Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III convened the seventh Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting today, telling the assembled international partners that their efforts have made a difference in helping the Ukrainian military fight the Russian invaders.
Army Gen. Mark A, Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended with Austin. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov also attended.
The virtual meeting came the day after reports of an explosion in Poland near its border with Ukraine. "We will continue to work closely with our ally, Poland, and others to gather more information," Austin said during introductory remarks. "And we'll continue to consult closely with our NATO allies and our valued partners."
The invasion has been a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, and it has been disastrous for Russia. The Russian military has been launching barrages of missiles at Ukrainian cities seeking to knock out critical infrastructure and sap the will of the people.
"Russia is facing setback after setback on the battlefield," Austin said. "And Russia is putting Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure in its gun sights. Both of these things only deepen the resolve of this contact group, and they only intensify Ukraine's determination."
The secretary said the Ukrainian people have not broken in the face of the attacks and said they "have responded with the magnificent defiance that the world now knows so well."
The Russians hoped for a quick victory when they invaded Ukraine in February. They lost the battle of Kyiv. The Russians tried to take Ukraine's second city of Kharkiv and ended up being pushed back by a Ukrainian counteroffensive. The Russians succeeded in taking the regional capital of Kherson in the southern part of the country, and that city was liberated by Ukrainian troops last week.
"Kherson was the only regional capital that Russia managed to temporarily occupy, and the dramatic scenes of Ukrainian forces liberating Kherson further galvanized the international community," Austin said. "Neither shear force nor sham annexation attempts can defeat the determination of Ukrainian people to live in a free and sovereign country."
The Ukraine Defense Contact Group has been instrumental in delivering the military capabilities the Ukrainians need to turn back the Russians. Contact group members are also helping train Ukrainian service members in the use of these capabilities, and many nations are now looking at ways to help Ukraine defend itself in the long term.
"We're going to maintain our momentum throughout the winter so that Ukraine can continue to consolidate gains and seize the initiative on the battlefield," the secretary said. "Ukrainian troops are fighting with even greater tenacity and determination."
Austin said the newly arrived National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System — NASAM — is helping Ukraine knock down the threats of Russian aircraft, missiles and drones.
Since the last contact group meeting, the United States has announced another Ukraine security assistance initiative package of $400 million. Last week, there was an additional $400 million in presidential drawdown authority. The assistance initiative looks to longer range spending, while the drawdown authority allows the United States to deliver systems quickly.
All told, the United States has pledged $18.6 billion to support Ukraine since the Russian invasion.
And the United States is not the only country providing support. "Since our last contact group, seven countries have either delivered critical air defense systems to Ukraine or committed to sending them," Austin said. "That will save the lives of innocent Ukrainian men, women and children and help Ukrainian armed forces defend their skies."
Another outgrowth of the contact group is the United States, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic working together to modernize 90 T-72-B tanks for Ukraine.
Austin said the contact group will build on previous discussions and meetings. "We'll discuss how we can best train and prepare the Ukrainian armed forces to defend their country," he said.
The nations will discuss the efforts needed to "ensure that Ukraine can continue to consolidate its gains and keep up its momentum on the battlefield even throughout the winter," Austin said.