With Mattis Visiting, Blast Hits Central Kiev on Ukrainian Independence Day

At least two people were wounded in the explosion in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, currently hosting U.S. Secretary of Defense James 'Mad Dog' Mattis

Two people were injured by an explosion in the center of Kiev, Ukraine's capital, on Independence Day, police said on Thursday, as U.S. Defense Secretary James "Mad Dog" Mattis was visiting.

Olena Gitlyanska, spokeswoman for Ukraine's state security service, said the blast, at around 2 P.M., was most likely an act of hooliganism. 

The local television channel 112 showed a woman lying on the ground in the street near the government building. Witnesses told the TV channel that the explosive device seemed to have been thrown from a passing car.

On the 26th anniversary of Ukraine's independence from Moscow, Mattis accused Russia of menacing Europe and suggested that he favors providing Ukraine with defensive lethal weapons.

Mattis also said the Trump administration will not accept Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.

After attending a spirted and colorful independence day parade, Mattis met with President Petro Poroshenko and other top government leaders. He is the first Pentagon chief to visit the former Soviet republic since Robert Gates in 2007.

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis walks past honor guards during a welcoming ceremony in Kiev, Ukraine August 24, 2017.
GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS

"Have no doubt," Mattis said at a news conference with Poroshenko. "The United States stands with Ukraine." He said Washington does not, "and we will not," accept Russia's annexation of Crimea, a 2014 action that was followed by Russian military intervention in support of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Poroshenko told reporters that Crimea is Ukrainian territory. "It should come back to Ukraine," he said.

Mattis was blunt in his criticism of Russia and said his presence in Kiev is intended as a statement of the depth of American commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty.

"Despite Russia's denials, we know they are seeking to redraw international borders by force," Mattis said, an ambition by Moscow that the secretary said is undermining sovereign European nations and stirring tension.

Asked by a reporter whether he agrees with the Obama administration's view that selling defensive lethal weapons to Ukraine would provoke Moscow, Mattis replied, "Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you're an aggressor."

Mattis declined to say explicitly what he would recommend to the White House on the weapons issue. He did not say so, but it is known that the Pentagon and the State Department have recommended going ahead with defensive weapons transfers to Ukraine.

Poroshenko sidestepped the question of how soon he expects a White House decision on arms. He said, however, that Moscow should realize that stepping up U.S. military support for Kiev "would increase the price if Russia made the decision to attack my troops and my territory."

Poroshenko said an estimated 3,000 "regular" Russian troops are in eastern Ukraine.