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It’s not quite the Coalition to Defeat Putin just yet – and the name is admittedly tame if not lame: the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group.
However, should the US end up forming a global alliance to actively fight Russia, the 40 or so countries convened by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany on Tuesday will likely form the core of it.
The group included dozens of defense ministers and defense chiefs – mostly from European countries. Austin brought them together to show visible support for Ukraine and improve coordination between countries that have rushed massive amounts of military aid, including heavy weapons, to help Kyiv repel Russian invaders.
At a news conference Tuesday night, Austin said the group would meet monthly going forward – a sign that Ukraine’s allies are preparing for a protracted conflict.
“We are all committed to helping Ukraine win today and build strength for tomorrow,” he said at a press conference after the day’s sessions.
“To ensure we continue to build on our advances, we will extend this forum beyond today,” he continued. “I am proud to announce that today’s meeting will become a monthly Contact Group on Ukraine’s Self-Defense, and the Contact Group will be a vehicle for nations of good will to intensify our efforts, coordinate our assistance and focus on defending the… to win today’s fight, and the fights to come.”
The venue of the meeting — at a US air base in Germany — seemed aimed in part at dismissing a narrative pouring out of Moscow that Russia is at de facto at war with NATO, which senior Russian officials say is using Ukraine as a proxy.
“NATO is essentially engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with state-controlled media on Monday night. “War means war.” The statements were notable in part because the Kremlin refused to admit that it was waging war in Ukraine, instead insisting on a “military special operation” as a euphemism.
However, the list of participants in Germany, although mainly NATO countries, extended further around the globe and included Australia, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand, South Korea and Tunisia. There were no countries from Central or South America.
In contrast, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, formed by the US in 2014, includes 84 countries.
The EU and NATO also attended Tuesday’s meeting in Germany, although NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was unable to attend due to cold symptoms.
Austin traveled to Ramstein with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken after visiting Kyiv on Sunday. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov also attended the event on Tuesday.
“Ukraine did a great job defending its sovereignty against the unprovoked invasion of Russia,” Austin said in his opening remarks. “And the courage and skills of Ukraine will go down in military history. You know, the battle of Iwo Jima lasted 36 days. The Ardennes offensive lasted 40 days. And Ukraine has been repelling the Russian military for 62 days now. Their resistance has brought inspiration to the free world, added determination to NATO, and glory to Ukraine.”
He added that since the Russian invasion began, over 30 allies and partners have provided more than $5 billion in equipment in support of Ukraine. Of this, the USA has pledged around 3.7 billion dollars.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Austin was also urged to clarify his comments, made in Poland on Monday, that the US wanted to see Russia weakened.
The Secretary of Defense said the US goal is to help prevent Russia from waging aggression against its neighbors.
“We want to make it harder for Russia to threaten its neighbors and leave them less able to do so,” Austin said before detailing the heavy casualties Russia suffered during its invasion of Ukraine. He added: “Therefore we want to make sure again that they don’t have the same ability to bully their neighbors that we saw at the beginning of this conflict.”
Austin was also asked about fears that Russia could use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, a fear compounded by casual threats from some Russian politicians and TV commentators.
“You’ve heard us say several times that this type of rhetoric is very dangerous and not helpful,” Austin said. “No one wants to see nuclear war. It is a war that all sides are losing and as such saber rattling and dangerous rhetoric are clearly unhelpful and something we will not engage in.”
The US defense chief also praised Germany, which announced in Ramstein on Tuesday that it would send heavy weapons, including tanks, to Ukraine.
“These systems will offer real capabilities,” he said.
Hans von der Burchard contributed to this article.
https://www.politico.eu/article/ukraine-war-russia-united-states-defense-consultative-group/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication US mobilizes global allies to help Ukraine fend off Russia - POLITICO