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Transcript

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III Holds a News Conference Following Ukraine Defense Consultative Group Meeting, Ramstein Air Base, Germany

April 26, 2022
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III; Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Thanks for coming this afternoon. In a moment, I'm going to turn the microphone over to Secretary Austin, but just a couple of administrative remarks.

The secretary will have some opening comments and then we'll have time a for a few questions. I will moderate those questions from here. I will call on the journalists. And if you could limit your follow-ups if possible -- so, we've got a bit of a tight timeline this afternoon.

So with that, Mr. Secretary?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, thanks, John. 

Good afternoon, everybody.

It's been an important day and a highly constructive one. We've had some great discussions in all and a lot of rich interactions among leaders throughout the day.

So let me, again, thank all of the ministers and the chiefs of defense and your teams for joining us today, especially my good friend, Ukraine's minister of defense, Minister Reznikov and his delegation. It's great to see you.

We're all coming away with a transparent and shared understanding of the challenge that the Ukrainians face, and I know that we're all determined to help Ukraine win today and build strength for tomorrow.

The work that we've done together in record time has made a huge difference on the battlefield. President Zelenskyy made that clear when we met Sunday in Kyiv. And countries all around the world have been stepping up to meet Ukraine's urgent needs.

And I wanted to especially welcome a major decision by our German hosts, as Minister Lambrecht announced just today that Germany will send Ukraine some 50 Cheetah anti-aircraft systems.

And yesterday, of course, the British government announced that it would provide Ukraine with additional anti-aircraft capabilities as well. And today, Canada announced that it will send Ukraine eight armored vehicles.

And so that's important progress. And we're seeing more every day. And I applaud all the countries that have risen and are rising to meet this demand. But we don't have any time to waste.

The briefings today laid out clearly why the coming weeks will be so crucial for Ukraine. So we've got to move at the speed of war.

And I know that all the leaders leave today more resolved than ever to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression and atrocities. And I know that we're all determined to do even more to better coordinate our efforts. So I was especially glad to hear General Wolters encourage us all to make more determined use of EUCOM's coordination mechanism.

Now, to ensure that we continue to build on our progress, we're going to extend this forum beyond today. I'm proud to announce that today's gathering will become a monthly contact group on Ukraine's self defense, and the contact group will be a vehicle for nations of good will to intensify our efforts and coordinate our assistance and focus on winning today's fight and the struggles to come. The monthly meetings may be in person, virtual or mixed, and they'll extend the transparency, the integration and the dialogue that we saw today.

And let me underscore another key point. We held an important session today on the long term support for Ukraine's defenses, including what that will take from our defense industrial bases. That means dealing with the tremendous demand that we're facing for munitions and weapons platforms and giving our staunch support to Ukraine while also meeting our own requirements and those of our allies and partners, but it also means redoubling our common efforts to strengthen Ukraine's military for the long haul, and I look forward to our discussions in the contact group and elsewhere about how to get that done right.

Let me again thank all of the countries who came together today. They've done crucial work and they sent a powerful signal. We're going to build on today's progress and continue to reach out to nations of good will to help Ukraine defend itself and we'll continue working transparently and urgently with our allies and partners and we'll continue pushing to support and strengthen the Ukrainian military for the battles ahead.

So we leave tonight strengthened and so does Ukraine. And thank you and I'll be glad to take your questions.

MR. KIRBY: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Our first question today will come from Sylvie Lanteaume, AFP. Do you have a microphone?

Q: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, actually I have a double question for you. Moldova is stepping up its security measures after a series of explosions in the separatist region of Trans-Dniester. Do you think there is a risk of spillover of the conflict to Moldova?

And my second question is after this big meeting about arming Ukraine, are you -- are you concerned that Putin may become restless and threaten again to use a nuclear weapon?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, on the issue of spillover to Moldova because of what we've seen here, a reporting of recent violence, we're still looking to the cause of that, that's still -- you know, still doing analysis there. So not really sure what that's all about but we'll -- that's something that we'll stay focused on. And certainly we don't want to see any spillover, and again, it's important to make sure that we do everything that we can to ensure that Ukraine is successful. And that's the best way to address that.

And the -- your second part of the question there, Sylvie, was?

Q: Was about the risk for Putin to threaten to use a nuclear weapon?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, you know, you've heard us say a number of times that that kind of rhetoric is very dangerous and unhelpful. Nobody wants to see a nuclear war happen. It's a war that, you know, where all sides lose.

And so rattling of sabers and, you know, dangerous rhetoric is clearly unhelpful and something that we won't engage in.

MR. KIRBY: Our next question goes to Susan Galhart from ZDF.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what military aid do you now -- oh -- Mr. Secretary, what military aid do you now expect from the German government? And do you think the delivery of Leopard tanks is sufficient, in your opinion?

SEC. AUSTIN: You mean Cheetahs, which is what the -- yeah.

Well, let me just say that -- and I think you probably heard me say this before as I visited Germany -- I consider Germany to be a great friend and an ally.

And, you know, I've served in Germany as an officer and worked with German forces and it's always been a real pleasure to work alongside our German partners here. Now, I think it's significant that, you know, Germany announced that it was going to provide 50 Cheetah systems. I think those systems will provide real capability for Ukraine.

And in terms of what else Germany will do going forward, again, that's a sovereign decision, one that the German leadership will make, and I don't want to speculate on that. I just believe that just based upon everything that I've seen in my interaction with the Minister of Defense and how intently she's been focused on making sure that she can do everything that she can to help and work alongside her partners and allies, that she'll continue to look for ways to be relevant and provide good capability to the Ukrainians as they continue to prosecute this fight.

MR. KIRBY: Our next question goes to John Ismay, New York Times.

Q: Mr. Secretary, yesterday you mentioned that one of the United States' goals in Ukraine now was to see Russia weakened. Can you explain more fully what that means? And specifically, what do you want to weaken and how you would measure success in that regard?

SEC. AUSTIN: Yeah, John, so I think we've been pretty clear from the outset -- we do want to make it harder for Russia to threaten its neighbors, and leave them less able to do that.

Now, if you look at what's transpired here in this 62 days or so that Ukraine and Russia have been involved in this struggle here, Russia has -- in terms of its land forces, their land forces have been attrited in a very significant way -- casualties are pretty substantial, they've lost a lot of equipment, they've used a lot of precision-guided munitions, they've lost a major surface combatant. And so they are, in fact, in terms of military capability, weaker than when this started.

You know, John, it will be harder for them to replace some of this capability as they go forward because of the sanctions and the trade restrictions that have been placed on them. And so, we would like to make sure, again, that they don't have the same type of capability to bully their neighbors that we saw at the outset of this conflict.

MR. KIRBY: Next question goes to Ute Spangenberger, from ARD. There she is.

Q: Hello. How can we guarantee a safe and secure Ukraine in future? Is it possible that Ukraine becomes member of NATO?

SEC. AUSTIN: That's -- again, that will be a sovereign decision. I think that NATO will always stand by its principles of maintaining an open door, so I don't want to speculate on what could come.

I do believe that, you know, in the future if the possibility exists, I think Ukraine will seek to once again apply to become a member of NATO. But again, that's probably a bit down the road, and speculation at this point is not very helpful.

I think the first step is to end this conflict. And I think -- what needs to happen to cause a conflict to come to an end, is Mr. Putin needs to make a decision to end this conflict. He's the person that started it. It was unjustified. And, of course, it will be his decision to deescalate and then go back to the negotiating table. And we really all would like to see that happen.

MR. KIRBY: OK, and the last question today, mindful of our time, is -- goes to Uva Dressen from TV2 Denmark. Uva?

Q: Thanks.

Mr. Secretary, the Russian foreign minister has warned that there's a danger of a third world war and there's a real danger of nuclear weapons being used in the present situation. Are you not afraid that the conflict will somehow spin out of control and we'll have this nuclear confrontation?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, we certainly will do everything within our power and within -- and Ukraine will have the same approach, do everything within their power to make sure it doesn't spin out of control. International community's focused on that as well.

Again, I think this -- any bluster about the use of nuclear -- possibile of use of nuclear weapons is very dangerous and unhelpful. Nobody wants to see a nuclear war. Nobody can win that. And as we do things and as we, you know, take actions, we're always mindful of making sure that we have the right balance and that we're taking the right approach.

So, there's always, you know, a possibility that a number of things can happen. But, you know, again, I think it's unhelpful and dangerous for -- to rattle sabers and speculate about the use of nuclear weapons.

Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Thank you all. That's all the time we have for today's press conference. We really appreciate you all coming. Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN: Thanks, guys.

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