By DoD News
By Jim Garamone
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III hosted a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group to coordinate aid to help Ukraine defend itself from the unprovoked Russian invasion.
Some 44 nations participated in the group meeting, up from the first meeting held at Ramstein Air Base, Germany last month.
The capabilities and supplies this group delivers to Ukraine are making a difference on the battlefields, Austin said. “We’re all here today because of the extraordinary valor and resilience of Ukraine soldiers and citizens,” the secretary said in introductory remarks at the virtual gathering. “For three months, Ukraine has been fighting with grit and tactical ingenuity against an entirely unprovoked invasion by its far larger neighbor.”
The aid effort has helped the Ukraine military defeat Russia in the Battle for Kyiv — the Ukrainian capital that was the objective of Russian forces in the early days of the war. Russian forces were pushed back and now are repositioned and trying to gain victory by attacking Ukraine’s eastern and southern provinces.
“We’re here to help Ukraine for the long haul,” Austin said. “In this new phase, Ukraine is fighting just as hard and just as well. Ukrainian armed forces are skillfully using systems, both old and new. They’ve stalled Russia’s offensive in the east and continue to seize the initiative. Throughout, Ukraine has shown the world the military and moral power of a free people coming together to defend their democracy from aggression and atrocities.”
The participants received a battlefield update from Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexei Reznikoff and the deputy commander of the Ukrainian military. They received an intelligence assessment from Ukrainian officials.
Austin and other American officials have been in daily contact with Ukrainian leaders to assess the evolving situation on the battlefield, and to ensure Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself. That equipment includes anti-armor and anti-air capabilities, howitzers and ammunition, unmanned aerial vehicles, Mi-17 helicopters and more. Members of the contact group have also supplied rations, small-arms ammunition, medical supplies, uniforms and other necessities.
“We’ve also provided counter artillery radars and electronic jamming equipment,” Austin said. “And we’re hoping to train Ukrainian forces on many new capabilities. I know that everyone here has shared that sense of urgency. We all understand the threat that Russian aggression poses to European security, and to the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure.”
The contact group itself is growing. Austin welcomed Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Ireland and Kosovo to the teleconference.
This aid is making a difference. He noted that Canada and Australia committed to providing M-777 howitzers to Ukraine during the first meeting at Ramstein. “In just four weeks, all those systems have been delivered to the Ukrainians,” Austin said.
Other capabilities have moved as fast with the United Kingdom providing Brimstone missiles and a new short-range air defense system, he said. Other countries “have pushed hard to stand up important new training missions.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war continues, “and we must all plan for the challenges ahead,” Austin said. This means sustained support for the Ukrainian military. “That’s why President [Joe] Biden recently signed a $40 billion funding bill to help Ukraine,” he said. “The additional defense resources in the bill will help us to send Ukraine even more artillery and armored vehicles and ammunition.”
The most recent tranche of U.S. equipment dedicated to Ukraine includes 18 more howitzers, 18 tactical vehicles to tow them, counter artillery, radars, field equipment and urgently needed spare parts. “So the United States will continue to do our part,” the secretary said. “And I welcome the opportunity to hear from you today on your current contributions of security assistance, and pledges to do even more.”