After almost a year, the free world still stands with Ukraine as it defends its liberty and sovereignty, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said at the conclusion of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting in Brussels today.
Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, praised the coalition that has grown since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Next week will mark a year since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine. "Our hearts are with the families of all the Ukrainian soldiers killed and wounded, fighting to defend their country, their sovereignty and their fellow citizens," Austin said.
The secretary said the U.S. also mourns the innocent civilians killed as Russia targets Ukraine's civilian infrastructure. "Russia has inflicted a year of tragedy and terror on Ukraine," he said. "But the people of Ukraine have inspired the world."
These nations rallied as part of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. "Nations of goodwill have rallied together to reject Putin's vision of a world of chaos where tyrants can trample borders and conquer their peaceful neighbors and break the rules of war," Austin said. "That's what this contact group represents. Together, we have made clear that we will support Ukraine's self-defense for the long haul. And we will move out with the urgency that the moment demands."
The United States has led this effort, and Austin chairs the contact group, which has grown to 54 nations. President Joe Biden announced another round of assistance to Ukraine earlier this month. This includes more ammunition for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, rocket launchers; heavy machine guns to knock down Russian and Iranian drones; and mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles.
Contact group members are supplying Ukraine with main combat tanks, including Challenger tanks from the United Kingdom, reconditioned T-72 tanks from a number of countries, Leopard 2 tanks from Germany and several other countries, and M1A2 Abrams tanks from the United States.
The United States also pledged $1.75 billion for critical air defense capabilities.
"At today's contact group, we joined again with our valued allies and partners to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs, when it needs it," Austin said. "We continue to work together to provide Ukraine with full combat-credible capabilities and not just equipment. And that's why we discussed synchronizing our donations into an integrated training plan."
All told, member states of the contact group have given Ukraine's defenders more than eight combat brigades, he said.
The military capabilities are important, but knowing how they work and how they work together is more important, and the contact group is an integral part of this effort. "This isn't about one single capability," Austin said. "It's about delivering all the capabilities that we promise. It's about integrating all these systems together. It's about working with Ukrainians to help them fight for their freedom."
Milley stressed the contact group must stay together. "Putin thought he could defeat Ukraine quickly, fracture the NATO alliance and act with impunity," he said. "He was wrong. "Ukraine remains free. They remain independent. NATO and this coalition has never been stronger, and Russia is now a global pariah.
"The world remains inspired by Ukrainian bravery and resilience," he continued. "In short, Russia has lost. They've lost strategically, operationally and tactically, and they are paying an enormous price on the battlefield. But until Putin ends his war of choice, the international community will continue to support Ukraine with the equipment and capabilities it needs to defend itself."
The contact group is critical to the effort. Of the countries that gathered for the meeting, "11 countries have pledged tanks for Ukraine, 22 have pledged infantry fighting vehicles, 16 pledged artillery and munitions, and nine more pledged air defense artillery," Milley said. "The group is focused on delivering the capabilities committed and efficiently providing the training, the spare parts, the sustainment and logistics necessary for the full employment of these systems."
Milley said the war is extremely dynamic. Even as Ukraine is fighting for its survival, the nation is training and evolving for future operations. "Ukraine will integrate recent commitments of armored vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles, and tanks with fires to achieve the effect of synchronized ground maneuver," the chairman said. "While Russia has waged this war for far too long, they will not outlast the Ukrainian people, nor the group of allies and partners that met today."