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

Welcome, everyone. It's good to be with you again for the tenth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group.

But before I get to today's agenda, I want to say just a few words about a troubling episode yesterday.

I know that everyone here has heard that Russian aircraft again engaged in dangerous, reckless, and unprofessional practices on Tuesday in international airspace over the Black Sea. Two Russian jets dumped fuel on an unmanned U.S. MQ-9 aircraft conducting routine operations in international airspace. And one Russian jet intercepted and hit our MQ-9 aircraft, resulting in a crash.

This hazardous episode is a part of a pattern of aggressive, and risky, and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace.

So make no mistake: The United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows. And it is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner.

Now, let me turn to today's agenda.

For our virtual meeting today, we have members of the Contact Group joining from all around the world and across most time zones, including friends in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific.

Today, we're gathering to make sure that we continue to deliver on our promises to support Ukraine's defenders.

More than a year ago, Russia launched its illegal and unprovoked, full-scale invasion. And ever since, Ukraine's forces have been fighting bravely to defend their sovereignty, their territory, and their freedom.

No Ukrainian should have to endure daily shelling.

No Ukrainian parent should have to worry that their child's school will be bombed.

No nation should have to fight for its survival against a foreign invasion force that is leveling entire cities and towns.

And so the countries here today understand the stakes of Russia's war of choice—both for the Ukrainian people and for the world. This is the greatest threat to European security since the start of the Cold War in the aftermath of World War II. And it is a direct attack on the rules-based international order that keeps us all safe and secure.

Now over the past year, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have had several striking victories on the battlefield, all while rapidly shaping Ukraine's military into a strong and professional force.

And I want to thank my good friend, Minister Oleksii Reznikov, for his leadership of Ukraine's Armed Forces. Oleksii, as always, we're looking forward to hearing directly from you and your team about what you're seeing on the ground and your most urgent requirements. 

This Contact Group has always been committed to helping the Ukrainian Armed Forces get what they need, when they need it. 

Earlier this month, the United States announced another $400 million in security assistance to Ukraine to support precision fires, artillery, and armored vehicle operations. That includes additional HIMARS ammunition, additional artillery rounds, Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges, and more.

And as we surge more equipment to Ukraine, we remain focused on accountability—along with our Ukrainian partners.

In just the past three months, members of this Contact Group have shown great leadership in building up the capabilities that Ukraine needs to defend its sovereignty and create momentum on the battlefield, including more than nine brigades of armored vehicles.

The coalition of countries that are donating Leopard tanks to Ukraine continues to grow. And nine countries have now committed to providing more than 150 Leopard tanks.

In the face of Russia's cruel bombing campaign, the number of countries providing air-defense assets also continues to expand. For example, at the last Contact Group, we heard about Italy and France's SAMP/T contribution.

The United States, Germany, and the Netherlands have come forward with Patriot donations.

And many other countries have provided shorter-range air defense. And both Canada and Germany have contributed mid-range air-defense systems like NASAMS and IRIS-T.

But we are now at a crucial time in the course of Ukraine's fight for freedom. And we must all demonstrate our continued resolve and unity. That means following through on our commitments—fully and quickly.

We must provide Ukraine with the full capabilities for the fight ahead, including the spare parts and maintenance packages to sustain the critical capabilities provided by the members of this Contact Group, and additional equipment. 

So this Contact Group is focused on coordinating long-term sustainment.

We also need to find ways to get new donations of ammunition and air-defense systems to Ukraine. To increase ammunition production, members of this Contact Group are coming together to develop innovative solutions to industrial-production problems. And I'm confident that we'll continue to step up to meet Ukraine's needs into this spring and well beyond.

Ladies and gentlemen, last April, our Contact Group began with a single meeting pulled together by our outstanding teams.

But it has grown into a community of action. 

And I remain fully committed and fully confident that we will support Ukraine's defense for the long haul.

Now, in recent months, the Kremlin has demonstrated again and again that it pays no heed to the lives of its own forces and has been intensifying its reckless war of conquest.

Russia continues enlisting private mercenary companies like the Wagner Group and driving inexperienced conscripts to their deaths. But Ukraine's ground forces have pushed back Russian forces with the weapons and the tanks donated by the countries in this room.

And Russia keeps sending wave after wave of cruise missiles and Iranian suicide drones to terrorize Ukrainian cities and civilians. But Ukraine's air-defense systems—many of which this group has provided—are fighting back to keep civilians safe from Russia's bombardment. 

That's the story of this Contact Group.

And I'm confident that we'll keep stepping up.

I'm confident that we will deliver on our commitments.

And I'm confident that we will meet this moment. 

After 10 meetings of the Contact Group, our unity of effort continues to be a mighty source of strength. 

And we will remain resolute and united in support of Ukraine's right to live as a free and sovereign country—for as long as it takes.

Now, let me pause for a moment while our friends in the media depart, and then we'll hear from our Ukrainian colleagues.