SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — The U.S. Secretary of State assured allies bordering the Black Sea on Monday that they could depend on his country's support to make the region more secure, prosperous and integrated.

Addressing the attendees of the Second Black Sea Security Conference in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, via a video feed, Antony Blinken underscored the importance of investing in the region’s security to ensure peace and freedom across Europe.

BLINKEN SAYS UKRAINE WILL EVENTUALLY 'BECOME A MEMBER OF NATO'

Russia illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula — on the northern coast of the Black Sea — in 2014. It has served as a key hub supporting the Russian invasion of Ukraine which President Vladimir Putin ordered in Feb. 2022.

"Putin believed that Ukraine’s neighbors in the region would be divided, but he was wrong," Blinken said, adding that "the United States will continue to support Ukraine both so it can defend itself today and stand on its feet."

Blinken speaking in Tokyo

The U.S. Secretary of State has assured allies bordering the Black Sea they can depend on his country's support to make the region more secure, prosperous and integrated. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)

His Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, said his country needed essential military support, including artillery, ammunition, and air defense systems to bolster its capacity in the face of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion.

Kuleba, also speaking via video, said increasing the capabilities of the Ukrainian air defense will also strengthen regional and global stability, as it in turn protects the security of Ukraine’s neighbors and the entire Black Sea region from Russian aerial terror.

"Today, there’s no other language Moscow understands better than the language of force. This is what they respect, anything else is seen as a weakness," the Ukrainian foreign minister said.

Kubela also said the Black Sea must become "the sea of NATO, of peace and stability," calling on the alliance to implement "a comprehensive and ambitious Black Sea strategy aimed at reducing Russia’s malign influence."

NATO marked its 75th anniversary earlier this month while weighing a plan to provide more predictable longer-term military support to Ukraine.

The Kremlin wants Kyiv to acknowledge Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and recognize the annexation of the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia. Ukraine has adamantly refused.

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The conference is co-organized by the Bulgarian and Ukrainian foreign and defense ministries in partnership with Ukraine’s Centre for Defence Strategies and aims at strengthening security in the Black Sea region.

Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine border the Black Sea.

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