is growing concern that the government is a little too flexible to Moscow,” he said.
“Part of that is frustration with a lack of progress that they see toward integration with NATO.”
In Ukraine, Austin will meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Minister of Defense Andrii Taran to reiterate Washington’s support the Kiev government.
The visit to Kiev will also serve as an opportunity for the US Defense Secretary to outline Ukraine’s defense requirements to meet its Euro-Atlantic needs.
As per the Defense Department, Austin will stress in both Georgia and Ukraine that there is an open door to NATO and encourage the nations to make the changes necessary for them to qualify for membership in the defensive alliance.
Austin is also going to recognize the nations for their support. “In terms of sacrifices, it is important to note that Georgia … was the top, per capita contributor to the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, and suffered many losses from that mission,” the official said.
Austin said “no third country has a veto over NATO’s membership decisions. Ukraine, as you heard me say earlier, has a right to decide its own future foreign policy and we expect that they will be able to do that without any outside interference.”
Officials called Romania a “role-model ally,” and Austin will express America’s appreciation. “Romania … is doing just about everything that we could possibly ask of a NATO ally, so we have the opportunity to recognize that and appreciate that,” the official said.
In Romania, Austin will meet with President Klaus Iohannis and Minister of National Defense Nicolae-Ionel Ciuca.
The visit to Romania also aims to bolster bilateral strategic partnership and strengthen NATO’s Eastern Flank as well as recognize Romania’s leadership in Black Sea security issues.
Austin will also visit American servicemen based in the US airbase located in southeastern Romania near the Black Sea.
In Belgium, Austin will participate in his first in-person NATO defense ministerial summit.
All this ties into the NATO Defense Ministerial in Brussels. Austin will meet with alliance defense ministers to chart the course based on the agreement of national leaders at the summit in June. This is the first in-person ministerial since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and officials said Austin will participate in a full slate of meetings at the alliance level and bilaterally with many allies.
The ministers will study the NATO 2030 agenda that looks to keep the alliance strong and relevant into the future. The leaders will also discuss Russia and, increasingly, they’re discussing the problems posed by China.
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