SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, Minister Kaikkonen, it's a pleasure to host you at the Pentagon at this critically important time. Our meeting comes on the heels of President Biden and President Niinisto's meeting at the White House last Friday. And our defense relationship is more important than ever after Putin's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Russia's aggression has already killed and injured innocent people and forced more than a million-and-a-half Ukrainians to flee their country.
So many others, including President Zelenskyy, are staying and fighting back. And their courage inspires all of us. And now all of us must likewise stand with Ukraine and stand up for the rules-based international system that we built together some 75 years ago. And Finland is doing that. And your government's decision to send assistance will certainly help the brave people of Ukraine and I know that they are grateful for it.
Now, our bilateral relationship with Finland began nearly 30 years ago when the Finnish Air Force modernized its fighter fleet with American jets. Today, I'm looking forward to strengthening that relationship and starting a process of new avenues of bilateral defense cooperation, including space and irregular warfare.
Mr. Minister, the Finns have earned their reputation for being prepared to fight alone against a much larger force and for your profound will to defend your country. I respect and admire the Finnish total defense concept. Since the Winter War of 1939, Finland has maintained a national defense mindset. You never take your eye off the ball. And you never -- you've never taken freedom, democracy, and the rule of law for granted.
And so, Mr. Minister, thank you for your strong leadership. And, again, welcome to Washington. And I look forward to some good discussions.
FINLAND MINISTER OF DEFENSE ANTTI KAIKKONEN: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.
The two most pressing issues today are the situation in Ukraine and the security and defense of Europe. Particularly with Ukraine, in Finland we have been shocked by Russian aggression. Right now our thoughts are with the people of Ukraine. We feel that we must assist Ukraine and we have done this both bilaterally and through the European Union.
The U.S. administration has played a hugely influential role in pushing for forceful countermeasures sharing in (inaudible) and ensuring transatlantic unity. I would like to thank Secretary Austin and all of you -- all of you for your efforts.
This brings me to my second point. I said that we have been shocked by the recent events, but unfortunately the attack against Ukraine is a continuation of Russia’s aggressive behavior in the region. In Finland we have worked hard to maintain a strong defense and deepen our key cooperation with key partners. A great example is our decision to procure 64 F-35 fighter jets. Before coming to Washington, D.C., I visited Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, and was satisfied knowing that everything was proceeding as planned.
Today, we will have a serious discussion on the defense of Europe. Once again, the United States has played a crucial role in strengthening deterrence through NATO and bilaterally. This is strongly in the Finnish interest. At the same time, we are working closely with Sweden and together we have intensified our cooperation with NATO. I'm also pleased with the way the European Union has stepped up its game in support of Ukraine.
Last Friday, our presidents met here in Washington, and they agreed to start the process to deepen our already strong bilateral defense cooperation. I look forward to discussing the next steps with Secretary Austin. In parallel, we will continue to work trilaterally with Sweden.
Finally, in spite of and because of these pressing issues, we need to think long term. The war in Ukraine has profound implications for European security, for E.U., for NATO, for Finland. But as both of our presidents have stressed, this is not a European crisis, this is a global crisis. In these troubled times, Finland stands ready to work together with the United States. Thank you.
SEC. AUSTIN: Thank you, Mr. Minister.