Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III underscored today the commitment by the U.S. and its allies to helping Ukraine meet its urgent defense needs and bolster its long-term security amid what he said is a critical moment in Russia’s ongoing war of aggression.

As he met with the nearly 50-member U.S. coalition committed to backing Ukraine at NATO headquarters in Brussels, the secretary said Ukraine remains “in a tough fight” against Russia’s attempts to reshape the front lines.

“In Kharkiv and elsewhere, the Kremlin continues to intensify its bombardment of Ukraine’s cities and civilians,” Austin said. “And Ukraine urgently needs more air-defense capabilities to defend its skies.”

“But the Ukrainian people remain resilient and unbowed,” he said. “And Ukraine’s forces continue to impress the world with their skill and grit.” 

Despite Russia’s latest offensive near Kharkiv, Ukraine has held strong on the front lines and continued to inflict heavy costs on the invading forces, Austin said.  

Since the start of the war in February 2022, at least 350,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded, Austin said.  

Russia has also faced staggering equipment losses. Ukrainian forces have destroyed more than 2,600 Russian combat vehicles across the front lines and severely degraded Russia’s naval capabilities in the Black Sea.  

“That’s just another reminder of the price that Russia has paid for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s imperial ambitions,” Austin said. “And it’s another reminder of Ukraine’s determination. 

“And make no mistake: Ukraine’s partners around the world have its back,” he said.  

Today’s meeting marked the 23rd iteration of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which has continued to work together to meet Ukraine’s urgent battlefield needs.

The group has expanded in size since being formed soon after the invasion. Today, the coalition welcomed its newest member, Argentina.  

Today’s engagement followed Austin’s visit to France last week, where he and President Joe Biden met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Paris. There Biden announced a new package of security assistance for Ukraine, which is valued at $225 million and includes air defense interceptors, artillery ammunition and other critical capabilities. 

The latest provision is the sixth security assistance package announced by the U.S. since Biden signed a nearly $95 billion national security supplemental into law in April. The supplemental includes humanitarian and security assistance funds for Israel and Taiwan in addition to Ukraine.

Austin said today that the flow of urgently needed aid has been critical to Ukraine’s ability to push back against Russia’s offensive near Kharkiv. 

The White House also announced yesterday that Biden and Zelenskyy will sign a long-term security agreement aimed at addressing Ukraine’s security needs into the future.  

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters yesterday that the agreement outlines “a clear vision of work with our allies and partners with Ukraine in order to continue to strengthen Ukraine’s credible defense and deterrence capability.” 

Several other members of the UDCG have also signed bilateral security agreements with Ukraine, reflecting a collective commitment to Ukraine’s long-term defense. 

“Any lasting peace in Ukraine has to be underwritten by Ukraine’s own ability to defend itself and deter future aggression,” Sullivan said.

“And by signing this, we’ll also be sending Russia a signal of our resolve. If Vladimir Putin thinks that he can outlast the coalition supporting Ukraine, he’s wrong,” Sullivan said. “He just cannot wait us out, and this agreement will show our resolve and continued commitment.” 

Biden and Zelenskyy are expected to sign the agreement while attending the Group of Seven summit in Brindisi, Italy. 

The UDCG has also undertaken initiatives aimed at bolstering Ukraine’s long-term defense through the formation of targeted capability coalitions.     

Thirteen members of the contact group are leading eight separate capability coalitions designed to drive Ukraine’s long-term force development. Those coalitions focus on critical capabilities that range from air-defense to artillery. 

Austin said today that the group heard the capability coalition focused on bolstering Ukraine’s drone capabilities.  

“This capability coalition is helping to expand Ukraine’s asymmetric capabilities,” Austin said, adding that the focus is essential as Russia relies on Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles to target Ukrainian citizens. 

“This is just one of the eight capability coalitions, and they’re doing outstanding work,” Austin said. “Together, we’re helping Ukraine build a formidable future force. One that can deter aggression over the long haul.” 

The coalition also continued ongoing discussions expanding the production of critical munitions and capabilities.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a critical moment,” Austin said as he kicked off the day’s discussions. “The stakes of this war are high. Ukraine’s survival is on the line. But so is all of our security. 

“None of us would want to live in a world where Putin prevails,” he said. “And we would all be less secure if tyrants think that they can trample borders and cow their neighbors.” 

Austin will also participate in a NATO defense ministers meeting on Friday.   

While outlining the goals for the meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said ministers will discuss progress toward meeting capability requirements for NATO’s new generation of regional defense plans. 

The ministers will also discuss further ways of ensuring Ukraine’s long-term security, as well as ways to continue to strengthen NATO’s deterrence and defense. 

“We will bolster our support to Ukraine, we will strengthen our defenses, and we will send a strong message of deterrence to our adversaries,” Stoltenberg said.

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