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US Defense Secretary urges Ramstein Group to “dig deep” on Ukraine support

Austin urged partners to send additional interceptors to counter Russia’s air attacks while NATO head pledged long-term backing; Spain, Canada, Germany unveiled new military aid offerings.
us defense secretary austin reaffirms restrictions ukraine's use american weapons russia lloyd during virtual meeting ukraine contact group providing military aid january 2024 screenshot dod abc ramstein
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, providing military aid to Ukraine in January 2024. Screenshot: DOD via ABC
US Defense Secretary urges Ramstein Group to “dig deep” on Ukraine support

On 23 January, the 18th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group took place via video conference. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called for the allied nations to “dig deep” to supply Ukraine with anti-air interceptors and systems, while NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg pledged the Alliance’s support now and in the long term.

The Ukraine Defense Contact Group, or the “Ramstein Format Meetings,” an alliance comprising some 50 nations, was formed to support Ukraine’s defense by providing military equipment in response to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine unleashed in February 2022. This US-led group coordinates the continuous contribution of military aid at monthly meetings.

The US has been Ukraine’s biggest financial supporter amid Russia’s invasion, yet the Pentagon has depleted Ukraine aid funds by the end of 2023, while the US Congress has been stalling the approval of new aid funding for months.

US urges nations to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses, says secure Ukraine critical for global security

Addressing the meeting participants in his opening remarks, Austin, who made his first public appearance virtually since his release from a two-week hospitalization for complications from surgery, noted that Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression is “important for all of our countries.” Austin says the defenders of Ukraine continue to inflict heavy losses on the “badly weakened and demoralized” Russian forces.

Underscoring the importance of Ukraine’s struggle, the US Defense Secretary noted:

“Our support for Ukraine’s struggle against tyranny makes all of our countries more secure,” said Austin, later adding, “If we lose our nerve, if we flinch, if we fail to deter other would-be aggressors, we will only invite even more bloodshed and chaos. So, a sovereign and secure Ukraine is critical to global security.”

After Russia resumed its massive missile attacks against Ukraine a month ago, the Secretary called for the allies to supply Ukraine with more air defense weapons and ammunition:

I urge this group to dig deep to provide Ukraine with more lifesaving ground-based air-defense systems and interceptors,” Austin said.

The Defense Secretary noted that Estonia, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have collectively pledged billions of dollars in additional military aid for Ukraine, marking significant commitments by these nations.

“We must continue to focus both on Ukraine’s immediate battlefield needs, and on helping Ukraine to strengthen, modernize, and sustain its defense forces for the long haul,” he said.

Austin emphasized the formation of six specialized coalitions within the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, each dedicated to enhancing specific areas of Ukraine’s military capabilities. These groups focus on reinforcing Ukraine’s air force, ground-based air defenses, artillery, maritime security, demining, and information technology efforts.

US’ blocked Ukraine aid prevents new US supplies and armament maintenance

Despite Austin’s encouragement, the status of US aid to Ukraine remains uncertain. President Biden’s international aid bill, proposing over $100 billion for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, with $61.4 billion for Ukraine, is still unresolved in Congress, as Congressional Republicans have blocked the emergency funding seeking to tie new aid for Ukraine to an internal issue – pushing stringent border security policies along the US-Mexico border.

After the meeting, Pentagon spokesman General Patrick Ryder said that the lack of the US Congress approval of the additional aid to Ukraine impacts the Pentagon’s capacity to transfer weapons and ammunition to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and to maintain previously supplied armaments.

“Obviously, the current lack of funding has forced us to suspend the withdrawal of additional weapons from our stockpiles, given the consequences for our own combat readiness. And this, of course, prevents us from meeting Ukraine’s most urgent needs on the battlefield, including artillery shells, anti-tank weapons, and air defense systems,” Ryder said, adding that it also hinders the maintenance of weapons and equipment provided to Ukraine earlier, Ukrinform reported.

Meanwhile, on 23 January, US lawmakers told Voice of America that the deal on border security in return for Republican votes to send multi-billion in aid to Ukraine is nearing completion but likely will not be announced this week.

NATO reiterates its long-term support for Ukraine

During the virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed Allies’ commitments to “continue supporting Ukraine now and for the long term” and urged the NATO members and partners to continue sending Ukraine the assistance it needs to prevail in repelling the Russian invasion.

NATO will continue to stand by Ukraine as it matters for Ukraine’s security and the Alliance, Stoltenberg reiterated.

Following Austin’s remarks, the NATO chief also reiterated the urgent need to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses, highlighted by Russia’s recent missile and drone barrages.

“Under NATO’s Comprehensive Assistance Package (CAP), the Alliance is supplying more winter equipment, demining equipment, and fuel to help Ukraine weather the difficult winter, said Mr Stoltenberg,” a NATO press release reads.

The Secretary General detailed NATO’s efforts for boosting ammunition production and procurement, and for sustained support of Ukraine, including:

  • purchasing up to 1,000 Patriot interceptor missiles through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA);
  • the completion of contracts for about 220,000 155-millimeter artillery shells worth $1.2 billion through the NSPA, aiming to restock Allies’ arsenals and bolster Ukraine’s air defense capabilities.
  • reaching an agreement to extend NATO’s Comprehensive Assistance Package (CAP) into a multi-year program, addressing immediate needs and fostering long-term interoperability to safeguard Ukraine’s population, infrastructure, and military forces.

NATO inks $1.2 bn deal for 220,000 shells to resupply allies, Ukraine, but delivery could take years

Ramstein Group’s new initiatives to bolster Ukraine’s long-term armor, drone capabilities

Following the meeting, US Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Celeste Wallander, briefed reporters that Germany and Latvia will jointly lead the newly established armor and drone capability coalitions.

According to the Pentagon, the US and France are partnered “in leading the effort to bolster Ukraine’s artillery capability.” The US, in collaboration with Denmark and France, is co-leading the air force capability coalition and actively participating in the air defense capability coalition, which is led by Germany and France, among others

“Ukrainians are not asking us to fight for them. They are asking only for the tools to defend their country,” Wallander said, urging to continue the military support of Ukraine in 2024.

In his remarks after the Group’s meeting, Pentagon spokesman General Patrick Ryder noted that the Ukraine Defense Contact Group’s security support surpassed $80 billion in two years.

Spain to train more Ukrainian soldiers

Before the Ramstein Format meeting, Spain’s Defense Minister Margarita Robles announced that her country would reinforce the Ukrainian military training in anti-aircraft defense and underwater demining.

At the meeting, Robles praised the Group’s coalitions as good coordination tools for Ukraine’s long-term support and said that Spain is going to contribute to maritime security, field artillery, land anti-aircraft defense, information technologies, and demining coalitions.

The minister noted that Spain has already trained more than 3,500 Ukrainian troops and revealed the introduction of new specialized training modules for the Patriot anti-aircraft systems, NASAMS, Hawk, and underwater demining.

Canada donates boats, participates in armor, air force coalitions

Following the Ramstein meeting, Canadia’s National Defense Minister Bill Blair announced a donation of 10 Multirole Boats from Zodiac Hurricane Technologies, valued at approximately CAD 20 million ($14,9 million).

“Each boat will come with a sophisticated sensor, navigation, and communications system. This donation includes the provision of commercially contracted training for Ukrainian operators, as well as trailers and spare parts. The delivery of these boats with training is expected to be completed by late-spring 2024,” the Canadian Defense Ministry reported.

Canada to provide naval boats and F-16 training support to Ukraine

Next month, Canada, as part of the F-16 Training Coalition for Ukraine’s Armed Forces, will also provide civilian instructors, aircraft, and support staff from Montreal-based Top Aces Inc., according to the minister. This contribution supports Denmark and France’s training initiatives. The training program for the Ukrainian Air Force will begin in February 2024 and extend into 2025, enhancing the Ukrainian Army’s proficiency with F-16 fighter jets.

Canada is also offering English language training to Ukrainian Air Force personnel at the Canadian Forces Language School, which is crucial for the effective operation of F-16 jets.

Minister Blair announced Canada’s involvement in two specific capability coalitions under the Ukraine Defense Contact Group: the armor coalition and the air force coalition

Germany to send Ukraine helicopters

At the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, Germany announced that it would donate six Sea King Mk41 multi-purpose helicopters to Ukraine in the next six months to boost Kyiv’s assets in the Black Sea against Russia’s navy, according to Newsweek

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said the Sea King is a “proven and robust helicopter that will help the Ukrainians in many areas: from reconnaissance over the Black Sea to transporting soldiers.”

Germany commits to military helicopter transfer to Ukraine in historic first

Discussions on more long-range weapons, adapting Western interceptors, transferring ammunition

During the Ramstein Format meeting, increasing the supplies of long-range to Ukraine were discussed, as reported by Ukraine’s Military Media Center.

The meeting participants also discussed adapting Western anti-aircraft missiles to Soviet-era launch platforms currently in use by the Ukrainian Defense Forces, as well as enhancing capabilities for increasing the production of ammunition and artillery systems. This includes joint projects between partner countries and Ukraine.

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