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Senior Defense Official Holds a Background Briefing on the Outcomes of the 19th Ukraine Defense Contact Group Meeting

STAFF: Well, good morning, everyone. Thank you for your patience, and welcome to today's background call. As noted in our advisory, today's briefing is on background, and for your notes, our senior defense official today is (omitted). You may refer to and attribute comments from (omitted) as "a senior defense official." This briefing will run for approximately 30 minutes, and is focused on the outcomes of the 19th Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, which was held earlier this week.

We'll start with an opening statement, and then turn to questions. I ask that you keep to one question centered on today's topics out of respect for colleagues on this call. Again, this is an on-background briefing attributable to "a senior defense official." And with that, I'll turn it over to our senior defense official.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, thank you. Good morning. It's a pleasure to be here, and I want to talk a little bit about the Wednesday Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting. It was the 19th such meeting; Secretary Austin chaired. We held it in a virtual format. And you know, I've been to all 19 of these, and I'll tell you, each time, I am incredibly impressed by what our allies and partners bring forward in terms of support packages.

At this point, the United States is -- we're not the top donor to Ukraine when it comes to security assistance or economic assistance, for that matter. When you look at security assistance, we're actually the 16th in the world when it comes to percentage of GDP. So we have a lot to appreciate from our allies and partners.

Just a few announcements that were particularly notable, I thought, from this week. Canada pledged $60 million to support Ukraine's Air Force program. The U.K. talked further about their $2.5 billion pound package, including an additional 200 million pounds for drones, and Germany has just announced a $1.13 billion euro package, including (Ukraine’s) critical artillery and air defense needs.

So the allies are really focused on Ukraine's urgent needs on the battlefield, but one of the stories from this UDCG is how allies and partners are better organizing themselves to be able to support not just the urgent, but also the long term, and this is the story of the capability coalitions.

At this point, we have eight capability coalitions that have been established: Air Force, Air Defense, Artillery, Maritime Security, Armor, Information Technology, De-mining and Drones. And so for each of these, you have two, or sometimes three allies and partners that are standing up to lead, committing to lead and organize efforts to build this capability area of Ukraine's force.

There are 30 UDCG countries that have already committed to one or more capability coalition either in a leadership role or in a participation role, and some of the leaders of these coalitions include Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom, and the United States is also clearly involved.

These coalitions -- what they are offering the Ukrainians and our own security assistance efforts is a way to streamline our assistance so that we can be channeling donor contributions for both near- and long-term support in the most efficient way possible. We're focusing on specific capability areas so that we can make strategic and, frankly, practical decisions about specific platforms that Ukraine will need today and in the future to focus on sustainability of Ukraine's force and to minimize costs over time.

So it's really an approach that enables allies and partners to support Ukraine's capability needs from soup to nuts with a coherent approach to training, maintenance and sustainment for each capability area.

It also really offers the allies and partners a chance to lock-in to support specific capability areas, locking into longer-term support for Ukraine. And what we're seeing is some of our allies and partners are actually going to codify this support in their bilateral security commitment agreements with Ukraine, and the U.K. is the most recent example of doing this.

So we're really excited about the capability coalitions. We think they offer a sustainable and efficient solution to supporting Ukraine, and we're really heartened by the long-term commitments.

Now, I want to shift gears just slightly for a moment here because certainly you've heard us talking a lot about how essential it is for the U.S. Congress to enact the supplemental funding so that we can continue to support Ukraine in its fight.

We've talked a lot about the costs certainly of security assistance, and I think we've also talked a lot about the costs of inaction, that if Ukraine fails because we fail to provide them with security assistance, the costs are high for Europe, for the United States, and for the world, higher than the costs of security assistance today.

But I don't think we've talked quite as much about the costs that Russia has already incurred and continues to incur as we support the Ukrainian Armed Forces in their fight. So here's a few -- a few new statistics.

In terms of total financial costs, Russia has probably spent up to $211 billion --

(UNKNOWN): (inaudible).

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: -- sorry, I think we have a hot mic.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Okay, thank you. Okay, so let me go back to the Russia piece. So in terms of total financial costs to Russia, Russia has probably spent up to $211 billion in direct financial outlays to equip, deploy, maintain, and sustain Russian operations in Ukraine.

In terms of arms sales, the Ukraine war has cost Russia more than $10 billion in canceled or postponed arms sales.

And then in terms of lost economic growth, the war has cost Russia an expected $1.3 trillion in previously anticipated economic growth through 2026.

Of course, this comes on top of the personnel costs, and we estimate at least 315,000 Russian forces have been either killed or wounded in the fight. And you've heard a lot about Russian losses in the Black Sea as well, and since February of 2022, Ukrainian forces have sunk, destroyed, or damaged at least 20 medium to large Russian Federation Navy vessels and one Russian-flagged tanker in the Black Sea.

So I thought some of these costs for Russia would put in perspective the overall costs of this war. And I really welcome your questions today.

STAFF: Okay, thank you very much. Let's go ahead and go to Ellen Knickmeyer at the Associated Press.

Q: Hi, thank you very much for doing this. You list the costs to Russia of waging the war in Ukraine, but, I mean, we're seeing more and more signs that, if anything, Putin feels emboldened (with) the reported death of Navalny today and, you know, the resumption of interference in U.S. elections with Putin's comments, the anti-satellite weapons. And this comes at a time when the U.S. has so far been unable to reach consensus on increased aid to Ukraine.

Is -- how do you place that all in context? And, I mean, can the U.S. do anything militarily do anything to make this, you know, more costly to Putin in the next year before possibly a more sympathetic president comes to office in the U.S.? And it seems like kind of a matter of waiting the U.S. out on time right now. Could you address that?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So our focus is not on waiting. We firmly believe that if the U.S. Congress passes the supplemental, we will be able to provide essential support for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. They will continue to defend their homeland and they will be able to inflict significant costs on Russian forces in the immediate term.

So this is not about waiting for anything, this is about reinforcing the Ukrainians, and it's also about ensuring that our own forces have what they need.

Without the supplemental funding, we will face resource gaps to support our own forces that are deployed in Europe, that are there defending our allies and defending our strategic interests, and we also will lack the resources to replenish our own military capabilities, and thus promote U.S. readiness, support our deterrence of adversary aggression, and enable us to be prepared to fight tonight, wherever we need to.

But all of that absolutely requires the Congress to pass the supplemental.

Q: -- a follow-up, just to note there's not a clear path right now for the supplemental to pass? Is there planning underway for you know, militarily by the U.S., in terms of what it does if the funding doesn't come?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We are always planning in DOD. We are always doing contingency planning for a variety of circumstances. And our military is always working to be as prepared as possible. But we do absolutely need this supplemental funding. There is no substitute for it.

STAFF: Thank you. Let's go to Anne Flaherty, ABC.

Q: Hi, thank you for doing this. So I kind of want to ask that you know, a spin on that same question, which is I'm wondering if you could help us with the characterization on where the war stands now. Last year -- well, there was this big counter-offensive that didn't make any gains.

Would you regard where we are now kind of a stalemate? And if more aid isn't coming, is it fair to say that the war would then tip in Russia's favor?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So first, in terms of where the war now stands, I think it's important to not just focus on territory on the ground but certainly Ukraine has actually recaptured a significant amount of territory that Russia had originally taken after the large-scale invasion almost two years ago, but also to focus on these larger questions of costs and attrition. And Russia has suffered significant costs in that respect.

I think it is important to look at the story of the Black Sea because the story of the Black Sea is a story of Ukraine leveraging asymmetric approaches to, you know, defeat Russia's advantage in its naval warships. And it's a story of Ukraine being able to protect its coastline, through, you know, novel coastal defense capabilities, and enable grain shipments and other shipments like iron ore, to keep the Ukraine economy running and enable Ukraine to be able to sustain its operations.

So that Black Sea story is an important part of the bigger picture.

STAFF: Thank you. Let's go to Idrees Ali, Reuters.

Idrees, are you out there?

All right. Let's go to Dan Lamothe, Washington Post.

Q: Thank you very much for your time today. I wanted to drill down a bit, on the battle ongoing in Avdiivka. Reporting from the battlefield from the Post and others would suggest that Ukrainian forces anticipate the pull-back from there and attribute it largely to a reduction in available shells, specifically artillery shells.

I'm just curious if that came up this week, particularly, as sort of an example that, kind of, underscores the urgency there, and if you, and I guess the Pentagon writ large, are citing Avdiivka in your conversations with lawmakers as, kind of, an example of the significance and problem here? Thanks.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Thank you. I'll tell you we are watching Avdiivka very closely, and we do see that Ukrainians are running short on critical supplies, particularly ammunition. And we see this as something that could be the harbinger of what is to come if we do not get this supplemental funding.

Because, without supplemental funding, not only can we not resupply those forces that are bravely trying to defend Avdiivka, we also will find many other locations along the forward line of troops that will be running low on supplies, on critical ammunition.

And let's not forget about those air defense interceptors. The U.S., along with our allies and partners, but, critically, U.S. resources have supported the Ukrainians in being able to defend their cities against this continual barrage of Russian missiles. Without supplemental funding, we will not be able to continue to supply Ukraine's air defenses. And we will see the results in cities being bombarded. We will see more civilians dying. And we will see Ukraine struggling to protect their critical infrastructure and their forward line of troops.

STAFF: Thank you. Let's go to Ashley Roque, Breaking Defense.

Q: Good morning. Just a couple of follow-up questions. One, this was the second contact group where the U.S. has not been able to provide a PDA, funding's sort of stalled. Could you, sort of, characterize, you know, how that's going, as you're asking allies and partners to continue to pony up?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So I think that one thing to note is that, you know, at each of these meetings, the allies and partners are coming forward with contributions. But the needs in Ukraine are so great that without the U.S., in addition to the allies and partners, the Ukrainians cannot sustain their fight against Russia. And everyone recognizes this.

So our allies and partners are watching just as anxiously to see if our supplemental funding will come through. Because they know that the stakes are incredibly high. And without this funding, they do know that Ukraine will not be able to stand a chance against this overwhelming Russian military force.

Q: Great. And I also wanted to ask about the, like, I think it was last time, Poland leading an armor coalition. I didn't hear that, I think, this time. Is there an armor coalition? And can you characterize what they are doing to try and help provide tanks and other equipment to Ukraine?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So the armor coalition is the most recent to be standing up. And the members are currently signing up. And I think most of the countries that are participating in the armor coalition have not yet made their roles public, so I'm going to let them do that.

But the goal here for the armor coalition that was discussed at the UDCG on Wednesday pertains certainly to the tank force, but also to other kinds of armored vehicle, and ensuring that Ukraine will have the right platforms but also, very importantly, the right ammunition for those platforms and the maintenance and sustainment. So they are committed to working across all of these areas.

STAFF: All right. Thank you. Let's go to Brad Dress, The Hill.

Q: Yeah, thanks for doing this. Just a follow-up on Avdiivka. Is that the only place in Ukraine right now that's at risk from a Russian offensive?

Or are there any other places on the front line, on the battlefield that Russia could gain an advantage, and especially with, you know, this Congress supplemental on hold? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So, right now, based on where Russia is amassing its forces, there's clearly a focus on Avdiivka. But, you know, I would not want to characterize it as the sole place along the forward line of troops that will be vulnerable as supplies continue to diminish.

Depending on, you know, where Russia chooses to concentrate forces and, you know, again, overwhelmingly dependent on whether the supplemental passes, Ukraine's forces will start to run out of ammunition in many places and, again, importantly, out of air defense capabilities that allow them to continue to fight in the face of Russian attacks.

STAFF: All right. Thank you. We've got time for a couple more. Let's go to Chris Gordon, Air & Space Forces Magazine.

Q: Thanks. And thank you to the senior defense official.

On the Ukraine F-16 training, first, what is the total number of Ukrainian pilots and maintainers across all countries being trained?

And then, second, how will this come together in a meaningful capability? Is this pilot training being standardized in any way, since there are a lot of countries involved, so you don't have pilots who haven't flown together, may have had different styles of training and end up with a disjointed effort?

And is there a munitions plan for the F-16s? Thank you.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Great. So this is all falling under the Air Force capability coalition that Denmark, the Netherlands and the United States are co-chairing. And to answer your question about the training standardization, yes, it is very much a standardized training program that multiple countries are participating in, to include the United States, with training here in the United States, and English language training that precedes the tactical training, again, being provided by multiple countries.

In terms of the specific number of the pilots, I just don't have that at my fingertips, but we can try to follow up with more information on that.

Q: If I could just -- on the munitions plan, is there a tangible plan? Has that been discussed on what munitions might be provided?

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes -- yeah, sorry. I should have addressed that. So there is. So we're looking at every aspect of the F-16, not just the training and, you know, the pilots, but what munitions are required and what maintenance and sustainment and spare parts will be required. So you know, the United States did fund some spare parts, and the coalition is seeking to fund munitions and spare parts, as well as support for the Ukrainians to build out their infrastructure. All of these aspects are being addressed as part of this capability coalition.

And that's another reason why, you know, the capability coalition construct is really helpful because it allows you to look across all the aspects of a particular capability and ensure that you're covering down on everything. But right now, U.S. support will come to a standstill in the absence of supplemental funding.

Q: Thank you.

STAFF: Thank you. We've got time for one more. Let's go to Meredith Roaten, Janes. Meredith, are you out there?

Okay, I'll turn it over to our senior defense official for any closing comments.

SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, thanks so much. I appreciate you taking the time to think about and write about this important topic. Have a great weekend.

STAFF: Thanks, everybody. Out here.