Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley hold a news conference at the Pentagon, May 23, 2022.
mhm, mm hmm. Okay. Everybody, as you know, uh Secretary hosted the second Contact group on Ukraine. He and the chairman are prepared to give you some opening comments, kind of reading that meeting out and then uh we have time for just a few questions so I’ll leave it to the Secretary, sir. Thanks john, good afternoon everybody. We had a highly constructive morning here at the second meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. I’m delighted that we were joined virtually by more than 40 ministers and chiefs of defense. And I’m especially glad that the contact group. Once again, I got to speak with Ukraine’s Minister of Defense. My good friend Oleksy Resnick, Aww, we’re also joined by the Deputy Commander in Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces and by Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Representative. I’m also proud and pleased to see that several new countries attended today’s meeting of the contact group including Austria Bosnia, Herzegovina, Colombia Ireland in Kosovo. We’re delighted to have them aboard and we hope to continue expanding this important gathering of allies and partners. Russia’s unprovoked and cruel invasion has galvanized countries from around the world and the bravery and the skill and the grit of the Ukrainian people have inspired people everywhere. Now we’ve made important progress since the contact group was established after the Ramstein summit last month and today together with Minister Reznikoff and his team, we’ve gained a sharper shared sense of Ukraine’s priority requirements and the situation on the battlefield. We also heard some very welcome announcements this morning about even more security assistance for Ukraine That includes some 20 countries that announced new security assistance packages. Many countries are donating critically needed artillery, ammunition, coastal defense systems and tanks and other armored vehicles. Others came forward with new commitments for training Ukraine’s forces and sustaining its military systems. There are too many countries to properly thank everyone here. But let me mention just a few standouts, I’m especially grateful to Denmark, which announced today that it will provide a harpoon launcher and missiles to help Ukraine defend its coast. And also like to thank the Czech Republic for its substantial support, including a recent donation of attack helicopters, tanks and rocket systems. And today several countries announced new donations of critically needed artillery systems and ammunition, including Italy Greece, Norway and Poland. And let me also recognize the United Kingdom for its leading role in helping to coordinate security assistance and for the significant quantities of British equipment that continued to flow into Ukraine. I’m deeply grateful to these countries and to all the countries that have stood up today. In the 4th. In a short four weeks since the contact group convened at Ramstein. The momentum of donations and deliveries has been outstanding. And after today’s discussions, I am pleased to report that were intensifying our efforts and moving forward. We’ll continue to deepen our coordination and cooperation so that Ukraine can sustain and strengthen its battlefield operations. Our combined efforts will also fortify and modernize Ukraine Ukraine’s armed forces to help them deter future Russian aggression. We had several important conversations today about the latest battlefield conditions, about progress towards meeting Ukraine’s priority requirements, about deconflicting security assistance, deliveries on the ground and about how to help Ukraine maintain and sustain the self defense capabilities that we’ve all supplied. Everyone here understands the stakes of this war and they stretch far beyond Europe. Russia’s aggression is an affront to the rules based international order and a challenge to free people everywhere. Now let me announce an item for, for your calendars and we’ll convene the contact group for our third meeting next month and will gather in person this time on June 15th and the margins of the NATO defense ministerial in brussels of course it won’t be a NATO event, but we want to keep up the up keep up the tempo of these meetings and I wanted to use my travel to Europe to ensure that we’re building on our momentum and my team will have more details for you on this in the, in the days ahead. So it’s been a good day And an encouraging one. We fully understand what Ukraine is up against. And the contact group again shows how much we can get done when so many nations of goodwill come together. So we’re going to keep it up. We’re going to keep supporting Ukraine and as it defends its citizens, its sovereignty and its democracy. Now before I take your questions, I wanted to say just a few words about someone who everybody in this room knows well and my friend john Kirby, I’ll join and I go way back and he’s always been the kind of teammate that you want to at your side. And since the earliest days of this administration, I’ve been fortunate to have his judgment, his insights and his leadership. John has been a wise and trusted counselor in a clear and eloquent voice for this department, its missions and its values. And he’s always understood how a how central a free and independent press is to our democracy. So even when the questions were tough, even when the findings were uncomfortable when john stood behind this podium, he always committed to truth, trust and transparency. So john thanks for your extraordinary extraordinary service. I know you’re not going far, but we wish you fair winds and following seas and so thanks for everything that you’ve done. And so I’ll turn it over to the chairman for his remarks and then we’ll be glad to take your questions. Thanks Secretary And I would like to just publicly also thank john for his professionalism and expertise over the years. He’s done tremendous service for those of us in uniform and and john thanks so much for that. Good morning everybody. And and I want to echo Secretary Austin statement from this morning. This meeting was a great opportunity to coordinate our efforts to provide timely and effective support military aid uh to Ukraine, We had 47 countries participate this morning. That’s really significant. And although I regularly speak with all my NATO chiefs of Defense counterparts, some very often some almost daily. This contact group is a unique assembly of voices and resources that span the globe and enhance our collective capability. I just returned as many of you know, from NATO where I met with my NATO counterparts and this meeting this morning expands on that effort together. Our task is to provide sustained support. I speak to generals Allegheny every few days several times a week. I want to emphasize that the joint force, the US joint force, our role is to continue support to the Ukrainian military as long as directed and we intend and have the capability to do so. All of this is important because Ukrainian military and people are fighting not only for their country, but they’re fighting for principles. As the Secretary mentioned about the rules based international order that affects all of us. The Secretary mentioned that the progress we made at Ramstein a month ago was a follow on to today. I was a predecessor to today. The United States military comprises one of the key components of US national power, diplomatic, economic, informational and of course military and our task is to protect the homeland and stand ready to defeat the enemies of our country and to sustain the defense of the American people. We stand ready as part of a whole of government approach for the United States and really a whole of alliance approach and partner effort that you saw this morning Last fall, the United States military had about 78,000 in Yukon Army, Navy Air Force Marines and Space Force. In a few short months we’ve bolstered that By over 30%. So this morning we’ve got roughly speaking 100 and 2000 us troops in the Yukon area of operations. In many, many countries At sea, we have over 15,000 sailors in the med in the Baltics on 24 surface combatants and four subs up from six surface combatants back in the fall In the air, we have currently 12 fighter squadrons and two combat aviation brigades. And on the ground we have two cores, two divisions and six brigade combat teams along with a variety of enablers, These capabilities for the United States augment the tremendous security assistance donated by other countries. And together we have put forth to the Ukrainian war effort. The Ukrainian military’s capacity to defend their homeland against Russian attack is directly tied to the quality and quantity of the assistance they are receiving. And lastly, let me just say that the secretary has all of us in this building throughout the military focused on managing risk and the potential for escalation. We are watching this factor very very closely. Uh, and we have been able to open reopen communications at the military to military level as you know. And I made a call to my Russian counterpart. I don’t share the contents and detail of that discussion, but that it was done is important and it was purposeful and worthwhile. So we remain committed and resolved and united in our assistance to Ukraine, we may committed to manage escalation and will continue to support as long as we are directed. Okay? So now go ahead and uh take some questions and we’ll start with lita. Thank you. Mr. Secretary, you mentioned that today, you got a sharper sense of Ukraine’s requirements. Can you talk a little bit about what the Ukrainian officials have told you they needed? And one of the things that they say they need, I believe is high maRS or MlRS is the U. S. Already out of their country prepared to send those major systems to Ukraine. And if that’s true, are there any limits on how they can be used either in Crimea and the Donbas? And then General Milley, can you the army the other day said it’s gonna take about 18 months to replenish some of the stocks that they’ve sent in the drawdown? Um Specifically Javelins. Um what is the risk to the U. S. Military as it goes forward on weapons systems and other things that maybe now going to Ukraine that the U. S. Needs And as you send more complex weapons into Ukraine. Is there a need to send us special forces or other trainers either into Ukraine to help train them or other in other locations? And if not what are the consequences? I think that was about 12 questions later, but I’m not sure. Okay, all right, well listen first, I’ll get to the questions that you had up top there for me. Um let me reiterate that. I believe that today was a very successful meeting. Have you heard the chairman talk about the numbers of countries that were involved? You heard me speak about the number of the The types of donations that some 20 countries came forward with today to announce now that’s real progress, which is needed for real problems. Uh and uh and so we’re very, very satisfied that we had a a very productive meeting but we recognize that this this is a work in progress and we will need to continue to remain focused on this going forward now in terms of what they need, what what their needs are, uh they really are pretty much the same as they were the last time we talked. And that was um long range fires, armor in terms of tanks and armored personnel carriers, uh, some U A. V. Capability. And so that has that has not changed the nature of the fight as you’ve heard us described a number of times is, you know, this is the fight is really shaped by artillery in this phase and we’ve seen serious exchanges of artillery fires over the last several weeks uh regarding high mars. I don’t want to get ahead of where we are in the process of, of re sourcing requirements. Uh, I just like for you to know that we are not only talking to the Ukrainians today, but it’s every day, as the Chairman pointed out, he’s talking to his his counterpart routinely. I talked to Minister Resnick, aww at least once a week and probably more than that in most in in most weeks. So we’ll continue to refine their their their requirements, will will engage the international community to make sure that, uh, that, you know, we can get as much capability against those requirements as possible. But again, I don’t want to discuss uh, specific systems in this forum. So later the, you asked about the replenishing people peace, um, overall US military as a entity, all of the various, uh, munition stock images that we have. The Secretary’s got us looking at those very, very carefully to make sure that we don’t drop below levels that become moderate, significant high risk. And we’re doing that. So, right now, the risk to ourselves is relatively low. Um, it’s not something that we’re going to get overly excited about. We have a category called critical munitions and preferred munitions were solid in all of those and, and, and javelins is not in that category. Uh, so your small arms, your antitank weapons, some of your manpads, javelins, etcetera, as opposed to say, for example, other, you know, smart munitions and PGM etcetera. Uh so we’re we’re okay, We’re doing okay and and our risk is being managed appropriately. Um with respect to the training, we are doing training in several different countries right now. Uh along with other NATO and partner countries are training Ukrainians in various countries. I’m not gonna go into all the details of it, but it’s that’s ongoing. Not in Ukraine but outside of Ukraine. The United States doesn’t have any trainers right now in Ukraine. Um and the some of the things that may have been out there in the media, uh, those are planning efforts that are underway at a relatively low level have not yet made it into the secretary or myself for that matter. Uh for refinement of courses of action and what’s needed at the end of the day, any reintroduction of U. S. Forces into Ukraine would require presidential decisions. So we’re a ways away from anything like that. We’re still developing courses of action and none of that has been presented yet to the secretary Kourtney. Thank you. I want to read a question that President Biden got this morning in on his trip in Asia. He was asked you didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons, are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that, his answer was yes, that’s the commitment we made. So the reason I wanted to read the question is it indicates. and his answer would indicate that the U. S. Is prepared to do more to defend Taiwan than what the US is already doing to help Ukraine defend against the invasion from Russia. Which as we know, as you’ve been saying here today is provide a tremendous amount of equipment and support and even intelligence to Ukraine. President Biden said today that the U. S. Is willing to do more to help Taiwan. So my question for you, Secretary Austin is is the US making a commitment to send troops to defend Taiwan in the event of innovation by china and generally have a following for you as well, Kourtney as the president said, are 1.1 China policy has not changed. He uh reiterated that policy and our commitment to peace and stability across across the Taiwan strait. He also highlighted our commitment under the Taiwan relations Act to help provide Taiwan the means to defend itself. So again, our policy has not changed. I think the Taiwan relations Act is the U. S. Is committed to ensure Taiwan has resources, it needs to defend itself, but it doesn’t require us military intervention. So again I just want to ask would is the US making a commitment by saying that they are willing to defend them militarily for U. S. Troops to be involved in that military response. Again, Courtney, I think the President was clear on the fact that the policy has not changed And then general since you, you know, you’re talking about the risks with Ukraine. Can you walk us through what you see the potential risks that would be a part of a U. S. Military defense of Taiwan should china invaded? Yeah, I actually won’t do that, Courtney. I appreciate the opportunity to not answer a question. But um there’s a variety of contingency plans that we hold. All of them are highly classified uh pacific Europe and elsewhere. Right? Um and it would be very inappropriate for me to microphone to discuss the risk associated with those plans relative to anything with respect to Taiwan or anywhere else in the pacific not answer one more question is that would you support sending us troops to Taiwan? I will render my advice at the moment in time to the President in the Secretary of Defense. Mm hmm. Yeah, Felicia Felicia Schwartz. Thanks. Um just going back to the high mars um if you do send them um would you be okay with those weapons being used to push Russian forces out of Crimea and the Donbass? And then to General Milley, how important is it that to reopen Ukrainian ports in the black? What is the U. S. Doing to help again? Uh Felicia? You know, as I said earlier, I really won’t get involved in uh discussing any uh specific requirements and and how we’re gonna address those requirements. Um and we don’t have any announcements to make uh in that regard. and because of that, I won’t I also want uh entertain that hypothetical. And on the ports you’re talking about Odessa, I think you’re talking about Odessa and obviously that’s the major ports for Ukraine, it’s their access to the sea in the outside world and it becomes a significant vehicle by which grain, for example, is exported and other commodities coming out of Ukraine. And Ukraine is uh the largest or one of the largest grain producers in the world. Uh and thus far because of mines because of the Russian fleet, because of the risks associated with it, that that has not happened here now, going on almost 90 days. So how important it is. I think it’s quite important to the economy of Ukraine. And and and well beyond, many countries in the world depend on Ukrainian grain. So that’s an example of the importance of it as for what we’re doing about it right now we are we don’t have any U. S. Naval vessels in the Black sea, we don’t intend to unless directed. Uh And right now it’s a bit of a stalemate there between uh the Ukrainians wanting to make sure that there’s not any sort of amphibious landing against Odessa uh and the and the right now. So that’s it’s a it’s a no go zone for commercial shipping, what that will be in the future is unknown right now, but it is an important access to the sea. Tom Bowman hopefully this is a question both of you can answer. General Petraeus famously said of the Iraq war. Tell me how this ends. So with the Ukraine war, how does this end? Is it pushing the Russians back to pre invasion borders? Is it pushing the Russians completely out of Ukraine as British Foreign Secretary Luis trust has said or is it somewhere in the middle tom are our effort is to do everything that we can to strengthen Ukraine’s hands on the battlefield and also at the at the negotiation table. Uh and and so we’re gonna stick with doing everything we can to make sure that they achieved their their objectives at the end of the day. Um you know, what, what this looks like, what in state looks like will be defined by by the Ukrainians and not by us. Uh and so we’ll leave that up to President Zelensky and his leadership uh to talk about, you know, how this, how this transitions. Yeah, I would just echo exactly what he said. The the end state is defined by the political leadership and and in this case, President Zelensky is going to define the end state inside the boundaries of Ukraine uh for the broader of law, we want to continue to support Ukraine defending their defending their country. Uh We want to make sure that NATO’s unified. We want to uphold the concept that there’s a rules based international order and the and the powerful and the big can’t just destroy and invade the weak and the small the word for the U. S. And NATO, the Zelensky government, I couldn’t even exist. So my question is, does NATO have a voice at all in this effort about how this hands? Because this could go on for years, as some have said, I stand by what I said earlier tom I this will be the way that it transitions the way that it ends, will be defined by by the Ukrainian people. But they say we want the right all Russians out of our country. Would you both abide by that? What we will abide by is uh what our president decides that that we we will do going forward? That will be a policy decision. But again, I think this is Ukraine’s fight. It’s not the United States fight? Uh we uh we are doing everything and that we can to make sure that that we are supporting them in their effort to defend their sovereign territory, the rest of the international community is doing the same time. And and again, uh since it’s their fight, it’s their country. I want to make sure that that they have to say so in terms of, you know, what what in state looks like or thank you, sir, thank you. Chairman on Ukraine for both of you. What is your assessment on whether Vladimir Putin has shifted his vehicles from from inside Ukraine to outside Ukraine, In other words, instead of trying to take Kiev by force, to what extent is he shifted and is now trying to use energy grain, for example, immigration as economic tools to undermine Europe’s strategic stability. Is is that the long game for him now? It’s hard to say, and I won’t speculate what’s, what’s going on in Putin’s mind, but we, we have, we’ve seen him use a number of different lovers from the very beginning. Um, at the, at the very outset, he envision using using overwhelming force and speed and power to very rapidly take down the, the capital city and replace the government. They failed in that in that respect. Uh, and their, their forces were pushed back by the Ukrainians. Ukrainians, they took Kharkov. The Russians took Kharkov for a short period of time. The Russians can excuse me, the Ukrainians counterattacked and took Kharkov back. And so we’ve seen them, uh, really, uh, proceed at a very slow and unsuccessful place on the pace on the battlefield. Uh, and you would expect that he would, he would seek to use other lovers of power or other instruments of power and he’s doing that. But in terms of what his overall strategy is, um, that’s unknown. I would say though that, you know, one of the things that he could do or in is in this fight today. You know, And, uh, you’ve heard me say that a couple of times. This is a, this is a, a war of Putin’s choice, not a war of necessity. So, um, we continue to encourage him to do that. Thanks everybody.