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Opening Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the Sixth Ukraine Defense Contact Group (As Delivered)

Good afternoon, everyone. It’s great to see you all at our sixth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

We’ve come together again today—united by our shared determination to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty, its territory, and its people from Russia’s unjust and unprovoked assault.

The whole world has just seen yet again the malice and cruelty of Putin’s war of choice—rooted in aggression, and waged with deep contempt for the rules of war.

Russia’s latest barrage against Ukraine’s cities has again killed and wounded innocent civilians—and put targets with no military purpose in the crosshairs.

But Russia’s latest assaults have only deepened the determination of the Ukrainian people and further united countries of goodwill from every region on Earth.

So we gather again today to support Ukraine’s inalienable right to defend itself. And our resolve and steadiness of purpose has only been strengthened.

Now, everyone here understands how this war began. As President Biden noted, “No one threatened Russia, and no one other than Russia sought conflict.”

Putin chose war. But Ukraine chose to defend itself. And it has done so magnificently.

Now, Putin assumed that his forces could quickly conquer all of Ukraine. He assumed that he could roll into Kyiv. He assumed that Ukraine could never mount a counteroffensive to retake its sovereign territory in Kharkiv and beyond. He assumed that the world would stand idly by as he attempted to annex four additional regions of Ukraine. And he assumed that we wouldn’t summon the unity and the resolve to stand up to his imperial war of choice.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you want to see how mistaken all those assumptions were—well, just look at the battlefield today.

And just look around this room.

Now, Putin is trying to mobilize more forces—and to claim sovereign Ukrainian territory for Russia. He’s lashing out against civilian targets and infrastructure in Ukraine’s cities. And he’s using irresponsible threats and rhetoric.  

But we remain united, focused, and resolute.

Nations of goodwill have seen through Russia’s sham attempt to annex Ukrainian lands. Countries around the globe have rejected Putin’s grim vision of a world where big powers can trample borders by force. And proud people in Europe and far beyond have stood up for the rules-based international order that keeps us all secure.

That shared determination to reinforce our common security is what brings this Contact Group together again.

Governments around the world have rushed to provide Ukraine’s troops with the support that they need to defend their country and their citizens. That has made a demonstrable difference on the battlefield—over and over again.

Just since we last met in September, we’ve all watched as Ukraine has made extraordinary gains on the battlefield.  And despite Putin’s new assaults, Ukrainian forces have changed the dynamics of this war. They’ve liberated hundreds of towns from Russian occupation. And they’ve retaken thousands of square kilometers of their land.

These victories belong to the Ukrainian soldiers. But the Contact Group’s security assistance, training, and sustainment efforts have been vital. We’ve made tremendous progress by working together.

And as the war has changed, so has the mission of this Contact Group changed.

When we met last month, the Contact Group committed itself to sustain Ukraine’s self-defense for the long haul. And that’s exactly what we are doing.

Because our support for Ukraine’s right to defend itself doesn’t hinge on the outcome of any particular battle. Our resolve to support Ukraine’s defenders extends through all seasons.

So this Contact Group stands united and determined. We will continue to boost Ukraine’s defensive capabilities—for today’s urgent needs and for the long haul.

So the members of this group have committed billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, along with humanitarian and financial assistance. We have also spurred new investments in our industrial bases to meet Ukraine’s defense requirements, as well as our own. And my government is deeply committed to helping Ukraine defend itself from Russian aggression.

Two weeks ago, the United States announced a $1.1 billion security assistance package under our Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. That included 18 additional HIMARS and their rocket munitions, as well as hundreds of vehicles, dozens of radars, and many counter-unmanned-aircraft systems, and much more. We will produce and deliver these highly effective capabilities over the course of the coming months—and in some cases years—even as we continue to meet Ukraine’s most pressing self-defense requirements in real time.

And just last week, President Biden approved our 22nd drawdown from U.S. stocks to swiftly provide more of the foundational systems that have helped Ukraine succeed on the battlefield. The package includes four more HIMARS, 16 more M777 howitzers, 75,000 more rounds of 155-millimeter ammunition, and more. 

And we are increasingly posturing ourselves to support Ukraine’s defense needs for the challenging months and years ahead.

I’m proud that, with President Biden’s leadership, U.S. security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s all-out invasion on February 24 now totals some $16.8 billion.

And I’m deeply grateful to our valued allies and partners, who continue to come forward with important assistance packages of their own. Our coordinated team approach is helping to strengthen Ukraine’s brave defenders for the long haul.

And that means a flow of urgent capabilities to Ukraine now. It means intensifying training efforts to help Ukraine’s defenders make the best of their new capabilities. And it means pushing our industrial bases to innovate as we provide Ukraine with the tools that it needs for the hard road ahead.

Last month, we talked about bringing our national armaments directors together. And I’m pleased to say that their first meeting was a success—and an important step toward tackling the industrial-base challenges that we face.

So I look forward to continuing our work on our long-term investments—with an eye toward improving production, interoperability, and sustainment capacity.

Now, I am very pleased that we’re joined once more by some of Ukraine’s brave commanders. Let me again thank my dear friend, Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov, for his outstanding, outstanding leadership. And let me also welcome Ukraine’s Joint Forces Commander, Major General Moskaliov.

We deeply appreciate your presence here today. And we know how terribly your people have suffered in Russia’s needless war of aggression.

We’ve watched as Putin tries to force untrained, unwitting Russian civilians to the front lines. And we’ve seen the stark contrast with Ukraine—which has shown the world that the military and moral power of a free people fighting for their democracy and their sovereignty prevails.

That courage inspires us all.

And I’m also inspired by the close coordination and cooperation among nations of goodwill that has spurred so much progress on the battlefield. And I’m inspired as well by the determination of the leaders in this room to stand by Ukraine in its fight for freedom.

This Contact Group, and a galvanized world, will support Ukraine’s self-defense for the long haul.

We will stand together to defend the rules-based international order that strengthens our common security.

And as President Biden has said, we will stand by Ukraine’s defenders for as long as it takes.

So thank you all for coming.

And now we’ll pause a moment while our friends in the media depart, and then we’ll hear from our Ukrainian colleagues. Thank you very much.