By DoD News
By Lisa Ferdinando
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III meets with allies at NATO headquarters in Belgium this week to discuss the continued support for the defense of Ukraine, amid Russia’s unprovoked invasion and recent attacks against civilian targets and infrastructure, according to a defense official.
Austin is leading the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting on Wednesday and attending a meeting of NATO defense ministers on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, he’ll participate in a meeting of the Bucharest Nine to discuss areas of concern to the countries on NATO’s eastern flank, according to the official, who spoke to reporters traveling with Austin to Brussels.
The nine are: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
Austin will be joined at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley and defense officials from nearly 50 nations. Talks will include “a real practical manifestation of that ongoing support and unity” to provide Ukraine with the means necessary to defend itself, the official said.
The most important message is that “even in the context of events of the last week which are obviously horrific,” the official said, these leaders are coming together to signal their enduring support and that they will not be dissuaded or deterred from supporting Ukraine.
The recent Russian attacks across Ukraine include the use of unmanned aerial vehicles and cruise missiles to attack “what are clearly not military targets,” with Ukrainian citizens being killed and Russia seeking to instill fear in the population, the official said.
After the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, Austin is attending the meeting of NATO defense ministers, which is focused on implementing the historic decisions made at the NATO Summit in Madrid earlier this year, according to the official.
The official said NATO defense ministers will review progress on strengthening NATO’s deterrence and defense, the broader commitment of NATO to global security, and the specifics on implementation of some of the key decisions from Madrid, including recommitment to NATO’s nuclear deterrence.
The official noted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “irresponsible language” about nuclear weapons, saying such talk is contrary to Russia’s obligations under international law as a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
“So, it is raising concerns, but what it is not doing is fracturing NATO unity,” the official said, adding that in the coming days the “strength in unity” mindset will be evident among the defense ministers and will indicate that “Russia is not achieving what it hopes to achieve through these threats.”
Austin will also meet with representatives of Finland and Sweden, who are seeking to join the alliance and were invited to attend the defense ministers’ meeting. Discussions will focus on the process for joining NATO and issues of regional concern.