The defense secretary of the United States is calling on countries to generously provide Ukraine with essential air defense systems that it urgently requires.

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin urged allied defense leaders Tuesday to “dig deep” and provide more air defense systems for Ukraine to help it block increasing barrages of Russian missiles, even as debate grows in Congress over aid to Kyiv.

However, although the allies expressed their intention to discuss how they can provide assistance to Ukraine’s counteroffensive during the upcoming winter months, they have not made any progress in terms of committing to the longer-range missiles that Kyiv’s leaders believe are necessary in their efforts to regain territory previously taken by Russia.

Austin stated that air defense is crucial for saving lives. He encouraged allies and partners to generously contribute air defense munitions to support Ukraine during the upcoming winter of war.

At the conclusion of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting held at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Austin expressed satisfaction with the efforts made by allies in providing air defenses to the war. However, he emphasized that there is still a significant amount of work remaining. This was the message conveyed to fellow colleagues earlier in the day, and Austin is confident that they will further intensify their efforts.

He and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, emphasized the importance of equipping Ukraine to sustain its progress during the upcoming winter season. Milley identified three main areas of focus: air defense, artillery, and mechanized armor capable of operating on frozen terrain.

Austin stated that he urged the ministers to examine their supplies of 155-millimeter ammunition, which Ukraine has been depleting quickly.

The group is made up of the defense and military leaders from more than 50 nations and is the main forum for raising contributions of weapons, other equipment and training for Kyiv’s war effort. It meets about once a month, in person and virtually, and this is the 15th gathering.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials have consistently advocated for the deployment of weapons with extended range. Supporters contend that it is crucial for Ukrainian forces to possess the capability to target Russian troops and facilities without being within their reach.

However, the United States has objected, expressing concerns that Kyiv may utilize the weapons to launch attacks on Russian soil and provoke Moscow. The Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which is capable of targeting Russian locations up to approximately 180 miles (300 kilometers) away, could potentially provide Ukraine with this capability. Nonetheless, the U.S. possesses alternative versions of the missile with a shorter reach.

Before the meeting started, Canadian defense minister Bill Blair informed journalists that the allies are attentively considering the military requirements expressed by Ukrainian leaders. They are also engaging in discussions to explore novel and significant approaches to support and strengthen the ongoing counteroffensive.

Austin confirmed that the 31 M1 Abrams tanks, which were promised several months ago, will soon be delivered to Ukraine as planned. According to a defense official, the tanks have already reached Europe and will soon enter Ukraine through the border in the upcoming days. The official chose to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of disclosing the exact whereabouts of the tanks.

In June, Ukrainian soldiers initiated their training on tanks that were similar in nature. Meanwhile, the tanks that are expected to arrive soon are currently undergoing refurbishment in the United States.

Defense officials are striving to uphold their unwavering support for Ukraine, despite concerns that public and international government support for the ongoing war, now in its second year, might be diminishing.

Milley refuted claims that the progress is insufficient, stating that the Ukrainians have expressed their determination to continue fighting during the winter when the muddy ground freezes. It is worth noting that Russia significantly strengthened its defenses during the previous winter when the fighting slowed down.

“I cannot reword”

Later this week, Zelenskyy is scheduled to visit Washington to hold meetings with President Joe Biden, as well as congressional and Pentagon leaders. The purpose of this visit is to strengthen support for ongoing American funding and provision of weapons. It should be noted that this visit occurs amidst an increasing partisan split within Congress regarding the funding issue.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, has expressed his desire for aid to Ukraine to be discussed and voted on separately, without being linked to other government funding. However, Senate leaders have different plans and aim to combine the aid with other important matters, such as a temporary spending bill that would prevent a government shutdown by the end of September.

Nations have been pouring millions of rounds of artillery and other weapons into Ukraine, but worry that their stockpiles are shrinking and the defense industry is struggling to boost production lines. At the same time, Ukrainian forces have been making slow progress breaking through Russian battle lines in a counteroffensive that has not moved as quickly or as well as initially hoped.

“I cannot reword”

In the meantime, additional partners committed to offering funds and weapons. In a three-party agreement, Ukraine would receive military equipment from the Czech Republic, while Denmark and the Netherlands would provide financial assistance. The Czech Defense Ministry announced its intention to send tanks, howitzers, armored vehicles, air defense systems, ammunition, and various other weapons over the next few months.

Norway said it will donate approximately 50 tracked cargo carriers to Ukraine to help get supplies to areas without roads.

The Ramstein meeting is Milley’s last as Joint Chiefs chairman. He will retire at the end of the month, at the close of four years on the job.


This report was contributed to by writers Tara Copp in Washington, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Karel Janicek in Prague.

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