The outcome of Russian President Vladimir Putin's unprovoked war in Ukraine is profoundly important to Ukraine, Europe and all nations of the world, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said at the end of the NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels today.
Austin also chaired a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which brought more than 50 nations to the table to support Ukraine. He discussed the situation confronting the contact group and NATO during a news conference.
Russia is pouring men and materiel into Ukraine, he said. "Those people are ill-trained and ill-equipped, and because of that, we see them incurring a lot of casualties," Austin said. "That's their strength: They have a lot of people. Our goal is to make sure that we give Ukraine additional capability so that they can be, not only be marginally successful, they can be decisive on the battlefield and their upcoming offensive."
Austin said Putin didn't just assault a peaceful and sovereign and democratic U.N. member state, he's also threatening the hard-won system of rules and rights that has made Europe stronger and safer for more than seven decades.
He said that given Russia's advantages in manpower and equipment, Putin expected a cakewalk when his forces invaded Feb. 24, 2022. "Putin expected Ukraine to surrender, and he expected the world to submit," Austin said. "History will record something very different. History will remember the courage of the Ukrainian people. And history will remember the determination and strength of the NATO alliance."
A year later, the NATO nations still stand strong in condemning the Russian invasion, and Austin said NATO is more unified and resolute than ever. "We are determined to stand with Ukraine's brave defenders for as long as it takes," he said. "And we are also determined to protect every inch of NATO territory."
If Russia succeeds in destroying Ukraine — Putin's stated goal — it will be a lesson to all nations that strong nations can invade with impunity. "You could see the scope of the global response again yesterday, when some 50 nations of goodwill gathered for the ninth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group," he said. "And these challenges were an important part of this NATO ministerial. We talked today about how to ensure that NATO remains prepared to confront the dangers ahead."
The NATO meeting examined ways the alliance is putting in place the will expressed in last year's Madrid Summit to shift NATO's collective defense and deterrence. "We are strengthening our capabilities for the long term to deter and defend against all threats across all domains," Austin said. "We're upgrading our defense plans and putting more forces at higher levels of readiness."
The ministers looked at the progress made to date and laid the foundation for the next NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. That summit will look to a new defense investment pledge to ensure that the alliance has the resources to carry out these new plans, the secretary said.
Austin said the ministers looked at problems with the NATO nations' defense industrial base. "We also discussed our progress in building up ammunition stockpiles and boosting defense industrial capacity," Austin said. "But we still have much more to do. Even as we rush to support Ukraine in the critical months ahead, we must all replenish our stockpiles to strengthen our deterrence and defense for the long term."
The alliance will not be drawn into Putin's war, Austin said. The nations will continue to support Ukraine as it defends itself, and the NATO nations will ensure they retain the ability to defend every inch of NATO territory.
"We will never waver in carrying out NATO's preeminent task," Austin said. "And that task is to defend this great alliance, its people and their territory. America's commitment to that core mission is unflinching. America's commitment to Article Five is ironclad. And we're proud to work alongside our NATO allies to defend the forces of freedom and to build a safer world."