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

STAFF:  Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for being here today. It is my pleasure to introduce Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs Staff, General Mark Milley.  The secretary and the chairman will deliver opening remarks, and then we'll have some time to take a few questions.  Please note that I will moderate those questions and call on journalists.  Due to time constraints, I would ask those I call on to limit their follow-up questions to give your colleagues a chance to ask their questions, and I appreciate your assistance with this.

With that, Secretary Austin?


And good afternoon, everyone.  Nearly one year ago, I first convened what became the Ukraine Defense Contact Group right here at Ramstein.  Our goal was to improve the coordination of our support for Ukraine as it fought back against Russia's reckless and lawless invasion. 

Over the past year, this Contact Group has become an extraordinary community of action, and together, we have rallied to defend the principles of democracy and freedom and sovereignty.  So we're all back here at Ramstein a year later to build on that impressive progress. 

Over the past year, the members of this Contact Group have provided tremendous capability to Ukraine.  Right after Russia invaded, we surged in Javelins and Stingers, and then we provided Ukraine's defenders with howitzers and HIMARS and other artillery, and we continue to rush in ground-based air defense capabilities and munitions to help Ukraine control its sovereign skies and to help Ukraine defend its citizens from Russian cruise missiles and Iranian drones.

 Our collective efforts have made a huge difference on the battlefield, and now, in just a few short months, the Contact Group has delivered more than 230 tanks, more than 1,550 armored vehicles and other equipment and munitions to support more than nine new armored brigades. We've also expedited our M1 Abrams timelines to supply Ukraine with more armored capability in the coming months, and the M1s that the Ukrainians will use for training will arrive here in Germany in the next few weeks. And all of this is huge progress, and I am confident that this equipment and the training that accompanied it — it will put Ukraine's forces in a position to continue to succeed on the battlefield. 

Ukraine forces have formidable capability and courage, as we have seen throughout, and all of this progress rests on the coordinated work of some-50 nations of goodwill that have gathered again today. 

Now, let me say just a few words about the reports of unauthorized disclosure of sensitive and classified U.S. material.  I take this matter extremely seriously, and we will continue to work closely and — with our deeply-valued allies and partners in a spirit of abiding respect and friendship.  As I have discussed this issue with our allies and partners, I've been struck by their solidarity and their commitment to reject efforts to divide us, so nothing will fracture our unity or reduce our determination.

 Now, I'm grateful to my good friend Oleksii Reznikov for joining us at Ramstein, and he once again gave us all a first-hand account of the battlefield dynamics, highlighting Ukraine's most urgent needs in the critical months ahead. 

We also heard from my colleagues in U.S. European Command about the progress on building Ukraine's combat power as Ukraine prepares to push back the lines of Russian invade — invaders, and we talked about key enablers that will help Ukraine repel Russian forces such as heavy equipment and transport vehicles and refuelers and mine rollers.  And I'd like to thank those here who announced donations of these important systems, including Germany and the Netherlands.  We also discussed ways to intensify our sustainment in industrial base initiatives.

Now, Russia has continued its assault on civilian targets in Ukraine, including schools and theaters and apartment buildings, and those targets have absolutely no military value whatsoever.  So we're helping Ukraine defend its citizens and its skies against Russian missiles and Iranian drones.

 Now, many Contact Group members have stepped up with new air defense systems and critically-needed ammunition for those systems, and we're going to stay focused on the key capabilities that Ukraine needs right now, as well as in the medium term. 

Now, we also heard today from the European Union on its proposal to speed up the production and delivery of ammunition for Ukraine, and more countries are thinking about how they can increase industrial production not just for the near term, but also for the medium term and the long term, and that is a powerful reminder that we stand with Ukraine's defenders for the long haul. 

You know, Putin made a series of grave miscalculations when he ordered the invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.  He thought that Ukraine wouldn't dare to fight back, but Ukraine is standing strong with the help of its partners.  Putin thought that our unity would fracture, but Russia's cruel war of choice has only brought us closer together.  And I'd note that Finland, which has long taken part in this contact group, is here today as a new NATO ally.  I expect that Sweden will soon follow, and that makes something crystal clear — Putin's war of choice is not the result of NATO enlargement, Putin's war is the cause of NATO's enlargement.

 You know, when I first convened this contact group, I saw nations of goodwill that were eager to help Ukraine resist Russia's imperial aggression, I saw a coalition that stood united and firm, I saw countries determined to stand up for an open and secure world of rights and rules, and all of that was just as true at Ramstein today as it was a year ago. 

The Ukrainians are still standing strong in their fight for their freedom and they have the courage and the capability for the road ahead and we will have their backs for as long as it takes.

And so with that, I'll turn it over to the Chairman.

GENERAL MARK A. MILLEY:  Thank you, Secretary, and I want to start off by thanking Secretary Austin for his leadership over the past year in this 11th Ukrainian Defense Contact Group, which has resulted in enormous support to Ukraine, not only from the countries of Europe but really from the globe, and it really wouldn't be happening without Secretary Austin's leadership.  So thank you, sir. 

And thanks also to the ministers and chiefs of defense from over 50 countries that attended today and have consistently attended now for a year, and their participation and support is critical to the capability of the Ukrainian military to defend itself. 

It's been nearly a year since Secretary Austin began this contact group right here at Ramstein and this forum has been vital to coordinate and synchronize the support, continued international support, to Ukraine. 

I also want to thank Ukrainian Minister of Defense Reznikov and — and my colleague and partner, Chief of Defense General Zaluzhnyi, whom I've had a chance to contact in the last week or so, and his representative here, General Moisuk, for their continued leadership.  I also congratulate Finland on their accession into NATO.  This historic event marks a deepening of the NATO alliance and reaffirms to the world the strength of this relationship.

But this is not just about the United States and European security. NATO and this contact group helped to uphold something bigger than that. They uphold the global international order, where all nations can live in peace and can prosper, a world that respects sovereignty and the rule of law, a world that counters unbridled military aggression. 

421 days ago, Putin thought he could overthrow the Ukrainian government, thought he could fracture NATO as he launched an unprovoked war of aggression, with hundreds of thousands of Russian forces crossing the border on multiple avenues of approach.  He was wrong.  Ukraine's spirit remains unbroken. 

There are now 31 members of NATO and NATO is even stronger and united in the face of Russia's aggression and its attack on the rules-based order.  The United States and the members of this contact group remain committed to supporting Ukraine as it fights for freedom against Russia's illegal and unprovoked invasion. 

To date, the United States has committed more than $35 billion in military assistance, including over two million tank and artillery rounds, tens of thousands of anti-armor weapons systems, air defense systems, and other forms of munitions, hundreds of tanks and armored vehicles, precision aerial munitions and counter-UAS capabilities.

 In addition, there's about 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers conducting training right now in Germany.  Another 8,800, almost 9,000 have completed training and have returned to Ukraine.  And there are 65 Ukrainians that completed training on Patriot missile systems just recently. 

Since the early phases of this war and for every month since, the United States has provided Ukraine with the capabilities to defend itself, and in conjunction with our allies and partners, we have delivered.  This coalition will continue to provide vital training and additional capabilities for air defense and maneuver to enable Ukraine's ongoing fight.

 Air defense munitions, air defense capabilities, tank munitions, armored vehicle capabilities, artillery ammunition, artillery tubes androckets, and spare parts remain critical as Ukraine protects its cities and expels the Russian menace from its territory.

 Our countries and the countries of Europe have pledged that Ukraine will have the capabilities it needs to execute their missions on their own timeline and we have pledged that support for as long as it takes, as the Secretary just said.  This week, the United States announced our latest security assistance package as part of our ongoing commitment to Ukraine. 

As we stand here today, the Ukrainian military continues to perform very well.  Intense fighting in and around Bakhmut continues and has for several months.  Russia is expending significant manpower for very little gain.  Russia is intensifying indiscriminate shelling in Avdiivka and other cities and urban areas.  And Russia continues to pay severely for its war of choice. 

Unlike the Ukrainian forces who are highly motivated to fight for their country, to fight for their freedom, their democracy and their way of life, the Russians lack in leadership, they lack will, the morale is poor, and their discipline is eroding.

 Russia has resorted to tightening conscription laws as they indiscriminately feed their citizens into the chaos of war, and so far, they've been quite ineffective in their coordination or direction of combined arms maneuver on the battlefield. 

Over the past year, Russia's temporary territorial gains have come with enormous losses.  Hundreds of thousands of Russians have fled their country, in addition to the casualties.  They are trying to avoid fighting in Putin's war. 

Russia continues to fail in achieving its strategic objectives. They failed to seize Kyiv, they failed to topple the Ukrainian government, and they failed to fracture NATO.  In fact, they've done just the opposite. Kyiv stands, the people of Ukraine are emboldened, and NATO has never been stronger. 

As President Biden and Secretary Austin have repeatedly said, the United States remains committed for as long as it takes.

Thank you and I look forward to your questions.

STAFF:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Thank you, Chairman.  Our first question will go to Rachel Cohen, Defense News.

Q:  Hi, thank you for doing this.  I have one question for each of you. Mr. Chairman, we know from the recent leaks that the Pentagon was bullish on Ukraine's chances of retaking much territory in the spring counter-offensive.  Is that still your assessment now or what has changed? And are you concerned that spring conditions on the ground will slow things down?

And then for Secretary Austin, looking at the current crisis in Sudan, what lessons learned from the Afghanistan evacuation are shaping your efforts to prepare to get U.S. embassy staff out of Sudan?  And has the State Department asked you to begin that process?

GEN. MILLEY:  Well, let me — let me start by saying that I'm not going to comment on future operations specifically or any of the substance that's in any of these leaks that are out there. 

But I will say that our task and our commitment to Ukraine was to provide the — the training and the equipment for up to nine brigades, armored brigades, armored mech brigades to conduct either offensive or defensive operations.  Those brigades are trained, they're manned and they're equipped, and they are prepared for combat operations.  So whenever and wherever Ukraine chooses to use them, we will continue that support, and I am very confident in those units' ability to succeed.

SEC. AUSTIN:  Regarding Sudan, the department, through our headquarters at AFRICOM, continues to monitor very closely the situation on the ground, and we continue to coordinate with — with the State Department to make sure we have a common vision of what the situation is. 

We always want to make sure that we're doing prudent planning, which is what we're doing.  We've — we've deployed some forces to — into theater to ensure that we provide as many options as possible if we are called on to do something, and we haven't been called on to do anything yet.  No decision on anything has been made.  And for operations' security purposes, as you would guess, I — I — I won't specify, you know, where those troops moved to and — and — but — but our focus is to make sure that we continue to do prudent planning and that we create and maintain as many options for our president as possible.

STAFF:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Ute Spangenberger, ARD.

Q:  My question is going to — to — to both, calling fighter jets. Ukraine said that they need more fighter jets.  Poland has just delivered MiGs.  Did you talk about fighter jets?  And how helpful could they be for Ukraine?

SEC. AUSTIN:  Right now, what — what we all believe is what Ukraine needs most urgently is ground-based air defense capability.  That is what has enabled them to prevent the Russian air forces from having a meaning —meaningful impact in this fight.  And so you've heard us say that for the last several months.  We will continue to say that because that is what is — is — is most important in the current — in the future of fight, the immediate future.  We have to make sure that the — the Ukrainians have the ability to protect their infrastructure, protect their citizens, but also protect troops that the troops are maneuvering.  So we — we continue to engage our partners and — and — and allies and — and emphasize that we need to do everything we can to ensure that Ukraine has adequate air defense — ground-based air defense capability.

 And I have to applaud the — the work that our partners are doing. Where possible, they're stepping up to the plate.  I believe that — that we can still do more, and I'm asking them to do more, and I believe that they will respond, so —

STAFF:  Okay, our next question will go to Will Dunlop, Agence France-Presse.

Q:  Thank you.

Secretary Austin, are Contact Group members working to speed up deliveries of military supplies, especially key items such as artillery rounds, ahead of Ukraine's counteroffensive?  And does Ukraine have the items it needs for that offensive?

And Chairman Milley, do you think the Abrams tanks will have a significant impact once they arrive on the battlefield in Ukraine?  The U.S. has previously expressed concerns about logistics and sustainment for the tanks.  Have those concerns been sufficiently addressed?  Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN:  Yeah, so several months ago as we — we set out to plan and — as our people set out to plan with the Ukrainian partners, we outlined the parameters for, you know, potential operations, and we designed this — the support that would be required to — to support those operations, and we laid that out in detail and we — that — that set us on a path to generate combat power, combat capability.  You've heard us talk about the — the combat platforms, the tanks, the Bradleys, the Strykers, Marders, CB90s, and all this — the sustainment that goes along with that and all of the munitions required to — to be successful.

 As you just heard, both what the chairman and I said, this was — this was really difficult work, but we have met our initial goals to provide what's required to — to get started and — and we will con — and we know that combat is dynamic, complex, and so we understand that we're going to have to continue to sustain Ukraine's efforts going forward when the fight starts and long after the fight continues.

GEN. MILLEY:  So on the M1 tank, you know, I'm biased, but I think the M1 tank's the best tank in the world.  There are other tanks that are quite good.  Leopards, for example, are being provided, as well.  But I do think the M1 tank, when it is delivered, will make a difference. 

Now, let me distinguish between — in a couple of weeks you're going to get training tanks — those aren't quite combat-capable — and they'll be used to train the crews on how to shoot, maneuver and maintain these tanks, and that'll be part of the sustainment package to get them trained up as the other tanks are — are — are being refurbished in order for — to accelerate their delivery.  But when they do get here and those crews are trained and they're used in a combined-arms maneuver tactic in combination with mech infantry, the Bradleys, they'll be very effective.

 But I would also caution, there's no silver bullet in war.  It's a — it's a — war is — the outcomes of battles and wars are the function of many, many variables.  And in this case, you — you would have to make sure that your tanks are used in combined arms with mechanized infantry, artillery, all of that is synchronized with dismounted forces, et cetera. So there is no silver bullet in this case, but I do think the M1 tank, when it's delivered and it reaches its operational capability, that it will be very effective on the battlefield.

STAFF:  Thank you.  And our last question will go to Anne-Claire Coudray, TF1.

Q:  Thank you.  One question for Secretary Lloyd Austin.  Do you really believe in a (inaudible) counter-offensive?  Because here today, we mainly hear about sustainability and long-term aid, and if  this counteroffensive doesn't lead to Ukrainian victory quickly, do you think that the Biden administration will still have the support of the American people to continue to help Ukraine?

And if I have the time, one quick question to General Miley (sic). You have been asked about jets, but is there any chance that the United States change their mind about the delivery of F-16?  Thank you.

SEC. AUSTIN:  So, (Clair ?), your question is whether or not we can expect to  have — continue to have support for Ukraine.  Well, we — we've enjoyed strong support from the American people throughout for — for this— this effort, this campaign, and that support has enabled the Ukrainians to be as successful as they have been on the battlefield.  I have to credit the Ukrainians for their will to fight, for the ingenuity, for their professionalism, for their leadership.  But even when you have all of that, you can't get it done unless you have the right gear and — and the — and — and you are able to sustain your efforts.  And so we've worked together to help create the dynamics that we've seen thus far.  We're going to continue to work. 

So we've enjoyed support from the American people throughout.  I am — I am very hopeful that we'll continue to see that same level of support, and — and again, this is not just important to the Ukrainian people, it's important to the world. 

This is about the rules-based international order, this is about, you know, a — a bully not having the — the ability to trample his — his smaller neighbor at will, and this is about protecting — or providing the  opportunity for a country to protect its sovereign rights, so.

GEN. MILLEY:  So on the F-16 or any other fourth generation aircraft from any other country, I would — you know, first of all, those are policy questions that'll be made by political leaders, but from a military  perspective, the task is to control the airspace. 

How you control that airspace can be done in many, many different ways.  The most cost effective, efficient and — way to do that right now for Ukraine and the fastest way to do that for Ukraine is through air defense.  They've been doing it for over a year now. 

They've been denying the airspace to effective Russian use.  The Russians have been flying some sorties in Ukraine but limited amounts of sorties over Russian-occupied Ukraine.  They have — Russians have not done battlefield air interdiction deep into Ukraine territory, except through missiles and rockets that have been fired from over Russian territory. 

Why is that done by the Russians?  Because the Ukrainians are shooting Russian aircraft down.  So the Russians are cautious to come into Ukraine because of the effective use of the Ukrainian air defense system. That is the most critical thing right now, is that air defense system, to make sure that it is robust, it's rigorous, it's deep, and it's layered from high altitude to mid altitude to low altitude and from short range, mid range to long range.  And the front line forces — the Ukrainian front line forces need to be  protected. 

That's the most important, critical military task right now.  That was the theme of this entire day, was air defense, air defense, air defense, to make sure that Ukraine can defend its airspace.

 In terms of the aircraft themselves, there's a long lead time for — for training of pilots, et cetera, and the Russians have a significant amount of air power.  And to take the Ukrainian Air Force from where it is today and to build it up to match the Russian Air Force, that's a significant level of effort by lots of countries, and those policy choices may or may not be made down the road and we'll see where that goes.

 But right now, the immediate need is air defense.

STAFF:  Secretary Austin, General Milley, thank you very much, gentlemen.  Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes our press briefing.  Thank you very much for joining us today.

SEC. AUSTIN:  Thanks, everybody.