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‘Putin never imagined’ global rally of Ukraine support, defense secretary says

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met with NATO military leaders on April 26 at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (Video: Reuters)
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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told a gathering of military leaders in Germany that Ukraine’s “resistance has brought inspiration to the free world and even greater resolve to NATO” — and that Russian President Vladimir Putin “never imagined that the world would rally behind Ukraine so swiftly and surely.”

Austin’s remarks, as he opened a U.S.-organized gathering of more than 40 countries to discuss Ukrainian defense needs for the fight against Russia, came as the United States announced more military aid and plans to reopen its embassy in Ukraine’s capital, Poland said it would send tanks, and Germany planned to send armored antiaircraft vehicles.

“All of us have your back,” Austin told Ukraine, in remarks that follow his own trip to Kyiv.

Senior defense officials from NATO and non-NATO countries attended the meeting, part of the new Ukraine Defense Consultative Group. Some nations, such as Israel and Qatar, had representatives at the table, although they were not included on the official list of attendees. The inclusion of non-NATO countries such as Kenya, Tunisia and Japan was part of an effort to extend substantive and symbolic support for Ukraine beyond Europe and the alliance.

In separate remarks to the group, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered a stark picture of the next phase of the war, as Russia attempts to take full control of southeastern and southern Ukraine. “Time is not on Ukraine’s side,” Milley said in closed-door comments provided to reporters traveling with him. “The outcome of this battle, right here, today, is dependent on the people in this room.”

Live updates: U.S. general says ‘time is not on Ukraine’s side’; Putin to meet U.N. chief

World leaders are seeking to pressure Putin to stop the war now grinding into its third month. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, who is in Moscow to meet with Putin and his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, called for a cease-fire Tuesday and said everything must be done “to end the war as soon as possible.”

Lavrov, meanwhile, set off alarm bells when he told state television that the risk of the conflict escalating into nuclear war “is serious, it is real” — but added that Moscow’s position is that nuclear war is unacceptable. Lavrov accused NATO of fighting a proxy war by donating weapons to Kyiv and said weapons flowing from allies into Ukraine will be considered “a legitimate target” for Russia’s military.

U.S. objectives for the gathering were to share what Pentagon spokesman John Kirby called a “common understanding” of the current battlefield and Ukrainian defense capabilities and requirements, as well as the capacity of national industrial bases.

U.S. wants Russian military ‘weakened’ from Ukraine invasion, Austin says

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov headed a delegation from Kyiv, where Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Sunday.

“That visit only underscored my sense of urgency, an urgency that I know that we all share,” Austin said at the meeting. He emphasized that he would “like this whole group today to leave with a common and transparent understanding of Ukraine’s near-term security requirements because we’re going to keep moving heaven and earth so that we can meet them.”

President Biden announced last week an additional $800 million in weapons aid for Ukraine, including heavy artillery and high-tech attack drones that are targeted for the new battle in the south and southeast. U.S. military officials have assessed that the Russians, who have retreated to those areas following their failure to take Kyiv, will try to encircle Ukrainian forces there in a major ground battle.

“My trip to Kyiv reinforced my admiration for the way that the Ukrainian armed forces are deploying” the help they are getting, Austin said in his opening statement. “Ukraine clearly believes that it can win. And so does everyone here.”

Milley was less definitive after reporters had left the room. “The next two, three, four weeks will shape the overall outcome of this fight,” he said.

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