STAFF: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much for being here today. It’s my pleasure to introduce Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley.
The secretary and the chairman will deliver opening remarks, and then have time to take a few questions. Please note that I will moderate those questions and call on journalists. Given our tight schedule, I’d ask that you please limit your follow-ups to give your colleagues a chance to ask their questions, and I appreciate your assistance with this.
With that, I’ll turn it over to Secretary Austin.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Thanks, Patrick. Good afternoon, everyone, and thanks for being here.
We’ve just wrapped up our 13th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and it once again demonstrated the unity and the resolve that have characterized this group ever since our very first meeting. We continue to be inspired by the Ukrainian people.
As I told the Contact Group today, the missile strike that hit a residential building in Kryvyi Rih reminded us all of the senseless suffering that the people of Ukraine have endured. But they remain undaunted, and so do their leaders.
We were fortunate to be joined yet again by my good friend, Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksiy Reznikov. As always, this Contact Group benefits hugely from hearing firsthand from him and his team about the state of the battlefield and Ukraine’s most urgent needs. As I’ve told Oleksiy, we have great confidence in the training and the capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces thanks in large part to the tireless and combined work of the Contact Group — Group’s members.
Now, we all know that the Ukrainians have been engaged in a tough fight to defend their sovereign territory and take back the — the occupied territory, and we have all seen the skill and courage of Ukraine’s defenders ever since the start of Russia’s invasion. Of course, we’ve given Ukraine’s forces important training and impressive capabilities, but war is fluid, dynamic and unpredictable. Ukraine’s fight is not some easy sprint to the finish line and our message remains clear: We will stand by Ukraine for as long as it takes.
Now, let me talk a bit more about today’s Contact Group. In addition to the briefing from Ukraine, we heard from the leaders of U.S. European Command, and they briefed us on future training plans as well as efforts to maintain and sustain the equipment that we’ve already provided and to ensure that Ukraine can do so for future equipment, as well.
We also heard from our friends from Germany and Poland on their work sustaining Ukraine’s new Leopard tanks, and our colleagues from the Netherlands and Denmark shared the progress that they’ve made on plans to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighter aircraft, including F-16s.
But it brings me back to one of the very top priorities of this Contact Group. We remain laser-focused on meeting Ukraine’s urgent needs for ground-based air defense systems, and that’s especially important since Russia’s — since Russia has ruthlessly ramped up its missile and drone attacks over the past month against Ukraine’s cities, and these attacks have killed scores of Ukrainian civilians, and that’s just part of Moscow’s reckless and lawless attempt to break the will of the Ukrainian people.
But Ukraine’s air defenders have served — saved countless lives using air defense systems and intercepts — interceptor missiles donated by members of this Contact Group, and our ongoing support will ensure that Ukraine can continue to defend its civilians, its cities and its critical infrastructure.
Now, several countries have stepped up today with new commitments for Ukraine.
Canada committed another $500 million package to support Ukraine, and that will include more than 200 critical air defense missiles to help Ukraine’s skies — help protect Ukraine’s skies. And the United States, along with the U.K., Denmark and the Netherlands all contributed funding for additional critical air defense missiles for Ukraine. Italy also announced its latest tranche of assistance, which includes highly critical capabilities that meet Ukraine’s most urgent needs to defend itself.
And several allies are beginning to think about supporting Ukraine for the long term. Norway and Germany announced multi-year packages and Denmark just announced its own nearly $2.6 billion package for military assistance through 2024.
All these contributions underscore our unity in supporting Ukraine and in defending the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure.
Ukraine has overcome so many obstacles but more lie ahead, and Ukraine’s troops and citizens do not stand alone. Thanks to the historic support of nations of goodwill from around the world, Ukraine is well-positioned for the challenges still to come.
As President Biden has said, our support will not waver, our resolve will not falter, and our unity will not crack. Make no mistake, we will stand with the Ukrainian people for as long as it takes.
And with that, I’ll turn it over to General Milley.
GENERAL MARK A. MILLEY: Thank you, Secretary Austin, and good afternoon to everyone that’s with us here today.
For 16 months, the international community has stood together in defense of the rules-based international order. This coalition’s commitment at this 13th meeting of the Ukrainian Defense Contact Group demonstrates our unwavering dedication to the ideals of sovereignty and self-determination.
But first, let me thank Secretary Austin for his steadfast leadership in fostering this global coalition. From the first meeting to the 13th today, without his leadership, these would not be happening. And thank you also to the ministers and chiefs of defense from some-50 nations that joined us today.
To Ukrainian Minister of Defense Reznikov, my counterpart, General Zaluzhnyi, who is not here today but I did have a chance to talk to him the other day, and his representative, General Moisiuk, who was here, thank you for your unflinching resolve and determination in the face of immense adversity and thank you also for the incredible bravery of the Ukrainian people.
We stand here today not simply as a group of nations but as a united front standing for the values that are much larger than ourselves. We stand for the bedrock principles of national sovereignty and liberty, principles that Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine clearly undermine.
Putin’s war of choice is not just a transgression against Ukraine, it is literally a frontal assault on the very international order that guarantees peace, prosperity and freedom to all nations. The brave Ukrainian people continue to demonstrate their spirit of resilience, fighting relentlessly to reclaim their homeland from Russian occupation. Each day, the Ukrainians fight not just with steel and weapons but the iron will of their spirit.
As President Zelenskyy has announced recently, the Ukrainians have embarked on an offensive operation to liberate their country. They’re in the early stages and it’s far too early to make any definitive assessments but I can tell you that each day, the Ukrainians demonstrate the courage and tenacity needed to methodically regain their territory.
We have said before that war is dynamic, it is a contest of wills. As the Secretary just said, it’s uncertain, it’s violent, and as always, has high costs. But we can be sure that Ukrainian bravery, competency and preparedness will carry the day. We can be confident that this contact group has given Ukraine the tools that it needs to succeed.
And we know that the will of the Ukrainian people will continue to resonate far beyond their borders. In fact, it will resonate throughout the globe. Their actions echo the voices of all people who cherish freedom and the rights to determine their own fate against tyranny. Our assistance to Ukraine supports their cause to remain free and independent. It represents our commitment to what binds us as nations operating within the rules-based international order.
We have and we will continue to offer wide-ranging support, from providing sophisticated combined arms capabilities to intelligence to training of Ukrainian forces to be more effective on the battlefield. Through a global effort, more than 6,000 Ukrainians are being trained right now at 40 different locations — training locations in 65 courses in 33 nations on three continents. That is all happening right now, today.
Since the beginning of the war, the United States has trained over 11,000 Ukrainians in combined arms maneuver and staff training. The U.S. training effort has created 12 maneuver battalions, nearly 5,000 operators that are fighting in those machines right now, along with their combined arms staffs. We are currently training three battalions — a tank battalion and two territorial National Guard battalions.
All in all, the international effort has trained almost 60,000 Ukrainian soldiers for this current operation, and many of whom are engaged in close combat as we stand here today.
Last week, the United States released another Ukrainian Security Assistance Initiative package totaling several billion dollars, $2 billion. This package procures critical capabilities, including Patriot munitions, HAWK air defense systems, artillery rocket munitions, maintenance and sustainment support, and much more.
Additionally this week, we released our latest drawdown package of $325 million. From our current stocks, we are providing Ukraine air defense munitions, GMLRS, long-range artillery, artillery rounds, 155, Bradley, Strykers, and many other capabilities.
Over the past year, we have seen the strength of Ukraine because of the international coalition and the impact of our collective support, along with the courage of the Ukrainian people. We see Ukrainian forces displaying exceptional skill in operating complex systems, like Patriot, armored vehicles and HIMARS. We see Ukrainians effectively leveraging anti-armor weapons, advanced munitions and sophisticated air defense systems.
Our commitment to Ukraine extends far beyond the here and the now. It is not defined by time or convenience but it is defined by the principles of democracy, freedom and the international rule of law. It is a pledge that upholds the international order to ensure that every nation, big or small, can live in peace, enjoying its rightful sovereignty without fear of unprovoked aggression.
As the President of the United States and Secretary of Defense Austin have consistently stated over and over again, the United States remains committed to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes. We will continue to provide Ukraine with the means to fight until Russia ends this unprovoked aggression.
Thank you and I look forward to your questions.
STAFF: Thank you both, gentlemen. The first question, we’ll go to Dan Lamothe, Washington Post.
Q: Gentlemen, good afternoon. Thanks for your time today.
A question for Secretary Austin please. We’ve started to see battlefield losses in this Ukrainian counter-offensive emerge online and otherwise. To — to what degree do they concern you? And do you anticipate additional commitments of U.S. fighting vehicles to bolster the counter-offensive as it moves forward?
And then for General Milley, in light of this counter-offensive, there’s the expectation that this could be a grinding, bloody slog that takes many months. To what degree and what kind of patience do you anticipate will be necessary not just for the Ukrainians, but the American people and taxpayers and the U. — and the military alliance that is supporting Ukraine as this goes on? Thank you.
SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Dan.
Regarding the battlefield losses of vehicles and equipment, this is a war, so we know that there will be battle damage on both sides. And you know, what’s important is that, you know, the Ukrainians have the ability to recover equipment that’s been damaged, repair where — where possible, get that equipment back into the fight, and also that they have the — we have a means to continue to push capability forward.
So there will continue to be battle damage. I think the Russians have shown us that same five vehicles about a thousand times from 10 different angles. But quite frankly, the Ukrainians have — still have a lot of combat capability — combat power. So as you’ve indicated, this will continue to be a — a tough fight as we anticipated, and I believe that the — the — the element that does the best in terms of sustainment will — will probably have the advantage at the end of the day. So our focus is on making sure that we continue to push forward what Ukraine needs in order to be successful.
GEN. MILLEY: So Dan, it’ll be very premature to put any estimates of how long, time, on an operation of this magnitude. There are several hundred thousand Russian troops dug in in prepared positions all along the front line, and Ukraine has begun their attack, and they’re making steady progress. This is a very difficult fight. It’s a very violent fight and it will likely take a considerable amount of time and at high cost. But at the end of the day, as Napoleon once said, “The moral is to the physical as three is to one”, and the Ukrainian morale, their leadership, their skill, their tenacity, their resilience is very high. Russian, on the — the Russians, on the other hand, their leadership is — is not necessarily coherent. Their troops’ morale is not high. They’ve been sitting in defensive positions. Many of them don’t even know why they’re there. So we’ll see. It’s too early to tell, but we’ll see how this plays out.
STAFF: Thank you, gentlemen.
Let’s go to the back here. (inaudible)
Q: Thank you very much. From (inaudible). Secretary Austin, one question: There is a growing frustration among Eastern European allies, that they believe there is not enough support from your government, your admin — administration towards a Ukrainian membership in NATO. Why are you so hesitant to give any more concrete signs that Ukraine will enter the alliance and that there will be some more promises which go beyond the Budapest clauses? Thank you.
SEC. AUSTIN: Well, thanks. I think you’ve heard us say over and over again that we continue to support Ukraine’s open door — excuse me — NATO’s open-door policy, and each — each country will — will have a different path to — to — to accession. And so again, I’ll let — I will further say that we remain where we were with Budapest, and — and so as — as we go forward here, I think you’ll see allies and — and partners continue to work together to provide Ukraine what it needs to be successful, and also provide assurances going forward, so…
STAFF: Our next question will go to Carla Babb, Voice of America.
Q: Mr. Secretary, Chairman, thank you both for doing this. Mr. Secretary, what has the U.S. committed to provide to the F-16 training program for Ukrainians, specifically, trainers, munitions, jets? And can you provide us with any more details on the overall F-16 training plans?
And Chairman Milley, the indictment of former President — U.S. President Trump includes a transcript of him discussing a classified document about plans to attack a country. How concerning is it to you that a former president or any U.S. official, for that matter, is willing to discuss classified military plans and consider using those plans to settle personal scores?
SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, Carla. Let me start with the F-16 question here. First, let me say how much I really appreciate the Netherlands and Denmark stepping up to lead this consortium. And they are outlining the — the — the plan for training, and there are a number of other countries that have joined in and volunteered to — to help in this effort.
And so this work continues. We were briefed today on — on kind of the outline of the plan and the steps for, you know, for the way ahead, and I have to tell you that they, in the 30 days that we’ve been after this, they have leaned into this in a major way.
As you know, the United States will have to provide approval for the training, and also some other aspects of this, and as you would expect, we continue to work with the Netherlands and Denmark as they — as they put this plan together. But — but again, this will take some time, but — but they’re really moving out in a very impressive way and — and they’re getting support from other partners in the — in the UDC — CG.
GEN. MILLEY: And Carla, thank you for the opportunity to make no comment. I appreciate that. The — it’s — it’s entirely inappropriate for me to ever make a comment about an ongoing federal investigation, so I’m not going to make any comment. I will focus on my job, and that’s protecting the Constitution of the United States and protecting our country, and in this particular case, in supporting Ukraine in their fight for freedom.
STAFF: Thank you, gentlemen. Final question will go to (Vitaly Surkov, U.A. Television.
Q: Thank you. You said what about Ukrainian advanced. Which insight did you get from observing this advance? Maybe it would change the way of help, maybe a new type of weapons United States would provide. And what you promoted, when F-16 and Abrams could be on the territory of Ukraine? That’s it. Thank you.
SEC. AUSTIN: Is that for me or the chairman?
GEN. MILLEY: Yeah, we had a — a session today with a variety of countries. We’re early in the planning process. I — I think there’s a — a — an intent by several countries that have stepped up to take the lead, Netherlands and — and — and Denmark, in terms of the planning. So there’s a lot of work left to be done, but I think it would be premature to — to give a specific date on any time the F-16s or any other type of advanced aircraft would be employed in combat in — in Ukraine. There’s — there’s a lot of work to do. You have to do language training. You have to do pilot training. You’ve got to get all the systems set in place. So those — those wheels are in motion, but we’re a ways from completion of that project.
SEC. AUSTIN: In terms of lessons learned, there are — there are key lessons learned in every fight, and — and we always encourage our partners to capture those lessons learned and — and adapt as required.
You know, fights are dynamic. Squads and platoons actually fight the fight. Everybody else on the battlefield supports it. And so what those squads and platoons are doing and seeing and learning, how they’re employing supporting fires and — and all of that, and we incorporate those insights into the training that we’re doing for follow-on forces.
And so the — the Ukrainian military is a learning organization and an adaptive organization, and we see continuous adaptation on — on — on a daily basis. It’s been that way from the very start, and as things — as the battlefield dynamics have changed over the weeks and months, we’ve worked with the Ukrainians — we’ve also changed, in terms of kinds of things that we’re providing them, and it’s been successful and the evidence that it’s been successful is because — is — can be seen in where the — where the Ukrainians are today on the battlefield.
STAFF: Mr. Secretary, General Milley, thank you very much, gentlemen. Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes our press briefing. Thank you.
SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, everybody.
Ukraine Defense Contact Group Meeting: Press Conference
Ukrainian forces are brave. And they are tough. And we have provided them with training and equipment to succeed on the battlefield and liberate its own territory from Russia’s occupation alongside more than 50 countries. This includes extraordinary amounts of artillery, armored vehicles, and bridging equipment. And that was the focus of further planning at the thirteenth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. Secretary Austin briefs the media on the outcomes.