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Transcript

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Mark A. Milley Hold a Press Conference Following the Ukraine Defense Contact Group Meeting, Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany

Sept. 8, 2022

STAFF: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for being here today.

It is my pleasure to introduce Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley. The secretary and the chairman will deliver some opening remarks, and then we'll have time to take a few questions. I will moderate those questions and call on journalists, and would ask that we limit follow-up questions due to our schedule today.

Secretary Austin?

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Well, thanks, Pat. Good afternoon, everyone.

We came into our fifth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group with lots of momentum, and we're leaving today with even more. I'm pleased to report that this contact group is now even more united and resolved to keep up our shared support for Ukraine's right to defend itself. That means meeting Ukraine's needs for today's battlefield, and I'm especially pleased by the emphasis today on positioning this contact group to support Ukraine's self-defense over the long haul. It means finding new and innovative ways to support the Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian people as they defend their country, their lives and their freedom.

Now, it's especially meaningful to be back here at Ramstein Air Base today. Ramstein is where we first launched this important contact group back in April, and since that first meeting, the United States has increased our military assistance to Ukraine by nearly four-fold. And yesterday, President Biden approved the latest tranche of U.S. assistance to Ukraine. It's valued at up to $675 million dollars, and it's the Biden administration's 20th drawdown of equipment from U.S. stocks for Ukraine since last August. The new package includes more HIMARS, ammunition, 105 mm howitzers, artillery ammunition and HARM missiles, Humvees and armored ambulances, anti-tank systems, small arms and more.

And nations of goodwill from around the world have stepped up, as well. Every time that we come together to meet Ukraine's urgent self-defense needs and every time that a contact group member announces another new security assistance package, it's yet another sign of the free world's enduring support for Ukraine's -- for -- for Ukraine and its refusal to accept Russia's imperial aggression.

I'm especially grateful that we got to hear again today from my good friends, Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine's minister of defense, and Lieutenant General Moisyuk, Ukraine's deputy chief of defense. It's deeply meaningful to have them here with us in person as Ukraine begins its counteroffensive in the south, and I want to thank my brave Ukrainian colleagues for sharing their insights from the battlefield.

Now, Ukraine -- Ukraine's defenders have been putting the military aid that we've all been sending them to immediate and effective use, and just look at how the Ukrainian forces have been using high-end capabilities like HIMARS and M270 rocket systems in their broader push to reclaim Ukraine's sovereignty -- or Ukraine's sovereign territory.

Russia is responding with a campaign of cruelty. Putting -- Putin's forces are shelling and -- shelling civilians and -- and cities, and I'm especially concerned that Russia is creating combat conditions around the Ukrainian nuclear plant of Zaporizhzhia. That's deeply reckless, and it could have great consequences.

So we won't let up in our support for Ukraine's self-defense, not today, not tomorrow. The countries represented here today have shown their resolve to support Ukraine's bedrock sovereign right to defend itself, and they've shown leadership in pushing to innovate, to integrate, to train and to produce to meet Ukraine's security needs for the long haul.

We had some good conversations today about Ukraine's self-defense priorities. Right now, Ukraine urgently needs more artillery systems and ammunition. It also needs air defense and coastal defense and other critical capabilities. The United States has stepped up to meet those needs, and I'm very glad that so many of our allies and partners have, as well.

Beyond that, this contact group will keep coming up with new ways to support Ukraine for the road ahead, and many countries continue to dig deep and provide equipment out of their own military stocks, and that can mean purchasing new equipment from their own defense industries, or even purchasing new equipment from other countries that they can send to Ukraine.

Countries in our contact group are also leading efforts on training, maintenance and sustainment, and that will help ensure that Ukraine has the capabilities that it needs to succeed on the battlefield, now and in the weeks and months ahead. I want to especially thank the U.K. for establishing a basic -- basic training program for new Ukrainian recruits. And getting more trained professional soldiers into the fight is especially key as Russia sends more and more untrained soldiers into battle.

I also want to thank our eastern flank allies, namely, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, for reinvigorating their industrial bases to meet Ukraine's self-defense needs. Their round-the-clock efforts to manufacture new armaments are key to Ukraine's success. And we're going to move even faster and push even harder.

So I'm proud to announce that, in the next few weeks, in coordination with NATO, the United States will host a special session under the auspices of this contact group to bring together our senior national armaments directors. And they will discuss how our defense industrial bases can best equip Ukraine's future forces with the capabilities that they need. We also -- we'll have much more on this topic, and the details of the session very soon.

And it's a reflection of something that's central to this contact group. We're working together to arm and to train Ukraine on the current fight, yet we're also working together to help Ukraine defend capable -- or develop capable sustainable forces to defend itself and deter aggression over the long term.

Ukraine is fighting for its life. It's fighting for its sovereign territory and its democracy and its freedom. But the stakes reach far beyond the front lines. They reach us all. But members of this contact group aren't just helping defend Ukraine; they're helping to defend the rules-based international order that emerged after the horrors of the Second World War.

And for the past 70 years that rules-based order has made the world more secure, more stable, more free and more prosperous. So the United States will continue to stand with Ukraine today and tomorrow. And along with our allies and partners, we will increase the momentum. And we'll work together to help Ukraine build up its enduring strength and its lasting ability to defend itself.

So thank you, and now let me turn it over to General Milley.

GENERAL MARK A. MILLEY: Thanks, Secretary Austin. And good afternoon, everyone.

And on behalf of all the CHODs and -- and the -- and the ministers of defense that were here today, I want to publicly thank Secretary Austin for his leadership. This contact group would not exist without his energy and initiative. This is our fifth meeting, and it's been very consequential to the results that Ukraine has achieved. And we have had today, I think it's around 50 countries who are represented here in this particular contact group. So thank you, Secretary, for that.

And I also want to thank -- publicly thank Ukraine's minister of defense and the chief of defense, General Zaluzhnyi, my counterpart, whom I talk to very frequently, several times a week, in close coordination, on their needs and requirements as we go forward.

More than six months have passed since Russia launched an illegal invasion of a free and independent country named Ukraine, that has been free and independent since 1991. In this time, in the last six months, the Ukrainians have withstood brutal assaults on their capital and other major urban areas throughout their country. They have sustained countless missile strikes and artillery barrages. They've borne the brutal costs of thousands, tens of thousands of casualties killed and wounded.

Many civilians have perished due to indiscriminate Russian attacks. There's almost 15 million refugees and internally displaced persons. Significant infrastructure in Ukraine has been damaged. The Ukrainian people have suffered tremendously, and yet they remain a free, independent, and sovereign country. You came -- Ukraine remains strong and free because of the bravery of their people, the competence of their military, and the support of the International Community.

The group of countries that gather here today remain committed to Ukraine and to the people of Ukraine, for their desire to live freely, live free of Russian occupation and live free of Russian violence. The vital work of this contact group is truly extraordinary.

The Russian invasion shatters the international norms that the Secretary talked about -- the international norm of the rules-based international order, the rule of law, the understanding that the -- the powerful cannot attack the weak.

The International Community, and not just the countries of Europe but really around the globe, understand that. And Russia's unprovoked invasion upended that rules-based order, and so the world responded. And Ukrainians continue to employ the security assistance that they've been provided incredibly effectively.

The Russians have achieved minor tactical success in various parts of eastern Ukraine, but so far, Russian strategic objectives have been defeated. The war is not over, but so far, the Russian strategic objectives have been defeated. That's due to their failures and also due to the bravery of the Russian -- or the Ukrainian military, the bravery of the Ukrainian people, and the support of the countries that were at the contact group today.

They've adjusted their strategy, the Russians have, and their tactics but so haven't (sic) the Ukrainians. It's a war and there is give and take, there's action, reaction and counter-action. But despite being outgunned and outmanned, the Ukrainians have demonstrated superior tactical proficiency and they've demonstrated a superior will to fight, fight for their own country, fight for their freedom.

As assistance flows into the country, we have observed the Ukrainians effectively couple the weapons systems that we have provided them with combined arms maneuver, excellent command and control, to achieve desired effects, and we see this playing out today with the Ukrainian recent operations in the south.

Let me give you a very brief battlefield update. As you know, the Russians attacked beginning 24 February -- so think in terms of 24 February to about the middle of April. The Russians continue the strategic attack to try to capture Kyiv, get to the Dnipro River, assault through the south out of Crimea, into the Donbas, and then also potentially conduct an attack against Odessa. Those attacks failed. They didn't seize the capital, they didn't topple the government, they didn't get to the Dnipro River, and they didn't seize Odessa.

So in the beginning of April, the Russians adjusted their war aim and they consolidated their forces in the east, in order to attack and seize all of the Donbas and hold Odessa at risk. They launched that offensive on or about the 15th or 16th of April and they have been defeated in that.

Their operational objectives in that offensive have not been successful. They have not achieved (all of the Donbas)(sic), and they have only crossed the Dnipro River in the south, in the vicinity of Kherson. So their operational aims, in addition to their strategic aims, have been defeated by a very successful defense conducted by Ukraine.

At the beginning of this month, on or about the 1st of September, Ukraine launched an offensive in order to seize the operational and strategic initiative. That offensive is ongoing. That offensive is in its early stages and it's too early to give a full assessment, but to date, Ukraine is effectively using their fires to shape the ground maneuver as they continue their offensive in the south. And what we're talking about is the area just north of the Dnipro River, in the vicinity of Kherson. And I'll be happy to answer any specific questions anybody may have on that when we get to the Q&A.

The discussions from today's meetings were not just about support to the current fight but equally important is the longer term. As of today, as you know, we, the United States, have transferred 16 HIMARS to Ukraine with thousands of GMLR rounds, hundreds of thousands of artillery 155 ammunition, along with 126 M777 artillery tubes, thousands of anti-tank weapons, thousands of anti-aircraft weapons.

HARM missiles have been transferred to the Ukrainians to help them out -- in addition to that, small arms and a lot of non-lethal equipment. The United States has provided almost half a million rounds of 155 artillery, as an example.

The United States made a significant commitment but so have the other countries. All of the countries are providing and according to their need and Ukraine is being well supplied with all of the systems needed to defend themselves.

We are seeing real and measurable gains from Ukraine in the use of these systems. For example, the Ukrainians have struck over 400 targets with the HIMARS and they've had devastating effect.

Russian lines of communication and supply channels are severely strained. It is having a direct impact on the Russian ability to project and sustain combat power. Russian command and control in the headquarters have been disrupted and they're having -- they're having great difficulty resupplying their forces and replacing their combat losses.

The war is not over. Russia's a big country. They have very serious ambitions with respect to Ukraine. So sustainment of Ukraine to continue their fight for their survival will be necessary. And moving forward, I know that the Secretary and all of the members of the contact group are going to work together in the future with our counterparts to continue to provide Ukraine with what they need to continue their quest for their freedom.

The nature of war is often unpredictable but we are committed, shoulder to shoulder with Ukraine, to ensure they remain a free, independent, and sovereign country.

Thank you, Secretary, and I look forward to all of your questions.

STAFF: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you, Chairman.

Our first question will go to Idrees Ali from Reuters.

Q: Mr. Secretary, your administration has indicated that they will go back to Congress for additional funding for Ukraine's war needs, and some lawmakers have already expressed skepticism about their willingness to -- to pass additional funding.

Can you explain to the American taxpayers why did -- why Congress should approve additional funding for military aid to Ukraine, given that the domestic economy is still in a precarious situation?

And -- and for the chairman, you mentioned the counteroffensive. Would you describe the progress the Ukrainians have made in the south as -- as being modest, as being sort of slower-than-expected? How would you describe it? And are you concerned that now that they have started a counteroffensive partially in the east as well, that they might be sort of overstretched in their capabilities?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, thanks, Idrees. As you know, what we've seen in terms of support from Congress to this point has been broad bipartisan support, and based upon the interest and the -- and the -- and the support that we've seen, I fully expect that we'll continue to receive broad bipartisan support because, you know, our leaders recognize how important this is, how important it is that -- that we continue to help Ukraine have the ability to protect its sovereign territory. So clearly, you know, as we -- as we ask for resources, there's always an expectation that we are able to lay out the -- the rationale for those -- for those requests, and we'll -- we'll certainly do that.

But I -- what I would say is that what we've seen from the Ukrainians thus far -- and the chairman highlighted this in -- in a very straightforward way -- the Ukrainians have put to use, good use, the equipment that we've provided them, and we see those effects on the battlefield as we speak. HIMARS are -- are one example, but there are other examples, as well. The Ukrainians have inflicted significant damage to the Russians' supplies lines and -- and ammunition supply points and command-and-control nodes as they as they continue to shape the battlefield to be able to maneuver to retake some of their sovereign territory. So I expect that we'll continue to see support, but I fully appreciate the fact that there will be an expectation that we lay out the rationale for that.

GEN. MILLEY: So it is the question of progress in the south. Again, as I said in my opening remarks, I think it's a bit early to make a full and wholesome assessment. What the Ukrainians are doing is a very deliberate offensive attack. They are setting conditions with fires in order to set conditions for ground maneuver to accomplish the objectives that they set out.

I don't want to go over specific axises of advance or specific objectives at this point. I think that's too early. But I would say that -- I would characterize it as a very deliberate offensive operation that is calibrated to set conditions, and then seize their objectives, and -- and we think at this point that their progress -- you -- you mentioned the word "modest" or "moderate". Their -- their progress is steady, and it's deliberate.

Secondly is overstretch. No, I don't. There are -- this battlefield, you know, from -- from Kharkiv all the way down to Kherson is a significant front-line trace, if you will. It's about 2,500 kilometers of -- of border that Ukraine has to protect, and about 1,300 are -- are engaged in act -- 1,300 kilometers are engaged in, you know, active combat one way or another, and that's a little bit less than that as you go from Kharkiv down to Kherson.

So there's fighting all along that front, and one of the areas you mentioned, the counteroffensive up in Kharkiv that -- that is being launched also by Ukraine, there's been fighting back and forth in and around Kharkiv for the entire time, but I don't think they are particularly overstretched, per se. But there is fighting both offense and defense from -- all the way from Kharkiv all the way down to Kherson. Right now, the intensity of the fighting is occurring up in Kharkiv. There's significant fighting down around Bakhmut, and then, of course, the offensive down in Kherson. So they're continuing the fight. They've got the forces to do it, and we'll see how this plays out.

STAFF: Okay, for our second question we'll go to Ute Spangenberger from A -- ARD.

Q: My question: Is there a shift in the aim of the Ukraine Contact Group from initially enabling Ukraine to defend itself, to now supporting Ukraine's efforts in regaining conquered territories like the (Crim?)?

SEC. AUSTIN: Is that question for me, Ute?

Q: Yeah.

SEC. AUSTIN: Okay, great. So as we -- as the chairman described earlier, we've seen a shift in the dynamics on the battlefield over time; started out in the east, you -- the Russians attacking on multiple axes, a serious battle unfolded around Kyiv. The Ukrainians won that battle. A fight then again shifted down to the Donbas, and it turned into a struggle, an artillery struggle, and -- and it was really defined and shaped by long-range artillery systems.

As the Ukrainians have acquired additional capabilities in terms of HIMARS and -- and HARM missiles and those types of things not only from us, but from our allies as well, they began to change the dynamics on the battlefield again and -- and are exercising some initiative.

And -- and so we have remained focused throughout on helping Ukraine defend its sovereign territory. We remain focused on that, and -- and as they prosecute this fight, certainly, they're -- they intend to take back some of that territory that Russia has occupied in -- in -- in the south, in -- in -- in the east. And so that's their focus, and we will continue to support their efforts to -- to defend their sovereign territory and -- and -- and protect their sovereignty, so –

So in -- in -- in essence, our goals and aims have not changed, but we remain focused on the dynamics of the fight and what's needed to be successful in that fight, and we -- we endeavor to stay one or two steps ahead there, Ute, so --

STAFF: Thank you, sir.

For our next question, we'll go to Jonathan Ismay, New York Times.

Q: Thank you.

Mr. Secretary, in your remarks today, you've mentioned that you'd like to bring together the national armaments directors of Contact Group member nations. Can you explain what that would entail, and whether this coordination plus your comments about the need for increased munitions production constitutes a mobilization of the domestic defense industries of the roughly-50 Contact Group member nations?

SEC. AUSTIN: Well, I think all of our partners and allies that are -- are part of the Contact Group remain focused on making sure that they have what's required in their stocks to defend their interests, but at the same time, continue to contribute in a meaningful way to Ukraine not just now, but going into -- into the future, as well.

And so I -- we all believe that working together, we can better streamline things. We can shorten times for -- shorten acquisition times, perhaps work on -- on supply chain issues, learn from each other. We can increase interoperability by making sure that, you know, if I have a 155 howitzer and I'm from one country, the rounds from another 155 howitzer -- type of howitzer can -- can be used in that particular weapon as well.

So this interoperability is important, not only to the -- in terms of the Ukraine effort, it's important for NATO writ large. So I think there are a number of things that -- that we can -- we can do. We can work together, again, share lessons, streamline processes, and -- and shorten acquisition times where possible.

So I think there's broad agreement that this is an area that we can work on together and -- and -- and improve our ability to provide capability to Ukraine, not just for now but for the -- for the foreseeable future as well.

STAFF: We have time for one more question. We'll go to (Krystal Haas), ZDF.

Q: My question is for the Secretary of Defense. The -- Ukraine recently asked for heavily-armed battle tanks to -- like the German Leopard tank. What is the -- what are the reasons that -- on this meeting there was no -- no topic? And why don't you come -- or answer positively to that request of the Ukraine?

SEC. AUSTIN: I -- I -- I'm sorry, (Krysten) (sic), I -- I -- I didn't hear the first part of your question there.

Q: The -- Ukraine was asking for battle tanks -- special, heavily-armed battle tanks to be delivered, especially from Germany, but today, it was no topic. So what are the reasons?

SEC. AUSTIN: So we see Ukraine rightfully request help with armored vehicles throughout this conflict, and -- and a lot of help has been provided. We've seen countries from -- you know, throughout the entire region, move forward and -- and provide tanks and armored personnel carriers to -- to Ukraine.

The United States has provided a number of armored personnel carriers, up-armored Humvees, armored ambulances, MRAPs -- as you know, those are the -- the heavier wheel vehicles -- and -- and other countries have stepped up as well. And you'll recall -- I know you -- you're very familiar with this -- Germany just recently provided some armored air defense capabilities to -- to Ukraine.

So the entire community -- continues to work together to provide as much as we can, as fast as we can, and focus on those things that are -- that are relevant to the -- to the current fight but also provide some capability going forward there.

So again, it -- it's a -- it continues to be a work-in-progress but I can assure you that -- that the team or -- the entire team remains focused on this and Germany stepped up to do its part along the way as well.

STAFF: Thank you very much, everybody. Appreciate it.

SEC. AUSTIN: You guys sure you don't have more questions for the Chairman?

(Laughter.)

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