UDCG 15: Opening Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the 15th Ukraine Defense Contact Group

Opening Remarks by Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at the 15th Ukraine Defense Contact Group (As Delivered)

And I want to start with a word of thanks to Oleksii Reznikov for his hard work and dedication—and for everything that he did for a free Ukraine in a secure world.

I’d like to welcome Ukraine’s new Minister of Defense, Rustem Umerov. And Rustem, it’s great to have you here. I thoroughly enjoyed our call a couple of days ago, and certainly enjoyed the meeting we just concluded. I look forward to working with you and your team closely. And I know that everyone else here does as well.

Now, even as we’re meeting here, Ukrainian troops are in a hard fight to reclaim their sovereign territory from dug-in Russian invaders.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive continues to make steady forward progress. And brave Ukrainian troops are breaking through the heavily fortified lines of Russia’s army of aggression.

Ukraine’s progress is a testament to the fighting spirit of its people. But Ukraine’s recent gains also hinge on the crucial capabilities provided by the members of this Contact Group. And our shared commitment will be vital during the current battles—and for the long road ahead.

In total, the United States and Ukraine’s global partners have committed more than $76 billion in direct security assistance to Ukraine’s defense.

Now, these donations demonstrate the profound resolve of some 50 countries gathered here. Together, we are getting Ukraine what it needs—when it needs it. Together, we’re rushing Ukraine the security assistance that it needs for the current counteroffensive—and helping it to build a force that will ward off future aggression. And together, we continue to demonstrate our iron sense of purpose.

Ladies and gentlemen, history will show the full folly of Putin’s reckless, cruel, and unprovoked invasion of his peaceful neighbor.

In this war, time is not on Putin’s side. Time is never on the side of a dictator who launches an imperial war of choice. And time is never on the side of aggression.

The people of Ukraine are fighting in self-defense for a just cause. They are fighting to save their futures and secure their freedom. And they have the guts and the persistence to outlast the Kremlin.

Throughout this tragic war, Putin has tried to demoralize the Ukrainian people. Instead, he has demoralized the Russian military. And the Kremlin has isolated itself by its flagrant aggression.

Just look at the 50 countries proudly represented around this table, standing together to defend Ukraine and the rules-based international order. And then look at the Kremlin, left alone with the likes of Iran and North Korea.

Meanwhile, the United States and our allies and partners have proven our staying power over and over again.

So make no mistake: we will stand by the Ukrainian people for the long haul.

Since our last meeting, the United States has committed additional security-assistance packages totaling more than $2 billion. Those packages include urgently needed air defense, ammunition, and mine-clearing equipment.

And we’re ensuring accountability of U.S. contributions through robust end-use monitoring. And we’ll continue to work closely with our Ukrainian partners to ensure that all assistance is used effectively and safeguarded.

I’m also pleased to announce that the M1 Abrams tanks that the United States had previously committed to will be entering Ukraine soon.

Now, the more Russia prolongs its war, the more glaring its cruelty becomes. Russia’s assaults have increased far beyond the battlefield and inflicted untold human suffering.

In recent months, Russia has continued to target Ukraine’s ports and its grain infrastructure. These attacks so far have destroyed at least 280,000 tons of grain. That’s enough to feed as many as 10.5 million people for a year. Russia’s attacks continue to threaten global food security—and to risk needless humanitarian crises around the planet.

So this Contact Group has stepped up with donations of Patriot, IRIS-T, HAWK, NASAMS, SAMP/T, and other air-defense systems. And those defensive systems will continue to protect Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, including grain and energy supplies.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again: air defense is saving lives. So I urge this group to continue to dig deep on ground-based air defense for Ukraine. We must continue to push hard to provide Ukraine with the air-defense systems and interceptors that it needs.

And right now, in the heat of battle, we must also keep pushing to get Ukraine the ammunition that it needs to keep up the fight, including 155-millimeter ammunition.

And we are looking further ahead to ensure that Ukraine can deter future aggression and defend its sovereign territory.

So let me say just a word about the Contact Group’s long-term capability coalitions. These formations further fortify Ukraine’s ability to outlast Russia’s aggression. I’m grateful to many friends here today—including Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Poland—for stepping up to lead coalitions. These coalitions are tackling specific capabilities, such as Leopard tanks, F-16 training, and Information Technology. And we’ll hear updates on their work later today.

And to add to this group’s long-term support for Ukraine, I’m proud to announce that the United States is supplementing the F-16 training coalition with U.S.-based training.

All this underscores a key topic for today’s meeting: the future of Ukraine’s armed forces and how this coalition will evolve to help Ukraine build a credible, capable combat force for the long term.

Our commitment to Ukraine isn’t just for the duration of one campaign. It’s a commitment to long-term security in Europe and beyond. And it’s a commitment to our shared values of freedom and sovereignty.

This Contact Group has done so much for the people of Ukraine. And it must continue to evolve to sustain our support over the long haul.

So we will stay united.

We will stay resolute.

And we will stay firm in our determination to defend Ukraine and to uphold a world where aggression does not pay.

Thank you for being here. And so now we’ll pause just a moment to let our friends in the media depart.