STAFF: Well, good afternoon, everyone. Thank you so much for being here today.
It is my pleasure to introduce Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General CQ Brown, Jr. The secretary and the chairman will have some brief opening comments, and then we’ll have time to take just a few questions. Please note I will be moderating those questions. And due to our time constraints, I’d just ask you to please limit your follow-ups to give your colleagues a chance to ask their questions.
And with that, Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Thanks, Pat.
Good afternoon, everybody. Sorry about the delay. It is a busy day, as you know, and the chairman and I were on a conference call there that went a bit long.
But we just held another highly-successful meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, but before I turn to that, I want to take a few moments to discuss the vicious assault by Hamas on the state of Israel.
The more we learn about these sickening atrocities, the worse it gets. Hamas deliberately targeted civilians and massacred them just because they are Jews. Hamas has again killed innocent Americans and civilians from many other countries, and Hamas has abducted entirely innocent civilians.
So the United States continues to stand firm with Israel and the Israeli people. The USS Gerald R. Ford Strike Group has now arrived in the eastern Mediterranean. We’ve also moved to extend U.S. Air Force fighter squadrons in the region, and the Department of Defense stands fully ready to deploy additional assets, if necessary.
As President Biden has said, for any country, for any organization, for anyone thinking about trying to take advantage of the agony in Israel to try to widen this conflict or to try to spill more blood, we have just one word: Don’t.
Additional U.S. military aid to Israel started flowing in yesterday, including key munitions, and we’ll be providing more Iron Dome interceptors so that Israel can protect its citizens and cities, and we’ll continue to ensure that Israel has what it needs to keep itself and its citizens safe.
And like any other country, Israel has a right to defend itself. As the president says, Israel has a duty to defend itself. And make no mistake: The United States will remain able to project power and to direct resources to tackle crises in multiple theaters, so we will stand firmly with Israel as we continue to support Ukraine.
So let me turn to today’s agenda. This was the 16th time that I have convened the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, and I’m pleased that we were joined in person today by President Zelenskyy of Ukraine, and we’re also joined by our outstanding new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General CQ Brown, and he will be an invaluable partner for the Ukrainian people.
Now, President Zelenskyy’s team provided us with a valuable update on Ukraine’s current counteroffensive. Ukraine’s brave troops continue to make steady progress. Yet, as winter approaches, Ukrainians are bracing for Russia to again target Ukraine’s energy grid and civilian infrastructure, and as Putin becomes more cruel, the Ukrainians become more determined.
So we will continue to get them the systems that they need. Just look at the ground-based air defense systems that this coalition has surged into Ukraine. Those systems are saving countless civilian lives from Russia’s bombardments. And that just underscores this Contact Group’s commitment to meeting Ukraine’s urgent near-term requirements.
But today, we also talked about helping Ukraine to defend itself for the long haul and to deter aggression for decades to come. So members of this Contact Group are organizing into what we call capability coalitions, and that’s going to make our security assistance more nimble and help to secure Ukraine’s future.
Now, some of these capability coalitions have already formed. Estonia and Luxembourg will lead a coalition focused on supporting Ukraine’s I.T. infrastructure. Lithuania is leading the way in helping Ukraine neutralize Russian mines on Ukrainian territory, and I’m proud to announce that the United States will step up again to help lead the coalition of countries working with Ukraine to develop its Air Force, and by leading this capability coalition, the United States will coordinate closely with Ukraine and other partners with a focus on developing Ukraine’s F-16 fighter aircraft capability. I’m pleased that Denmark and the Netherlands will be co-leading this coalition together with us.
I’m also proud to announce that the United States will be joining several more of these coalitions as they form in the coming weeks, including those focused on Ukraine’s air defense, armor and artillery, and that shows how much we can do when we come together, but it also shows that American leadership matters. And as Ukraine’s troops face this key moment on the battlefield, we must ensure that America’s indispensable assistance Ukraine continues to flow without disruption.
Since Russia’s unprovoked and all-out invasion last February, the United States has committed $43.9 billion to help support a free and secure Ukraine, and that includes our most recent Ukraine assistance package valued at $200 million.
And we’re in great company. Some-50 other members of this Contact Group have committed more than $33 billion in direct security assistance to Ukraine. In fact, the three biggest European donors to Ukraine, Germany, the United Kingdom and Poland, have all committed more than the United States as a percentage of GDP, and so have many other European countries, including Croatia, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and all three of the Baltic states. Together — today, several countries briefed us on a new assistance packages for Ukraine that they have approved just in the three weeks since we last met in Ramstein.
And Germany will donate another Patriot system and additional Patriot missiles as part of a $1.1 billion package that includes 10 more Leopard A1 tanks, two more IRIS-T air defense systems, and Spain will continue its critical Hawk training mission and will donate additional Hawk equipment, and Sweden approved a $200 million assistance package, including critical artillery ammunition, and Bulgaria will donate components to help Ukraine strengthen its S-300 air defense system.
France committed to provide more CAESAR howitzers and to accelerate their production. The U.K. will provide a new package of aid, including air defense support, 155 millimeter guns and more. And Canada will invest nearly half a billion dollars over the next three years in Ukraine’s armored vehicle capabilities.
And that just underscores the scope of the response from our allies and partners. It’s another reminder of how badly Putin has miscalculated. Instead of demoralizing the Ukrainian people, Putin demoralized the Russian military. And countries everywhere have rejected Putin’s vision of a lawless world where tyrants can invade their peaceful neighbors with impunity.
So we stand united to help defend the free and sovereign Ukraine and to help strengthen the rules-based international order that has made our world so much safer since the end of World War II. That’s what this contact group stands for. That is what Ukraine is fighting for. And we’ll continue to have their backs.
And so with that, General Brown, the floor is yours.
GENERAL CHARLES Q. BROWN JR.: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Good afternoon, everyone.
Let me start by expressing my condolences to the people of Israel and the families who have been hurt by Hamas’s heinous terrorist attacks. Our nation’s commitment to Israel is ironclad. Our joint force has strengthened its posture in the region to support Israel as it protects itself and its people. The joint force continues to work with our Israeli defense force counterparts at multiple levels to ensure they have the means and capabilities to defend themselves and deter future aggression.
Turning to our work here today, I’m honored to have just finished the first Ukraine Defense Contact Group as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And I’m humbled to witness the sustained efforts of this coalition in support of Ukraine.
It reminds me of the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who said, “The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one nation. It cannot be a peace of a large nation or of small nations. It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.”
President Roosevelt delivered these resonant words to Congress as war ravaged the globe, from the plains of Europe to the sands of the Pacific. This generation sought to construct an order of peace and cooperation out of the remnants of conflict and division. This cooperative effort is evident today in this group’s work to assist Ukraine in protecting its nation and its people.
The collective strength of this group is owed to the commitment of each sovereign nation. It’s also a testament to our secretary of defense, Secretary Austin.
Thank you, Secretary Austin, for your unwavering commitment to Ukraine and for leading this group for the last year and a half.
I’m honored that President Zelenskyy joined our session today, bringing with him the undaunted courage of his nation and sharing insights on enhancing this group’s support for Ukraine. Thank you to President Zelenskyy and Defense Minister Umerov for leading Ukraine in its military with character and honor.
Thank you to the ministers of defense, the chiefs of defense and national representatives from some 50 nations that meet nearly every month to organize our collective support for Ukraine.
While this is my first Ukraine Defense Contact Group as chairman of the Joint Chiefs, be assured that our mission, our objectives and our support for Ukraine endures. The effort of this group extends beyond any single individual. It is a unified commitment from a coalition of nations.
Today this coalition fortifies our collective resolve to support a global system where all nations are free to make their own choices, consistent with responsibilities under international law, this system whose values have kept the world’s major powers at peace since 1945, the year that saw the end of the Second World War, a war that cost 50 million lives, a war that devastated the globe.
While much of the world is committed to this lasting peace, other nations are not content allowing their neighbors to prosper. Some nations threaten to subordinate the will of a sovereign nation to the will of an individual aggressor.
Yet, might does not make right. On that fateful day, 24 February, 2022, Russia crossed the Ukrainian border to begin the largest attack on a sovereign European nation in nearly eight decades, but Russian leadership miscalculated.
When the Russian war machine attempted its western march, it was met by the unflinching resolve of a free people of Ukraine, a people that did not want to return to the irons of oppression. And over the last 20 months, Ukraine’s defended its territory and repelled Russia’s unwarranted aggression.
Ukraine continues to press its counter-offensive, making steady progress to reclaim territory. They’ve leveraged armor, unmanned aerial vehicles, and advanced weapons to push through layered Russian lines, and continued support of armor, artillery, and air defense will allow Ukraine to defend its people and retake its territory.
Our collective role is to provide Ukraine with the capabilities it needs to protect itself. But it’s not just about Ukraine, it’s about something larger. It’s about ensuring sovereign nations cannot be invaded without provocation. It’s about upholding the rule of law.
It’s all about us collectively deciding that wars of aggression have no place in our world. As President Roosevelt eloquently said, peace rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world. He made this statement on the 1st of March, 1945, amidst the efforts to create the post-war international order and to create a lasting peace, peace — post-war peace. Since 1945, we stood unified.
Since the 24th of February, 2022, we stood unified. During each phase, this close coalition provided. When columns of Russia’s tanks drew near, this group and these nations armed brave Ukrainians with anti-armor weapons. When Russia attempted to command occupied territory, this group and these nations armed brave Ukrainians with long-range fires. When Russia’s cruise missiles and attack drones filled the Ukrainian skies, this group and these nations armed brave Ukrainians with layered air defense. When Russians attempted to regroup and refit, this group and these nations armed brave Ukrainians with tanks, troop carriers, and armor to go on the offensive. Capability after capability, this group provided.
It’s not always been easy. Unity is not guaranteed. Our goal is not to force our partners into alignment on every challenge, yet this group and these nations have always stood with Ukraine. Today, this group and these nations will stand together. We stand for freedom, we stand for sovereignty, and we stand for Ukraine.
Thank you, and I’ll look forward to your questions.
STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you, Chairman. First question will go to Lita Baldor, Associated Press.
Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, you listed a number of contributions that a number of countries made, but there’s also, as you know, budget gridlock in the United States and efforts to pass the funding for Ukraine has not yet been successful.
How much of a concern is all of that to a lot of the ministers and defense leaders who you met with today? Was there a lot of discussion about what is happening in the U.S.? And was there also concern that the effort to support Israel may take away from the effort to arm Ukraine?
And Mr. Chairman, for you, you got an operational update from Ukraine today. Can you tell us — give us an update on what you learned and whether you believe that the muddy weather and everything that is coming, whether Ukrainian troops, you believe, are postured and equipped and ready for that?
And then secondarily, can you tell us if you have seen any evidence that Hezbollah or other Iranian-backed groups have done any movement at all in — to take advantage of the Israel war?
SEC. AUSTIN: Well, Lita, that was about 12 questions but we’ll try to get to all of them. But thanks for the questions.
The first question is was there a concern on the part of our allies and partners about our ability to continue to support this effort. First of all, let me just point out, as I said earlier, Lita, President Zelenskyy and his entire team were in the room.
It’s the first time that he has attended this series of meetings in person, and it was really powerful for all of my colleagues to get to hear him in person and talk about what his needs and requirements are. Most important, it was important — President Zelenskyy thought it was important that he personally thanked these countries for what they have done and what he hopes that they’ll continue to do.
What I conveyed to my colleagues is that, you know, I believe, as I engage members of Congress, there is still the bipartisan support for Ukraine. And of course democracies will take their time to work things out and they know that these processes have to play themselves out.
I also conveyed to them that there is broad support on the part of the American people for Ukraine, because Ukraine matters. And we’ve talked over and over again about why Ukraine matters. This is not just about Ukraine, this is about the rules-based international order.
In terms of our ability to continue to support both the efforts in Ukraine and the — the efforts in — in Israel as well, absolutely we can do both and we will do both. And, you know, we are the strongest nation in the world, Lita. We’re going to do what’s necessary to help our allies and partners, and we’re going to also do what’s necessary to make sure that we maintain the capability to protect our interests and defend our country.
So with that, I’ll turn it over to the Chairman.
GEN. BROWN: So this is my first, you know, opportunity to meet with General — with President Zelenskyy, but I’ve also had a chance to talk and at least listen in the phone calls with General Zaluzhnyi. And then also, over the course of the past week that I’ve been in the job, you know, get updates from the Joint Staff and our intel team.
And so today, to be able to listen to President Zelenskyy and be able to — as Secretary Austin asked specific questions about their overall objectives, where his real concerns were, I have a better appreciation, you know, more so today than I had when I walked in this morning on where Ukraine is headed and where they want to go.
I think the — after hearing this morning but then also listening — the — later this afternoon to all of the contributions by each of the nations, I do feel we’re putting Ukraine in a good spot. I realize we’re in the winter months, it gets more challenging, but Ukraine has intent to continue their offensive operations throughout the winter months.
And I do believe, based on what what I heard today from each of the nations, we’re doing all of the right things to posture and to be successful.
To your second question on what’s going on in the Middle East, I have not seen any indications of additional players that are going to get involved to the detriment of Israel, and this is one of the reasons we addressed at our force posture. It’s only in support of Israel, but it’s also to deter future action, and those are the kinds of things — and having talked to my counterpart from Israel, they were very appreciative of the steps that we took with our force posture. It helps to deter and those are the things we will continue to do as we pay attention not only to what’s happening in Israel, but continue our you know, to set our posture in support of Ukraine, as well.
SEC. AUSTIN: So, Lita, with those six questions, I think you used up the entire bandwidth there. Just kidding.
STAFF: (inaudible) Thank you, gentlemen. Let’s go to the Kyiv Independent.
Q: So recent media reports have suggested that the U.S. has decided to send ATACMS to Ukraine. When, and in what quantity can we expect them to arrive in Ukraine? And how long do you anticipate the training to take place until Ukraine can receive them? And what is your assessment of Ukraine’s counteroffensive thus far, and how does that affect — how does the results affect the West’s continued support if Ukraine is not able to achieve its goal, especially since Russian defense is very strong right now? And Ukrainian soldiers often say to me that it’s very difficult to advance without air superiority, so when can they finally expect F-16s to arrive, and what are the obstacles that are standing in the way?
SEC. AUSTIN: So your first question was on F-16s and when they — when we expect for them to arrive? Is that — was that the first part of the question?
Q: First question was ATACMS.
SEC. AUSTIN: ATACMS. I don’t have any announcements on ATACMS to make today, but what I will tell you is what we focused on is what we believe Ukraine needs, and we believe that because these are the things that President Zelenskyy addressed today. He spoke of a need for air defense, additional air defense, ground-based air defense capabilities, and also artillery platforms and artillery munitions. And so that’s been our focus, and we have throughout focused on what we know that Ukraine’s going to need, and that focus, I think, has been very, very instrumental in making sure that we can — that President Zelenskyy can protect his cities and also protect his troops. So we’ll continue that work.
And F-16s, in terms of when they would arrive, as you know, we have a training — an F-16 pilot coalition — training coalition that’s working right now to train pilots. That work has begun in Europe, and also, we’re training pilots in the United States, as well.
And as we look at, you know, what it will take to provide an initial capability, this will take months, as we’ve said before, so earliest is next spring, when we can begin to see an initial capability.
Q: And the counteroffensive, your assessment on the counteroffensive?
SEC. AUSTIN: I certainly don’t want to counter what the chairman just said, but my assessment is that the Ukrainians are making steady progress and that’s pretty much, I think, what the chairman said earlier. And again, we’ve been very impressed by the determination, by the valor of the Ukrainian forces, and we will continue to focus on providing the forces and the leadership those things that they need to be successful in this fight on the battlefield.
Q: Thank you.
STAFF: Thank you. Let’s go to Felicia Schwartz, Financial Times.
Q: First for you, Mr. Secretary. Do you believe a ground invasion of Gaza is imminent? And what advice are you giving Israel about that operation?
And for General Brown, do you think that Ukraine needs to change its strategy heading into a pivotal winter as more American funding is uncertain and could be delayed?
SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Felicia. I’ll let Israel talk about its plans and its operations, and I won’t evaluate things one way or the other. I think, you know, my goal and I know the focus of our leadership is to provide support to the Israeli Defense Force, give them — focus on what they need, what they’re asking for and to get it there as quickly as possible. And so we have, you know, established contact with the — or liaison with the Israeli Defense Forces. I’ve talked to the minister of defense near daily since this started, and so we really feel like we have a good feel for what they need. But in terms of their detailed plans, what they’re going to do, what they’re not going to do, I would defer to them, Felicia. I think that’s it’s their effort, and I think they’re still in the planning and assessment mode.
GEN. BROWN: Felicia, what I would say just as we listened to President Zelenskyy today and Minister of Defense Umerov, I don’t see that their plans will change. And the — what I would also say to that is that we actually have, because of the funding we have our drawdown authority and others, we have equipment coming in all the way to the first of the year, so that’s been mapped out fairly well.
I would also add, as I mentioned earlier, that, you know, many of the nations today as they went around and each offered a capability, it’s the collection of capability, not just what the U.S. provides, but you know, that’s the whole reason why this, you know, Defense Contact Group has come together. I think we are doing — the right things to provide the capability to Ukraine and as the Eastern nations come together, it’s the collective capability, I think, is important, not just what the U.S. provides, but as all of it comes together.
SEC. AUSTIN: And I think it’s important to remember that there’s 50 nations that have come together in support of Ukraine, and that’s a pretty powerful group of people. And it was — you know, as President Zelenskyy looked at that body there and all of these ministers of defense and chiefs of defense are still very much focused on what his needs were, I think it may have been reassuring to him, as well.
STAFF: Okay, for our final question, we’ll go to Aurelie from EURACTIV.
Q: Thank you very much. I wanted to go back to the capability coalitions that you’ve mentioned earlier. What are those going to actually change when it comes to support to Ukraine, but also to replenishing the stockpiles of the allies? Because that’s also a problem, and making sure that there will be support in the long term.
And second question, if I may, more specifically on the winter months coming ahead, do you believe that it is possible for Ukraine to both be prepared for protection of its critical infrastructure, fight off Russia from its offense territory, and also for NATO allies not to sacrifice their defense preparedness? Thank you.
SEC. AUSTIN: So how does this change our provision of support, I think, is your first question, regarding the capability coalitions. What this is doing is laying the groundwork to begin to build the future force capability for Ukraine. So if we have an armor coalition, for example, whoever is leading that coalition will work with others to assemble the capability, the armor capability that Ukraine — we believe that Ukraine will need to defend its sovereign territory in the future and deter aggression in the future.
So if you look at each of the capability coalitions, they’re all focused on a specific type of combat capability – armor; artillery; air force; there will be a naval component that will be focused on building out a naval capability; I.T. — an I.T. coalition that will help Ukraine strengthen its I.T. capabilities and be able to defend its networks going forward.
STAFF: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. That is all the time we have for today. Thank you.