Austin and Milley Hold a Press Conference on the Ukraine Conflict

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hold a news conference at the Pentagon following a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. The group is coordinating aid for Ukraine’s defense after Russia’s unprovoked invasion. July 20, 2022


Good afternoon. Everyone today was the fourth convening of the Ukraine Defense contact group. The second one held virtually. We’ll start with some opening remarks by the Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin and by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General, Mark Milley. Following their remarks, we’ll open the floor up to some questions and with that Mr. Secretary.

Thanks. Good afternoon everyone. It’s good to be here with you. We’ve had a very productive morning at our fourth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group which we conducted virtually this time. Russia’s cruel and unprovoked invasion has spurred the international community into action. And today’s meeting is just another sign of the way that nations of goodwill are rising to the moment. The security assistance that we are rushing to Ukraine is making a real difference in real time. And everyone in a contact group has been inspired by the courage of the Ukrainian people and the skill of the Ukrainian military And that’s why ministers and chiefs of defense from some 50 countries join us today at our meeting Now throughout its reckless war of choice, Russia has tried and failed to break the morale of the Ukrainian armed forces as they defend their home. Ukraine’s leadership also stands unbowed and unflinching and we were fortunate today to have the opportunity to hear directly from my good friend Alexey Reznikoff, Ukraine’s Minister of Defense and Lieutenant General moisture. Ukraine’s Deputy Chief of Defense. I’m grateful to these brave leaders for taking the time to update us on Ukraine’s most urgent requirements. They also provided us with an important battlefield update and they described how Russia is massing artillery and rocket fire in its desperate aggressive push to see sovereign Ukrainian territory in the Donbas. Everyone today understands the stakes. But the results of the contact group’s security assistance are clear on the ground. Ukrainian forces are now using long range rocket systems to great effect, including high mars provided by the United States and other systems from our allies and partners. Ukraine’s defenders are pushing hard to halt Russia’s advances in the Donbass. The international community has also worked hard to provide Ukraine with better coastal defense capabilities and that directly contributed to Ukraine’s victory on Snake Island and it has helped prevent a Russian landing in Odessa. But Russia is keeping up its relentless shelling and that’s a cruel tactic that harkens back to the horrors of World War One. So, Ukraine needs a fire power and the ammunition to withstand this barrage and to strike back at the Russian Russian weapons launching these attacks from inside Ukraine’s own territory. And so we understand the urgency we’re pushing hard to maintain and intensify the momentum of donations and that includes many new announcements made this morning. We’re seeing countries from all around the world continue to step up with critically needed systems and ammunition. It has been truly an inspiring effort. Some of our allies and partners are training Ukraine’s forces. Some are refurbishing Ukraine’s equipment and some are providing spare parts and combat enablers as well. Countries including the Czech Republic Poland and the UK are working with their domestic industrial bases to find ways to help Ukraine even more quickly in other countries such as our Baltic and Australian allies continue to generously deliver items from their own stockpiles. I’m especially grateful to Poland for serving as a linchpin of our security assistance efforts As well as donating more than $1.7 billion dollars in military equipment. I’d like to thank Norway for its strong cooperation in providing Ukraine with the knee. Sam’s air defense system. I’m very thankful to these countries and to all the countries that have offered eight. I’m confident that these efforts will continue to grow now. As you know, we’ve provided the Ukrainians with 12 high MARS multiple launch rocket systems to further strengthen their long range fires capability. And I think that everyone here understands the difference that they’ve made on the ground. As you heard me say, we’re also committed to providing to Nissan’s air defense systems to help Ukraine protect its troops and civilians from Russian missile attacks. We’re committed to sending more high MARS munitions and precision guided artillery, ammunition and other vital support. The United States will continue to push and to lead you see that yet again in our next new presidential drawdown of weapons and equipment to help Ukraine defend itself. Which will announce later this week It will be our 16th drawdown of equipment from D. O. D Inventory since August 2021. it will include four more high mars advanced rocket systems for a total of 16. The Ukrainians have made excellent use of high Mars and you can see the impact on the battlefield. The new package will also include additional gamblers and that’s those are the rockets that that are used on a high Mars and will also provide more rounds of artillery ammunition. Now we’re not working just to provide security assistance in the short term. One of one key theme of today’s discussion was ensuring that Ukraine can sustain the fight to defend itself and its citizens. So we’re even more focused on Ukraine’s near term needs as we’re even more focused on Ukraine’s near term needs. We’re also looking ahead to provide Ukraine with the capabilities that it will need for deterrence and self-defense over the longer term. You know, the resolve of the resolving the resilience of the Ukrainian people have inspired the world as President Biden has said, United States is leading the way and we won’t let up. We’re going to keep moving at the speed of war. We’re gonna make clear that might does not make right. We’re gonna stand strong with our fellow contact group members and we’re going to support Ukraine’s self-defense for the long haul and we’re going to defend the rules based international order that protects us all. So thank you very much and I’ll now turn it over to General Milley.

Good afternoon everyone. And thank you Secretary Austin for your comments and also for your continued leadership. This group. This contact group would not be happening without you. And I too want to thank all the members. The Minister is the Chiefs of Defense That participated today. Over 50 countries in this contact group and it’s it’s quite a meeting. Additionally, I’d like to thank General. Uh he’s the Ukrainian Deputy Chief of Defense. He represented my friend, my partner, my colleague Ukrainian counterpart who I talked to frequently generals eludes me and I just had a lengthy conversation with him just the other day and I talked to him several times a week. Today is five months since Russia launched its illegal invasion. While the Russians have achieved some incremental tactical success in the Donbass over the last several weeks and actually months they have failed to achieve their strategic and operational objectives, capable and defiant people of Ukraine, their capital still stands, Their army still fights and their people are more determined now than ever to preserve their democracy. The Russian failure is because of the inspiring the bravery, the resolve, the courage, the resistance with the Ukrainian people. It’s also because of nations coming together, the international community coming together under US leadership to form this present day arsenal of democracy. Freedom loving countries around the globe have a stake in preserving the rules based international order collectively. We cannot allow the strong to conquer the week or tolerate the idea that might makes right. The unprovoked Russian aggression has profound consequences not only in Ukraine but across Europe and indeed across the globe. So the President, United States is directed that we stand by Ukraine in their hour of need. So we will continue to supply the Ukrainians with the weapons they need to defend their homeland and resist Russian aggression. When I addressed this group last month, we’re in the midst of shipping high mars into Ukraine and training the Ukrainians on that weapon system. Today, the Ukrainians are effectively employing these high morals. Were strikes against Russian command and control nodes, their logistical networks, their field artillery and air defense sites and many other targets. These strikes are steadily degrading the Russian ability to supply their troops command and control of their forces and carry out their illegal war of aggression. The fact that the Ukrainians were able to quickly deploy these systems speaks highly other ability, their ingenuity, their artillery ability, there gunner capability, their determination and their will to fight. As of today, we have transferred 12 high Mars to Ukraine. This is part of more than 20 that the United States and our allies have committed trained also are 200 Ukrainians on the high mars. And that training continues with many more and we’ve transferred as the secretary indicated hundreds of kindler munitions. When the President signs the authorization to provide weapons or ammunition to Ukrainians. These items begin moving Within days. The average is about 48-72 hours before the initial shipments. They’re in Ukrainian hands just a week or so later on the front line, Secretary Austin and I remain in regular contact with our Ukrainian counterparts and everything we recommended to. The President is based on these conversations and our professional analysis here and in combination with us, you come and that is to support the requirements of the current and future fight. This phase, the current phase of the war continues to be a battle of attrition executed through sustainment and really long range fires. In the near term, the Russians will likely continue using heavy artillery bombardments to achieve their limited gains in the east. However, these tactical gains have come at an incredible cost in terms of Russian casualties and destroyed equipment. The contact group that met today intends to continue supplying the Ukrainians to defend their country, impose costs and compel the Russians to cease their unprovoked war of aggression. Today is day 147 since the Russian invasion, illegal and unprovoked, large scale the strong against the weak and this fight will likely continue to be real attracted conflict. And so our discussion as a contact group focused on assisting Ukrainians to sustain the long fight. How can we best arm and train them so they can continue to defend their country and exhaust the Russian military machine. In the coming weeks and months. This group will continue to stand alongside of Ukrainian partners and defend the international rules based order, which is in everyone’s interest. Thank you. And I welcome your questions lied about our Associated press. Thank you. Mr. Secretary. Um can you talk to us a little bit more about this logistics and sustainment effort?

What is the U. S. Specifically doing or adding more trainers?

Are you uh are you doing anything specifically to help Ukraine with this sustainment and logistical issue?

And how long do you think the allies and partners will continue to support this effort?

And Chairman Milley, can you give us your military assessment of what is going on in the Donbas right now, can you give us a picture of how much if any gains Ukraine may be making or not making?

Is the Donbas lost at this point to Russia?

Thanks Lena. Well, first of all sustainment is uh is a key part of uh of any military operation. And when you’re in combat it’s really, really important. So it’s not good enough just to provide a piece of equipment, we need to have that that piece of gear plus spare parts plus tools to repair it, you know, at the operational level down at the forward edge of the battlefield, then the second level of maintenance needs to be available as well and then that depot level of maintenance uh where you have to replace a tube or do something of that nature. That’s major maintenance. Uh Those pieces need to be in place as well. So as we uh as we uh discussed with our partners and allies today on what Ukraine’s needs are going forward. These are the kinds of things that we talked about. Uh we know that because there are a number of different types of uh pieces of equipment that are, that are in the inventory now that it’s important that the Ukrainians be trained on how to maintain that equipment. So what we’re doing is is conducting training in a number of locations on how to how to maintain equipment. We’re also trying to increase our visibility of and and of what uh what’s the status of different pieces of equipment are. So we can anticipate what logistical needs. Well, we’ll, you know, we’ll see in the, in the near term. Uh but but I think the sustainment piece is is really, really important. Uh coincidentally, the Ukrainians think it’s important and I have to applaud them. They are very resourceful. Their ability to very quickly learn how to operate and maintain a piece of equipment is really impressive. Uh So we’ve seen them exercise initiative, uh you know, on the battlefield. We’ve also seen them learn very, very quickly as we have brought um troops out of country and into neighboring countries to train them on things like high mars and in our trucks and and other things. So uh this will be uh an area of focus for the foreseeable future as it should be in terms of how long, you know, our allies and partners will remain committed. Um, you know, it’s um, there’s no question that this is, this will always be hard work, making sure that we maintain unity. Uh and I will tell you what I heard today though in the meeting was, you know, commitment across the board and and uh and a focus on uh you know, continuing to do what’s necessary to ensure that Ukraine had what it needs. I mean, that was really impressive. And this was these were spontaneous comments uh and uh and so, you know, across the board from Minister to Minister, that that was really, really uh encouraging and refreshing to hear, but but not really surprising, but but we know lita that this is gonna be work, that we’re gonna have to remain maintain focus on going forward. So, so later, um, you know, the the invasion begins 24 February and and and then about April 16 April, in fact, the Russians decide uh they’re gonna go ahead and shift their war aims and come out of the Kiev lines of advance and mass their forces uh down in the vicinity of the Donbas. So for the last 90 days, the Russians have masked their ground maneuver forces in that region uh and the Ukrainians have fought a very effective mobile defense in depth and area defense in depth anchored on various strong points in in urban and village areas and they have fought the Russians very effectively. Uh, so for 90 days, the Russian advances have amounted to maybe 6 to 10 miles. Something in that range is not very much, it’s very intense. A lot of violence, uh, tens of thousands of artillery rounds every 24 hour period, Lots of casualties on both sides, lots of destruction of villages and and and so on. But in terms of actual ground gained very very little by the Russians relative to all of Ukraine. As you know, the Ukrainians conducted a controlled, deliberate planned withdrawal from several Donetsk conducted a rearward passage of lines and conducted a rear river crossing and they set up a new line uh generally to the west of several desk and they are continuing significant resistance. In addition to that in the Russian occupied areas, you have significant resistance behind Russian lines, so to speak, so that the Russians are challenged not only to the front, but the Ukrainian conventional forces, but they’re also challenged in their rear areas. Their areas are not secure for sure and Ukrainians are very effective resistance network set up. So the bottom line is, the cost is very high. The gains are very low. There is a grinding war of attrition that is occurring in the in the Luhansk Donbass region, Luhansk desk, The two a blossom of Donbas And to answer your question about is the Donbass lost. No, it’s not lost yet. The Ukrainians are making the Russians pay for every inch of territory that they gain. Uh and and advances are measured in literally hundreds of meters on some days you might get a kilometer to out of the Russians but not much more than that. So high cost battle of attrition grinding, uh not lost yet. Uh in in in the Donbas and the Ukrainians intend to continue the fight. Louis Martinez ABC news. Mr. Secretary Foreign Minister Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier today said that the special military operation, as they called it in Ukraine is no longer limited to just the Donbass. Um, but it will include other territories in Ukraine. Specifically, he cited the high mars. I mean you’ve both been talking about the high mars today, but he talked about how the high mars have kind of led to this in a way because that could lead to attacks inside of Russian territory. What’s your reaction to that please in general?

Um, when we talk about the near term needs, when we talk about high mars, the Ukrainians and other experts have talked about the need for dozens more high mars uh, systems, can the U. S. Actually provide that without it impacting your active duty component And in terms of long term as we do you’ve been talking about today. What does that mean for potentially training of highlights here in the United States down in the long run. Thank you. Thanks. Louis, I’m sure that Ukrainian leadership will be um pleased to hear Lavrov’s confirmation of the effectiveness of not only that system, but how they’re using that system. Um, as you know, Russians are currently in uh Kherson and Safran Asia. So the Russian forces there there there now. So you have to wonder who he’s talking to. Uh that’s not a surprise to uh to any of us or anybody in Europe, anybody around the globe. I think he’s talking to the people in Russia who have been ill informed throughout. Um you’ve heard us mention this before in terms of what what Putin’s objectives are. You know, he has stated a number of times that, you know, this is a limited operation focused on on the Don boss. His actions have proven uh otherwise and and we have known are suspected, not suspected but known. Our allies and partners have known that he has greater ambitions. And Lavrov just confirmed that today. So, uh again, no surprise to anybody that’s been a part of this or even watching this remotely maybe a surprise to the Russian people who Putin has been lying to the entire time. So let me uh frame it for you. Um, this is still a large scale battle of fires on both sides. Although the Ukrainians are using very effective defensive maneuver. As I mentioned earlier in terms of fires, high marks provide you long range rocket fire with great precision In addition to the Triple 7155 and the other countries are providing M109155. So that gets you into the 40 kilometer range or and and then you get your 10 fives, uh and then you come back to your mortars. So you’ve got an excellent of fires from deep uh, to the close fight. And the Ukrainians have something I mentioned this before. Ukrainians have excellent artillery, uh, soldiers, excellent gunners as the British would call them. And they’re being very, very effective to date the high mars that that we have provided them. Uh and we’re not the only country, by the way, other countries are providing long range fires as well Britain for example, and some others are donating long range rocket artillery. Uh to date those systems have not been eliminated by the Russians and I knock on wood every time I say something like that. Uh and they’re being very effective at using them, employing precision weapons against the target. The issue is not so much the system, the actual launcher. The issue will become ammunition uh, in the consumption rates and the amount of weapon, uh, the amount of ammunition that’s fired out of the high marks. Uh, we are looking at all of that very, very carefully on a day to day basis. We advise the secretary where we think the levels of risk are to our own force in terms of our readiness and our capability and our equipping, We think we’re okay right now uh as we project forward into the next month or two or three?

Uh We think we’re gonna be okay. And we also are tied in very very closely through the dep sec def with the industrial base and the production management uh techniques that we have to to continue to produce those weapons systems. So it’s not so much the launcher, but it’s the ammunition and the train. I’m sorry. On the flight training. Yes. So we, you know, as you know, we look at all kinds of options to present to the the secretary and the President. Um and and there’s been no decisions on any of that, but we do examine a wide variety of options to include pilot train bob Starr CNN Secretary Austin, could I ask you your assessment um of do you now that Putin has been to Tehran, do you assess that Iran is going to get more involved?

That they that he is going to get Iranian drones, as has there been some evidence of and how how do you assess Iran’s involvement in all of this in the question on flight training. Do you have a view on this long term support, whether it would be an appropriate idea for the U. S. To help train a Ukrainian tactical Air Force if you will. And General Milley on the question of this Russian war of attrition if you will. Do you see that?

What’s your assessment?

Do you see that continuing just forever?

Or do you still have fundamental concerns that Russia could stage uh some kind of breakout or sudden escalation and just throw everything at Ukraine even back towards Kiev at some point back towards the rest of the country. Are they just going to grind away or do you think they still have deeper, further ah intentions towards Ukraine?

Thank you both. So barb on the issue of uh and thanks for the question, but on the issue of the Iranian support to to Russia, um, we would we would advise her on to not to not do that. We think it’s a really, really bad idea. Uh and uh and I’ll leave that at that um on on the issue of whether or not on the training of, of Ukrainians, uh you know, in terms of pilot training and that sort of thing. Uh Certainly as the chairman said, we’re gonna continue to look at, you know, what will be needed now and down down the road right now, we’re focused on helping them be successful in the fight that they’re in and employing the weapons systems that uh that they need to to be successful in that fight as we give them provide them more um capable weapons systems, more sophisticated weapons systems. It will be important to use those systems properly and it will be important to integrate systems to create the effects on the battlefield, that prevent opportunities for the for the Ukrainians and that will begin to change the dynamics in some cases on the battlefield. So you’ve seen them take out use the high MARS to take out command and control nodes, uh, ammunition, supply points and a number of other things uh, and that affects the tempo of the fight and and potentially create some opportunities here. So there’s a lot more to be done. The high Mars alone will not change uh win or lose a fight, but it’s the integration of a number of capabilities that that we uh have provided and are looking at providing down the road. But most importantly, our allies are providing as well. So, uh, so we’re looking at a lot of things, everything. But in terms of predicting where we’re gonna be with pilot training uh in months or or years, I won’t venture to do that at this point. I will say that the Ukrainians do have their Air force does have a capability as we speak and are using some of that capability on a daily basis. So Barbara, uh, you know, as far as Russian intentions, Obviously we have uh lots of analysts that look at that on a day to day basis. And and I’m not going to comment on what I think their future intentions are here at the podium except to say that, you know, their their past behavior has been an illegal aggressive war inside Ukraine. And then let’s stop that aggression, let’s stop typically continues. So, but but specific aims and objectives that the Russians may have, I’ll remain silent on that. In terms of what you asked about, uh, couldn’t go in directions. I think escalation those kind of terms that you were referring to. We we look at it as most likely most dangerous courses of action that an opponent may, uh, an enemy may may take. Uh, and so we think of those, uh, in terms of most dangerous, of course, there’s uh, you can it doesn’t take me at a podium to talk about what they might be. You can figure that out on your own. But there’s possibilities in in various domain geography, weapons systems, etcetera, there’s always the possibility of that. I can tell you that we look very, very closely at that every single day we’re in a constant monitoring mode on any forms of escalation by Russia that could have significant impact on the United States, NATO or or or Ukraine or anything else. We’re constantly advising this. The Secretary to that in terms of most likely though at this point. And and this is always subject to debate. But at this point, we have a very serious grinding grinding war of attrition going on in the Donbass. And unless there’s a breakthrough on either side, which right now, the analysts don’t think is particularly likely in the near term. But unless there’s a breakthrough, it’ll probably continue as a grounding war of attrition for a period of time until both sides see an alternative way out of this, perhaps through negotiation or something like that. But right now, in terms of most likely most dangerous, that’s kind of the way we’re looking at it. There’s a lot of detail that goes behind that, which I won’t comment on at this point in terms of the detail, but that’s the broad outline of what we’re looking at. Follow up briefly, sir, on what the Secretary was saying about Iran and him not wanting to talk about it in detail. Is there any reason that Iran should be worried that the United States doesn’t think it’s a good idea for them to get involved. You know, why would they care?

They’ll just, wouldn’t they just do what they want?

Well, you know, those are policy questions Barbara. Um, and and, and so I’m not gonna go beyond that at the, at the microphone. I don’t think that would be wise to do that. Uh, I don’t think it’s a good idea that Iran is providing, uh, or other weapons systems that are being commented on the media to Russia. Um, and we’ll see where all that goes tom Bowman from national public radio. So you’re gonna send 16 high mars to Ukraine, as you said, any sense. You said, you’d be sending more, any sense ballpark, how many more systems, you’ll be sending a double that number or even more number one and number two, as the general said, the rounds being shot by the high marks can go 40 kilometers, But there are more sophisticated rounds that can go up to 180 miles, like the army’s attack them system that would allow the Ukrainians to hit Russian targets all over the country, including into Crimea. So are you considering longer range rounds for Ukraine?

Uh thanks tom um The range of high Mars or gamblers around is 80 km. And so that’s pretty good reach. And and so um it has allowed and will continue to allow them to to get after those longer range targets that they’ve been unable to reach and I think they’ve been very effective uh in In the way that they’ve gone about targeting. Um and and so they’re creating effects that I think we’ll we’ll see pay dividends uh going forward. And and just for clarification, we provided them 12 systems today, I just said we’re gonna provide them another four. That brings the total up to 16, Not not an additional 16. Just want to make sure we’re clear on that. And uh and so as the chairman has said, you know, we we are in contact with Mr. Resnick off and and the Chief of Defense every week. And uh and you know, we’re listening to uh what’s going on with the fight and getting their analysis and then providing them capability as as needed. Now, providing a weapons system is one thing. But you have to provide the training for the weapons system along with that with that and you have to have the the munitions uh to match the weapons system. And again, if we’re thoughtful about how we’re using these systems, these are pretty sophisticated systems, they’re incredibly accurate and so how you employ them and and and how you integrate that system with other battlefield systems. I think it’s pretty key. And and so announcing a number for the future. Now, I don’t think it’s provide much value and provides much value in my opinion. Again, we’ll stay focused on what they believe their requirements are based upon how the battle is unfolding. But again, wouldn’t you want to provide longer range systems of rounds that could hit into Crimea and also that bridge that connects the Russian mainland with, we think we’re, what they have, what and what they’re working with is uh is really giving them a lot of capability. So it really is, I mean, it will be based upon how they’re prosecuting this fight and what their needs are. The other thing I’d say to him on that is you get six rounds out of out of the high mars with the gamblers, you only get one if you use a tag. So um you know, there’s a difference in volume, volume matters. Um and they’re both points, they’re both precision. Um and they were both very effective. But right now the gamblers is really fulfilling their need, and every time I talk to journals of losing their being very, very successful with them. Thanks everyone. Mhm.

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