RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, GERMANY — After a day-long conference of more than 40 countries that have helped Ukraine with military and humanitarian aid, United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said similar high-level meetings will be held each month in the future. held to respond quickly to the changing nature of the Russian war against Ukraine.
“We are going to extend this forum beyond today,” said Mr. Austin, announcing the creation of what he called the Ukraine Contact Group. The group will be led by the United States and will consist of defense ministers and military leaders, who will meet in person or virtually.
“The group will be a vehicle for nations of goodwill to step up our efforts, coordinate our aid and focus on winning today’s battle and the battle to come,” he said after Tuesday’s meeting in Germany. , at Ramstein Air Base.
The formation of the group is just an outward sign of how the Biden administration is adjusting to a war that has lasted much longer than originally estimated, consuming vast amounts of ammunition and money. Since Russia invaded on February 24, President Biden has authorized eight “withdrawals” of weapons from Pentagon stockpiles for Ukraine and authorized a total of $3.7 billion in total aid to Kiev.
Mr. Austin’s announcement comes at the end of a three-day journey that began with a potentially dangerous visit to Kiev with Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken to meet President Volodymyr Zelensky. The journey, which involved driving to Ukraine from Poland and long train rides to and from Kiev, was set to begin in secret, but Mr Zelensky spoke about it publicly on Saturday as cabinet ministers flew to Poland.
After returning to Poland early Monday, Mr Blinken and Mr Austin spoke in a warehouse full of humanitarian aid and ammunition for the Soviet-designed weapons used by Ukrainian forces. Mr Blinken indicated that everything would be in Ukraine within a day, as more and more military equipment arrived to Kiev.
That afternoon, Mr. Austin flew to Ramstein, where he was joined by General Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to prepare for the day-long conference with other defense chiefs.
Opening the meeting, Mr Austin praised the courage of Ukrainian troops, noted Russian atrocities against civilians and pledged his continued support for their country.
Speaking to Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, sitting next to him, Mr Austin said: “We are all here because of the courage of Ukraine, because of the innocent civilians that have been killed and because of the suffering your people have suffered. . still persevere.”
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has tried to justify the invasion he ordered by falsely claiming that Ukraine is ruled by Nazis and that ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s Donbas region are victims of genocide. Early attempts to take the capital Kiev were repulsed with heavy Russian losses, and fighting is now concentrated in Donbas in eastern and southern Ukraine.
“Putin never thought the world would rally behind Ukraine so quickly and confidently,” Mr Austin told uniformed and civilian officials gathered in a ballroom at Ramstein’s officers’ club. He said that “no one is fooled” by Mr Putin’s “false claims on Donbas” and that “the invasion of Russia is indefensible and so are the Russian atrocities.”
“We’re all starting today from a standpoint of moral clarity,” he said.
The meeting included representatives – some attended remotely – from more than 40 countries, including Israel, Morocco and Qatar, as well as NATO and the European Union.
With a protracted battle in eastern and southern Ukraine expected, the aim is to strengthen the Ukrainian military for the long term, Mr Austin said.
War between Russia and Ukraine: important developments
Venues for future meetings of the new group will likely rotate between member countries, a senior US defense official said. Its efforts will build on those already underway at the US European Command, where a task force led by a naval admiral in Stuttgart is coordinating many of Ukraine’s requests for aid and arranging the delivery of weapons and other equipment.
Mr Austin stuck to comments he made in Poland on Monday, when he said the United States now wanted Russia to be so “weakened” that it could no longer invade its neighbors in the future. He said it was not a new attitude.
“I think we’ve been pretty clear from the start,” said Mr Austin. “We do want to make it more difficult for Russia to threaten its neighbors and make it less able to do so.”
During 62 days of fighting, he noted, Russian forces suffered significant losses, lost equipment, consumed much of their precision-guided munitions, and endured the sinking of the cruiser Moskva in the Black Sea.
“And so they are basically, in terms of military capability, weaker than when it started,” said Mr. Austin. “It will be more difficult for them to replace some of this capacity as they move forward because of the sanctions and trade restrictions imposed on them.”
“So again we want to make sure they don’t have the same ability to bully their neighbors as we saw at the beginning of this conflict.”