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Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Holds a News Conference With Polish Minister of National Defense Mariusz Blaszczak, Warsaw, Poland

STAFF (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. The press conference after the meeting of the minister of national defense, Mariusz Blaszczak, and Lloyd Austin the secretary of defense of the United States of America. Mr. Minister Blaszczak, the floor is yours.


Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for a good fruitful conversation that confirmed our deep partnership -- strategic partnership. Our meeting is of special importance and power, especially now, in times of security crisis due to the actions of Russia. I appreciate highly the presence of U.S. forces in Poland. The support of the United States in those difficult times is a sign of responsibility and an ironclad engagement in the security of Poland and Europe. 

The Polish armed forces first of all guards the security of our homeland. But at the same time, the eastern flank of the North Atlantic Alliance and the -- the European Union has the support of the United States -- is for us, very important and needed. Currently, we are facing serious challenges. We are at the verge of the most -- most dangerous conflict since World War II. The unity and cooperation as part of NATO is the best response to an aggressive action by Russia.

Now, the imperialistic policy of the Russian Federation requires from us and all the allies complex activities and complex deterrence and defense. We have welcomed additional U.S. troops in Poland that reinforce NATO's eastern flank. There are also, in Poland, we have additional British soldiers this way. We give them support and we will cooperate with them as long as it is necessary.

Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for the reinforced presence of U.S. and Poland, and thank you for your declaration for further reinforcement through NATO and the United States if such a need arises. Together, we are able to be efficient, effective and achieve more. We have a joint objective being peace and security.

Thank you, sir, personally, also for the good news. We are stronger together. Thank you. 

STAFF: Thank you very much, and now the -- (inaudible), Lloyd Austin.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us. I'm glad to be here today with Defense Minister Blaszczak in Poland. And Poland is one of our most stalwart NATO allies. 

Mr. Minister, thank you for your gracious welcome and for the very productive conversation.

I also look forward to meeting with President Duda and traveling to Powidz Air Base to visit with U.S. and Polish military personnel later on today. Since the American Revolutionary War, when Polish heroes fought -- fought side by side with us to gain our freedom. 

Poland and the United States have developed a special bond in the defense of liberty, and soon after World War I, American volunteer aviators provided air cover for Polish forces fighting for their own country's independence. More recently, Polish and American soldiers fought and died together in Iraq and in -- in Afghanistan against common threats to our security, and today, our relationship could not be stronger.

I'd like to thank Poland for regularly hosting more than 4,000 enduring rotational U.S. military personnel. It's the fourth-largest concentration of U.S. forces in Europe. And of course, in light of Russian force buildup near Ukraine, we appreciate Poland for hosting an additional 4,700 U.S. soldiers who are prepared to respond to a range of contingency, and they will work closely with our State Department and with Polish authorities, should there be any need to help American citizens leave Ukraine.

Under the 2020 Enhanced Defense Corporation Agreement signed by our two countries, Poland strongly contributes to these deployments by providing facilities and logistical resources, which we truly appreciate.

We're also partners in developing Poland's defense capabilities. Poland has chosen the F-35 fighter aircraft, and Poland air defense batteries and -- excuse me -- Patriot air defense batteries and high-mobility artillery rocket systems.

Today, I'm proud to announce another step in this growing partnership. In response to Poland's formal request in July of 2021, Secretary Brink -- Blinken and I have relayed our intent to Congress to offer Poland the opportunity to acquire 250 M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks. The timeframe for delivery of these tanks is currently under discussion. This is the most modern version of the Abrams, and will provide Poland with a highly-advanced tank capability. It will also strengthen our interoperability with the Polish armed forces, boosting the credibility of our combined deterrence efforts and those of other NATO allies.

We commend Poland for consistently meeting NATO spending and defense investment targets and together, we will continue to modernize our defense capabilities. This procurement by Poland will also help to ensure a more equitable sharing of responsibilities within the alliance for our common defense, and our joint exercises in Poland and the Baltic states will continue to demonstrate our readiness to defend our -- to defend our eastern-most allies.

Europe is now facing challenges to international peace and stability. For one, Belarusian -- or Belarusian President Lukashenko continues to cruelly promote the force migration of thousands of displaced persons from the Middle East to Poland and the rest of Europe -- of -- of the European Union. And Poland's neighbor, Ukraine, is under the threat of another Russian invasion, which was the focus of our discussion this morning.

Any Russian attack or further incursion into Ukraine would night -- not only ignite conflict, it would also violate the bedrock principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination. The deployment of thousands of Russian forces in Belarus, in addition to the thousands surrounding Ukraine to the east and south puts some of those forces within 200 miles of the Polish border. If Russia further invades Ukraine, Poland could see tens of thousands of displaced Ukrainians and others flowing across its border, trying to save themselves and their families from the scourge of war.

To be clear, as I said yesterday in Brussels, there is still time and space for diplomacy. United steps -- the United States, in lockstep with our allies and partners, including Poland, has offered Mr. Putin a path away from crisis and towards greater security. Whatever path he chooses, the United States and our allies and our partners will be ready.

Poland knows firsthand the steep cost paid by victims of aggression from larger neighbors, and it has made -- made valuable contributions to assist Ukraine in building up its defense capabilities. This includes joint training exercises and hosting a trilateral brigade composed of Polish, Ukrainian and Lithuanian soldiers, as well as Poland's recent offer of ammunition and portable air defense weapons to Ukraine.

The United States also continues to move material assistance to Ukraine to help the Ukrainians defend themselves. Fortunately, neither Poland or the United States are alone in dealing with this challenge. As you've heard over the last few days during the NATO Defense Ministerial in Brussels, the entire alliance stands with Ukraine in supporting its sovereignty, its territorial integrity and its right to choose its own path in its relations with its neighbors and the rest of the world. You know, it's ironic that what Mr. Putin did not want to see happen was a stronger NATO on his flank, and that's exactly what he will see going forward.

Poland and the United States, in solidarity with our allies, will continue to work together to overcome any challenge to European peace and stability and any future challenges to come. Thank you very much.

MIN. BLASZCZAK (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Mr. Secretary, first of all, I'd like to thank you for the fact that Polish armed forces will be equipped with Abrams tanks. I am aware, Mr. Secretary, and I told you also that without your personal involvement, this would not be possible. So once again, thank you from the bottom of my heart that Abrams will be delivered to Poland.

Now, my objective as the minister of national defense of Poland is to increase the potential of the Polish armed forces after Patriots, after HIMARS, after the F-35 fighter jets that we have, or will have, we will have also Abrams tanks. Once again, sir, thank you very much.

Thank you, gentlemen, and now, let's move on to questions. Due to certain time constraints, we have only times for four questions. Before you ask the question, please introduce yourself.

Q (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Polish Information Agency. I'd like to ask you, Secretary, the following: Sir, I'd like to ask you -- Sir, I'd like to ask you, when we will see the finalization of the contract for Abrams, first of all, and second of all, I'd like to ask you about the amassed Russian troops along the border with Ukraine that you have mentioned. Because yesterday, you said quite strongly and decisively about the fact that Russia's amassed -- collected, for example, blood. Now, could you also speak in the same voice or describe it in the same way when it comes to the Russian activities in the context of having additional blood storages and have field hospitals?

SEC. AUSTIN: First, on the timing of the delivery of the tanks, as you would imagine, this will take some time. These -- the exact timing, we're still working on and -- and we don't have anything to announce in that regard today.

Second, in terms of what we continue to see on the -- on Ukraine's borders, it -- you heard me say yesterday, although Russia has announced that it is moving its forces back to garrison, we have yet to see that. In fact, we see more forces moving into the -- into the -- that region, that border region. And -- and we also see them going through -- continuing to -- to prepare by doing things that you would expect elements to do, military elements to do as they were preparing to -- to launch a -- an -- an attack. So it includes a number of things in terms of moving closer to the border, dispersal of troops, increasing logistical capabilities. And so again, all of the indicators continue to indicate that, you know, he will maintain the capability to launch an attack at -- at -- at most any time. So we haven't seen any evidence of him moving -- moving its forces away from the border.

Thank you.

Q: Hi, sir. Jim Garamone from DOD News. Mr. Minister, a question for you, and thank you for having this in such a beautiful place.

Two days ago, the Secretary-General Stoltenberg said Russia has forced a new normal in Europe. What does that mean for Poland?

And Mr. Secretary, does -- do these Russian provocations force changes in -- or rethinking of the U.S. National Defense Strategy? Thank you.

MIN. BLASZCZAK (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): So first of all, ladies and gentlemen, we are dealing with an attempt to rebuild the Russian empire by Putin. Now, Vladimir Putin, in a consistent manner, tries to expand his areas of influence, starting with 2008 where he attacked Georgia, 2014, he attacked Ukraine, and now he's amassed troops on the border with Ukraine. Now, all this are real -- realistic threats, and the best response to this kind of threat is a non-appeasement from the side of the free world, is deterrence. And thanks to the approach and posture of the United States of America, such a policy as it is now is very good.

Now, evidence of this policy is, for example, the presence of additional U.S. troops in Poland. In addition to that, as part of the North Atlantic Alliance, the United States of America very strongly highlight the fact that there is no concession to talk about the future of some countries by those countries, meaning that it's Ukraine to decide about its future and about which alliance Ukraine would like to join, and it's not Russia to decide about that. Now, such policy is the only policy that is able to stop the aggression.

Now, Poland, a country that has experienced war, Second World War, we experienced also the cruelty of occupiers. We are ready to support all those who need this support. Then again, we all count on that, that through diplomatic means, that we can solve this conflict. Yesterday's meeting of ministers of defense of NATO countries in Brussels as part of the North Atlantic Alliance and very, indeed, intense policy of the United States in the person of President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and, of course, Secretary Antony Blinken -- all these are activities that lead to stopping the aggressive policy of Russia.

Now, we all do believe that through being decisive and through a decisive policy of the free world, especially of the United States of America, there will be no war. Thank you very much.

Mr. Secretary?

SEC. AUSTIN: Jim, thanks for the question on the National Defense Strategy, and as you mentioned, you know, it will come out soon. Don't have a date to announce today, but I am very proud of the work that -- that our team has done in crafting this strategy. It -- it will certainly address the major threats to our security. It'll also address the major threats to the international rules-based order.

I think that, you know, as I -- as I look at -- well, you've heard me talk a lot before about integrated deterrence, and integrated deterrence will be a key piece of that new strategy. I don't want to preview too much today, but I -- you've heard me talk about this before, so I'll just reinforce the fact that that is a key element in our strategy. And integrated deterrence, you know, mean -- includes using all of the capability that’s in -- in all war-fighting domains -- air, land, sea, space, cyber domain -- plus using every instrument of national power -- diplomatic, economic -- you name it. But most important, using the capability and the capacity that's resident in our partners and allies.

And -- and so what you see today actually playing out, Jim, is -- is exactly that. You've seen us lead with diplomacy in every case. You've seen us work very -- very carefully with -- with our allies and partners to share information with -- with our allies and partners, and to also move very -- very quickly and deliberately to -- to help reassure and reinforce wherever required. So -- so you've -- you've seen a preview of that strategy begin to play out here as we address this -- this -- this most recent crisis.

But -- but thanks for the question, and we look forward to getting that -- that strategy out again. I'm -- I'm very proud of the work that the -- that our team has done on it.

STAFF (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The next question, please?

Q: Thank you for doing this. Mosheh Gains with NBC News.

First to you, Mr. Secretary. Did any NATO allies ask the U.S. to send more troops to shore up their defenses, or as a show of unity? And do you think that the NATO response force will be activated?

And then to both of you, when do you expect the missile defense sites to be operational? And do you think Putin would accept a mutual inspection agreement that would be satisfactory to you both? Also, how is Poland and the U.S. preparing for the potential of a humanitarian crisis if Ukraine falls and if Ukrainian refugees migrate to Poland?

SEC. AUSTIN: In terms of whether or not -- or whether I anticipate that we'll do -- have more deployments into port of allies and partners, I don't have anything to announce today. But I would also say that, you know, we're -- everything that we do, we're going to consult with allies and partners and make -- make sure that, you know, we are aligned with them as we -- as we consider any type of deployment.

So you've also heard me say that we are committed to Article 5 and -- and -- and we are very serious about that, and we will -- we will do what's necessary to help defend our partners and allies and live up to the -- to the -- to the premise of -- of Article 5.

MIN. BLASZCZAK (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We highly appreciate the U.S. presence in Poland, and at the same time, we do believe that this is the biggest and the most important deterrent factor for a potential aggressor -- appreciate the possibility to cooperate between the Polish armed force and the U.S. Armed Forces because this is all about building interoperability. This increases, at the same time, the -- of -- of defense capabilities and capacities of the Polish army and influences at the same time, the security of the entire Eastern flank of NATO.

Now, when it comes to the crisis that you asked about, because the crisis would certainly be generated, should Russia invade the Ukraine, now, I would like to highlight that. We are ready. We are ready to help all those who will be forced to leave Ukraine. We, as a nation that has so strongly and badly experienced World War II, we know what support is all about, and we are ready, of course, to support all those who need the support and who suffer because of such an aggression. Although, still, we do hope and still believe that there will be no conflict due to the unity of the free world, due to the unity of the North Atlantic Alliance, and also due to the decisive policy of the United States of America.

Now, these are the best deterrence elements. These are, at the same time, the best arguments against an aggressive policy that's being currently conducted by Kremlin.

Thank you. The last questions?

Q (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): TVP Info. A question to the minister and to the secretary, as well.

First of all, I wanted to ask you about the -- a part of those 250 Abrams tanks. Does Poland plan to buy further vehicles or equipment as part of U.S.-Polish cooperation? I'd also like to ask, if Russia will continue to escalate this military situation, will the U.S. decide to increase the military potential in the eastern flank, and where those servicemen could be deployed? Thank you.

MIN. BLASZCZAK (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): So when it comes to the first question, now, during our very good conversation with the secretary that I had -- and again, I'd like to thank you for that -- I talked about our plans to increase the Polish armed forces in numbers, and we talked about the modernization, also, of the Polish armed forces with the most modern equipment. Hence, an addition to the Patriots, HIMARS, at 35. We will soon have the Abrams tanks. The agreement will be signed as soon as it is possible.

But then again, we are prepared, because it's a governmental project, so we have prepared a new bill, the so-called Homelands Defense Bill or Homelands Defense Act, and it includes a mechanism that allows for even bigger financing of the modernization of Polish armed forces and the equipment of Polish armed forces, and we already, of the secretary, have talked about the fact that through building this interoperability, through equipping the Polish armed forces with the most modern equipment, in this way we can increase the defense capabilities of the entire eastern flank of NATO because the security of Poland means the security of the entire eastern flank of NATO.

I'm also very grateful to the secretary for the development of the Fifth Corps, which is currently in Poland. We talked also about this topic. This is undoubtedly a very important element of deterrence.

SEC. AUSTIN: In -- in terms of whether or not we intend to deploy any additional forces in the near term, again, I would just say that, you know, everything that we do, we will consult with NATO and our allies and partners to make sure that -- that we're fully-coordinated in any steps that we take going forward.

And -- and finally, I would reiterate that we are committed to Article 5, and -- and so whatever it takes, as you heard the president say, we will -- we will live up to our commitment there. And as I said earlier, what Mr. Putin wanted -- or did not want was a stronger NATO on his flank, and that's exactly what he has today, and that's what -- exactly what he'll have going forward.

STAFF (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Thank you, Mr. Minister. Thank you all for being with us in the press conference. Goodbye.