"Ukraine matters," Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III flatly said during a Pentagon news conference today.
The secretary and Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to the media following the 10th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group — a group of nations working to supply Ukraine what it needs to combat Russia's invasion of the country.
"Ukraine matters. It matters not to just Ukraine or to the United States, it matters to the world," the secretary said. "This is about the rules based international order. It's about one country's ability to wake up one day and change the borders of its neighbor and annex its neighbor's sovereign territory."
Countries around the world realize how serious this challenge to the status quo is, and they are working together. "That's why you've seen 50 countries not only come to the … the initial meetings of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, but they continue to come back," Austin said. "And they continue to work hard to ensure that Ukraine gets everything that it needs to be successful. And that'll remain our focus going forward."
The secretary also addressed Russia's "dangerous and reckless and unprofessional behavior in the international airspace over the Black Sea" yesterday. Russian jets dumped fuel on an unmanned U.S. MQ-9 aircraft conducting routine operations in international airspace. A Russian jet struck the unmanned aerial vehicle causing it to crash.
"This hazardous episode is a part of a pattern of aggressive, risky and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace," Austin said. "Now I just got off the phone with my Russian counterpart, [Defense] Minister [Sergei] Shoigu. And as I've said repeatedly, it's important that great powers be models of transparency and communication. And the United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows. It is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner."
The contact group is a visible affirmation of unity and resolve to support Ukraine's fight for freedom. "We were joined again today by some 50 nations of goodwill from all around the globe," the secretary said. "And they all understand that Ukraine's battle to defend itself from Russian aggression is vital for everyone who values the core principles of sovereignty, self-determination and freedom."
The group heard from Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov about his country's plans and needs in the face of Russia's aggression. Ukrainian service members have stood firm against Russia using weapons supplied by the nations of the contact group.
"Russia hopes to grind down Ukraine in a war of attrition, but Ukraine has been supplied by more than 40 countries," Austin said. "Meanwhile, Russia has had to depend on Iran and North Korea and has had to use equipment dating back to World War II. So, Russia is running out of capability and running out of friends."
Ukraine has never been a threat to Russia, Chairman Milley said. "Russia launched, and has continued for over a year now, a war of aggression and flagrant violation of international law," the general said. "This is, and remains, a Russian frontal assault on the rules-based international order that has been in place for 80 years."
In face of this war of conquest, the contact group remains unified. "NATO is united. The people of Ukraine are unyielding; they are standing steadfast in the face of the Russian onslaught," he said. "Russia remains isolated, their military stocks are rapidly depleting, the soldiers are demoralized, untrained, unmotivated conscripts and convicts and their leadership is failing them."
The Battle of Bakhmut continues. "Ukraine has fixed the Russian forces at that city, and they're exacting very heavy costs on the Wagner group and the Russian regular military," Milley said. "Ukraine remains strong.
"This is a grinding, attrition warfare that Russia is trying to execute," the general continued. "Wave after wave of Russian soldiers are thrown into the chaos of war, absent any sort of synchronized coordination and direction. Russia continues to pay severely in terms of lives and military equipment for its continued war of choice."
Milley said Vladimir Putin cannot win his strategic objectives. "It should be obvious to Putin that these objectives are no longer achievable by continuing this war," Milley said. "Putin can end this war. He can end it today. And he needs to do so. Free people are not easily conquered, and the Ukrainian people are free, and they will never give up in their fight to stay free."