By C. Todd Lopez
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (April 21, 2023) -- After a full day of discussion during the 11th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III reminded participating nations of the significance of their commitments.
"Over the past year, members of this contact group have provided tremendous capability to Ukraine," Austin said. "Right after Russia invaded, we surged in Javelins and Stingers. Then we provided Ukraine's defenders with howitzers ... 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."
Those contributions and efforts, Austin said, have made a big difference on the battlefield for Ukrainian soldiers.
Most recently, he said, members of the UDCG have delivered to Ukraine more than 230 tanks and more than 1,550 armored vehicles, along with other equipment and materials that have allowed the Ukrainians to support more than nine new armored brigades.
And just last month, the Defense Department announced it planned to expedite earlier plans to field 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. Under the expedited plans, the U.S. will send to Ukraine M1A1 Abrams tanks from refurbished hulls already in U.S. inventory, and those tanks will be delivered in the fall -- which is faster than what was originally expected.
"And the M1s that the Ukrainians will use for training will arrive in Germany in the next few weeks," Austin said.
The DOD plans now to make a different set of training tanks available so that Ukrainian troops can learn on those systems concurrent with the refurbishing of the tanks they will eventually use on the battlefield. It's expected that there will be training tracks for both Abrams operations and Abrams maintenance.
"All of this is huge progress," Austin said. "And I'm confident that this equipment -- and the training to accompany it -- will put Ukraine's forces in a position to continue to succeed on the battlefield."
During the daylong UDCG meeting, Austin said participating nations heard from U.S. European Command about progress toward building Ukraine's combat power and from Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov about battlefield dynamics and Ukraine's most urgent needs.
"And we talked about key enablers that will help Ukraine repel Russian forces, such as heavy equipment and transport vehicles ... refuelers ... and mine rollers," Austin said. "I'd like to thank those here who announced donations of these important systems, including Germany and the Netherlands."
And while Austin said Russia continues assaults on civilian targets in Ukraine -- targets that have no military value -- he also said UDCG members have stepped up with new air-defense systems and related munitions to help stave off those assaults. The secretary also pointed to recent efforts in the European Union to commit to speed up the production of much-needed 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," he said. "And that is a powerful reminder that we stand with Ukraine's defenders for the long haul."
The first meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group happened in late April 2022, also at Ramstein. After that meeting, Austin said a decision was made to extend the forum to a monthly meeting so that more work could be done.
"The contact group will be a vehicle for nations of goodwill to intensify our efforts, coordinate our assistance, and focus on winning today's fight and the struggles to come," Austin said at the time. "The monthly meetings may be in-person, virtual or mixed. And they'll extend the transparency, the integration and the dialogue that we saw today."
At the conclusion of today's UDCG meeting, Austin weighed in on Russia's decision to invade Ukraine -- a decision he characterized as a mistake.
"Putin made a series of grave miscalculations when he ordered the invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago," Austin said. "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."
In advance of chairing the most recent meeting of the UDCG, Austin visited with military and civilian leadership in Sweden, a nation that has applied for membership to NATO. During his visit, Austin expressed hopes that Sweden will have attained membership in the alliance before the July NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Sweden's neighbor, Finland, became a NATO member earlier this month. Both nations' efforts to join the long-standing defensive alliance have come as a result of Russia's actions in Ukraine, Austin said.
"Putin's war is not the result of NATO enlargement," Austin said. "Putin's war of choice is the cause of NATO 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."