US Vice President Mike Pence sought to reassure European allies on Saturday of his country's "unwavering" support of NATO, amid unease about President Donald Trump's unpredictable foreign policy stance, particularly towards Russia.
During a speech at the Munich Security Conference, Pence said he had come to deliver a message from Trump that "the United States of America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in its support of this transatlantic alliance."
Trump has often referred to NATO as "obsolete," although he and his cabinet have since talked about how vital the alliance is.
Pence, who is on his first overseas trip as vice president, said the US would "hold Russia accountable" to the 2015 Minsk agreement, which committed Moscow to disarm separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"Know this," said Pence. "The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable, even as we search for new common ground, which as you know President Trump believes can be found."
Pence said that the US would strengthen its military arsenal and increase its defence spending, and that the country would become "stronger than ever before" under Trump.
A senior Russia lawmaker expressed disappointment at Pence's remarks, which he said "unequivocally blamed" Russia for the violence in eastern Ukraine.
In a Facebook post, Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Russian upper house of parliament's foreign affairs committee, said the Trump administration's stance towards Moscow was contradictory.
During a short speech in Munich, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that his country was seeking a "constructive" relationship with the US, adding that "Russia is not seeking conflict with anyone but will protect its interests."
Lavrov's comments were critical of NATO, which he said remained an institution of the Cold War.
Pence later met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and expressed concern about the recent surge in violence in eastern Ukraine. Pence and Poroschenko agreed on the need for an immediate comprehensive ceasefire, a White House statement said.
Pence underscored US support for Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination and said the US "does not recognize Russia's occupation and attempted annexation of the Crimean peninsula."
The vice president also expressed US support for the full implementation of the Minsk agreements and the leaders discussed how the US could support negotiations, the statement said.
Earlier on Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the conference that NATO was "very much in the German and the European interest, but also in the interest of the United States."
The German leader emphasized the importance of maintaining multilateral structures, and acknowledged that Europe needed the strength of the United States to fight international terrorism.
Merkel and Pence held a bilateral meeting after their speeches at the conference, which brings together 30 heads of state and government as well as 80 foreign and defence ministers in the Bavarian capital.
Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Merkel, emphasized the "close and amicable bilateral relationship" between Germany and the US and said the two leaders had spoken about the conflicts in Syria, Libya and Afghanistan and about the peace process in eastern Ukraine.