Source: United States Department of Defense
BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER: All right, ladies and gentlemen, welcome. Secretary Austin will have a few opening remarks, and then we’ll turn it over to questions. Please note, I will call on reporters.
So, Mr. Secretary, over to you, sir.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Good evening. It’s great to be back in Kyiv.
This is my third visit to Kyiv as Secretary of Defense, my second visit since the war started. I was here in April of 2022. Since that time, the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, which, as you know, is a group of about 50 nations that work together to provide much-needed security assistance to Ukraine – that group has roared into action, and we have continued to work together to provide much-needed security assistance in the form of HIMARS, other artillery platforms, tanks, munitions. And so really, really good work on the part of our allies and partners.
Had a good chance to discuss a number of issues with President Zelenskyy and Minister Umerov; talked about current operations and also talked about what Minister Umerov looks to do with the Ministry of Defense going forward in terms of his near-term goals and objectives and his mid-term goals and objectives. So very, very constructive conversations.
I wanted to reassure the leadership that the United States of America will continue to support Ukraine. And so, you know, we talked about the things that we’re going to continue to do to make sure that they have what they need to be successful on the battlefield.
It also gave us an opportunity to re-focus and make sure that we maintain alignment between the operations on the ground and the President’s objectives. And so that was a great opportunity.
And so overall, it’s been a great visit. And with that, I’ll take a couple of your questions.
BRIG. GEN. RYDER: Ellee, CBS?
Q: I’m going to derail things. I have an Israel question, so sorry. Have you seen any cause for concern, how the Israelis are using the American-provided weapons? And have you voiced any concerns to your counterparts in Israel?
SEC. AUSTIN: So the question is have I seen any cause for concern, in terms of how the weapons that we’re providing to Israel are being used? We have said every step of the way that our expectation is that the Israelis conduct their operations in accordance with the law of armed conflict.
And we have made sure that we continue to emphasize to the Israelis that they must account for civilians in the battlespace. And not only that, but they must do everything – or should do everything that they can to get humanitarian assistance in to the people in Gaza.
And as we’ve said a number of times, Hamas does not equal the Palestinian people. Hamas is a terrorist organization and the Palestinian people deserve better, they deserve much more. And again, hopefully at the end of this, you know, this will transition into something that provides good governance for the people of Gaza and addresses the underlying causes of instability.(CROSSTALK)
Q: Mr. Secretary, German Minister Boris Pistorius said that XX will be a gamechanger in Ukraine. Some are afraid of even F-16s won’t be a gamechanger. Given these statements, and what, in what in your opinion, can be a gamechanger or advantage in Ukraine?
SEC. AUSTIN: Well, that’s a great question. And you heard me say, you’ve heard us say a number of times that there is no silver bullet in a conflict like this. It really depends on providing the right capabilities and also integrating those capabilities in meaningful ways so that you can create the right effects on the battlefield.
And so whether it’s F-16s, whether it’s HIMARS, whether it’s something else, it’s the way that you go about utilizing those capabilities and integrating it, synchronizing the capabilities to produce the right effects on the battlefield.
BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER: Let’s go to Voice of America, Carla Babb.
Q: Thank you. First of all, there’s been a steady drumbeat of aid rolling out for Ukraine. Did you tell your counterparts about any additional U.S. aid that is coming out for Ukraine in the coming days?
And then on the fighting, how important is it to prevent Russia from again having the winter months to harden their defenses? And have you received assurances from the people you stood with today, from these leaders, that they are going to keep the pressure on Russia?
SEC. AUSTIN: Well, you heard President Zelenskyy say a number of times that he intends to continue to keep the pressure on the Russians. And so, we expect that, you know, that will absolutely happen.
And the first part of your question again, Carla?
Q: Well, the first part was did you tell them that about any additional aid that the U.S. would be providing to Ukraine in the coming days?
SEC. AUSTIN: Yeah, so I announced today another $100 million drawdown using presidential drawdown authority, that it’ll provide additional artillery munition — munitions, additional interceptors for air defense, and a number of anti-tank weapons as well.
So, our support continues, but you’re right, other allies and partners are also stepping up to the plate as well.
BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER: Let’s go to IC TV, Natalia
Q: Good evening. Mr. Secretary, I will follow up with my colleague’s question. From your perspective, is Ukrainian Army all ready for winter combat, especially considering the fact of this funding challenges from the United States Congress?
SEC. AUSTIN: I think they are prepared for combat in the winter, and certainly they did a great job last year. This year, we expect for them to be, just based upon what the President has said, President Zelenskyy has said, for them to be even more aggressive. In this latest drawdown package that I just mentioned, we’ve included in there some winter gear as well. We provided winter gear last year.
So yeah, they have the means that they’ll need to be successful in fighting in the wintertime. And I think I agree with President Zelenskyy — the right thing to do is continue to press the fight, take the fight to the enemy.
BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER: Let’s go to AFP, Will.
Q: Secretary Austin, how worried are you personally about the future of U.S. security aid to Ukraine, given the opposition in Congress? And how do you seek to reassure Ukrainians through your visit … the U.S. back and forth.
SEC. AUSTIN: Well, I continue to see bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. And I know that there are some things that we need to continue to work through to get the supplemental request approved, and we’ll continue to work with Congress to do that. Again Congress, our congressional members, have valid questions that we will answer. But again, I would point out that Ukraine matters, what happens here matters. Not just to Ukraine, but to the entire world.
This is about the rules-based international order. This is about, not living in a world where a dictator can wake up one day and decide to annex the property of his peaceful neighbor. That’s not the world that we want to live in.
And so, this is more than just Ukraine, this is about, again, the rules-based international order.
BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER: Final question, Missy Ryan, Washington Post?
Q: Hi, Secretary Austin. Coming away from your talks today, do you have a sense that Ukraine has a more clear path to substantial territorial progress and that it has remedied some of the issues that contributed to the problems in the current counter-offensive?
And I have a follow-up, if I might.
SEC. AUSTIN: I think, you know, Ukraine — the Ukraine military is a learning organization and it will continue to learn from all of its operations to this point. I think what’s important is that the military constructs its operations to focus on the objectives and the goals that the President wants to achieve. And again, synchronizing that up and making sure that we remain in the right place — or they remain in the right place continues to be something that they’ll continue to focus on.
So yeah, I think — I think they have learned a lot. I think they’ll continue to learn. But, you know, this is dynamic. As they learn and make adjustments, the enemy learns and makes adjustments.
Q: And then the related follow-up is I know you and your team and your counterparts on the military side have been working really hard over the last year and a half to support Ukraine and train their forces to get at a number of different capabilities. And yet, the operation — offensive operations haven’t had the outcome that everybody wanted.
How does this deadlock on the battlefield get broken, given that you guys have give — you know, given all the support that you thought you could give?
SEC. AUSTIN: Well, let’s take stock of what the Ukrainians have actually done.
They’ve take back half the prog- — half the — the ground that the Russians originally occupied. I think that’s a pretty big deal.
I think if you look at what they’ve accomplished here at the — with the Black Sea Fleet, they have inflicted significant pain on the — on that fleet and actually caused them to reposition a bit.
If you look at the damage that they’ve created the Russians land forces overall, it’s significant, and it will take Russia quite a while to recover from that in order to create the kind of force that it had before this began.
So, we have to give credit where credit is due. I mean, we said it was going to be a tough fight. It’s a grinding fight, and I think we’ll continue to see that in the future.
Now, what’s important, as you’ve pointed out in your earlier part of the question, is that they learned from, you know, operations in the past and that they’d make the right adjustments, and that they anticipate that the enemy will also adjust as they are adjusting.