Next month the United States Army will deliver 31 tanks to the massive Grafenwoehr training center in southeastern Germany. Ukrainian soldiers will train on the Abrams beginning the end of May for about 10 weeks. This will enable the battle-worn country to employ the tanks in the war with Russia, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) Lloyd Austin last Friday at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group (UDCG).
During the 11th meeting of the UDCG at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, on April 21, Austin reminded participating nations of the importance and gravity of their commitments. At the conference, Austin stated Putin “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 addition to discussing the tremendous capability being provided to Ukraine, Austin stated, “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.”
Along with Secretary Austin, U.S. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended the convergence of NATO leadership at the UDCG. General Milley stated that the Ukrainian military “continues to perform very well” in its fight against Russia and that the Russian military efforts are still challenged. “Unlike Ukrainian forces, who are highly motivated to fight for their country, to fight for their freedom, their democracy, and their way of life, the Russians lack in leadership, they lack will, the morale is poor, and the discipline is eroding,” Milley stated as he stood along side the SECDEF. The Chairman also said that Russia is “expending significant manpower for very little gain,” and is tightening conscription law while they “indiscriminately feed their citizens into the chaos of war.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also participated in the meeting along side other NATO and European leaders. The previous day, the NATO Secretary General conducted his first visit to Kyiv since the invasion began last year. In the capital, he clearly stated, “Ukraine’s future is in NATO,” representing the strongest affirmation of western ties with Kyiv since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022. He concluded that a “multi-year support initiative” with President Volodymyr Zelensky would aid Ukraine’s transition from Soviet-era equipment and doctrines to “NATO standards.
Russian Response over the Weekend
Russian foreign ministry quickly provided remarks on the NATO commentary by Stoltenberg, stating such statements about Ukraine joining the NATO alliance are “dangerous”. Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova stated, “NATO sets itself the goal of ‘defeating’ Russia in Ukraine, and to motivate Kyiv, it promises that after the end of the conflict, the country can be accepted into the alliance.” Both the NATO Secretary General’s visit and his statements about Ukraine joining NATO were met with significant pushback from Russia, with the Kremlin reiterating that preventing Kyiv from joining NATO is one of its key goals. “Such statements are short-sighted and downright dangerous. This can lead to the final collapse of the European security system,” Zakharova announced to the Russian press.
SECDEF’s Concluding Thoughts from Friday’s UDCG
As the meeting closed, the Secretary of Defense stated, “Putin made a series of grave miscalculations when he ordered the invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago.” Austin added, “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.”