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Austin urges nations to dig deep and equip Ukraine with more much-needed air defense systems

The group is made up of military and defense leaders from more than 50 countries and is the main forum for collecting contributions of weapons, other equipment and training for Kiev’s war effort. It meets about once a month, in person and virtually, and this is the 15th meeting.

President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly advocated for longer-range weapons. Supporters have argued that Ukrainian forces must be able to strike Russian troops and facilities while remaining out of range.

But the United States continued to hesitate, expressing long-standing fears that kyiv could use the weapons to strike deep into Russian territory and anger Moscow. The Army’s tactical missile system, known as ATACMS, could give Ukraine the ability to strike Russian targets from up to about 300 kilometers away, but the United States also has other variants of the missile with a shorter range.

Speaking before the meeting began, Bill Blair, Canada’s defense minister, told reporters that the allies were listening to Ukrainian leaders’ descriptions of their military needs and discussing “new and important ways” to help strengthen the counter-offensive in progress.

Austin said the 31 M1 Abrams tanks promised months ago would soon begin arriving in Ukraine, as planned. A defense official said they had arrived in Europe and would begin crossing the Ukrainian border in the coming days. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the precise location of the tanks is sensitive.

Ukrainian troops began training on similar tanks in June, while the soon-to-arrive ones are being renovated in the United States.

Defense leaders are working to maintain what they see as unwavering support for Ukraine, despite growing concerns that public and international government support for the war, now in its second year, is failing. begins to weaken.

Zelensky will travel to Washington later this week to meet with President Joe Biden and congressional leaders in an effort to bolster support for continued U.S. funding and weapons. The visit comes as there is a growing partisan divide in Congress over continued funding of Ukraine.

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters he wants the Ukraine aid increase to be debated on its own merits, as a standalone bill, rather than than linking it to other priorities such as government funding. But Senate leaders want to combine that aid with other priorities, such as a short-term spending bill that will likely be needed to avoid a shutdown in late September.

Countries have pumped millions of rounds of artillery and other weapons into Ukraine, but fear their stocks will dwindle and the defense industry will struggle to ramp up production lines. At the same time, Ukrainian forces are moving slowly to break through the Russian battle lines in a counter-offensive that has not gone as quickly or as well as initially hoped.

“Ukraine’s recent progress also depends on the critical capabilities provided by members of this contact group,” Austin said during Ramstein’s opening. “And our shared commitment will be vital during the current battles – and for the long road ahead. »

Military leaders, including Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, rejected criticism that the offensive had moved too slowly, arguing that Ukrainian troops were making steady progress in a tough fight. This is, according to Milley, a real war and Ukrainian forces are carefully making their way through vast and deadly Russian minefields.

Following a meeting of NATO military chiefs on Saturday, Admiral Rob Bauer of the Netherlands, who chairs the alliance’s Military Committee, acknowledged that countries must weigh the risks of providing additional weapons to Ukraine without risking their own security needs.

The Ramstein meeting also marks Milley’s final session as joint chairman of the U.S. Chiefs. He will retire at the end of the month, after four years in the profession.