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It’s not quite the Coalition to Defeat Putin just yet — and the name is admittedly tame if not lame: the Ukraine Defense Consultative Group.
Still, if the U.S. ends up forming a global alliance to actively fight against Russia, the roughly 40 countries convened by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at Ramstein Air Force base in Germany on Tuesday are likely to form the core of it.
The group included dozens of defense ministers and chiefs of defense — mainly from European countries. Austin brought them together as a way of demonstrating visible support for Ukraine and improving the coordination of countries that have been rushing huge quantities of military assistance, including heavy weaponry, to help Kyiv fight back against the Russian invaders.
At a news conference on Tuesday evening, Austin said the group would meet monthly going forward — a sign that Ukraine’s allies were preparing for a lengthy conflict.
“We’re all determined to help Ukraine win today and build strength for tomorrow,” he said at a news conference following the day’s meetings.
“To ensure that we continue to build on our progress, we’re going to extend this forum beyond today,” he continued. “I’m proud to announce that today’s gathering will become a monthly contact group on Ukraine’s self-defense, and the contact group will be a vehicle for nations of goodwill to intensify our efforts, and coordinate our assistance, and focus on winning today’s fight, and the struggles to come.”
The setting of the meeting — at a U.S. air base in Germany — seemed intended in part to rebuff a narrative coming from Moscow that Russia is waging a de facto war with NATO, which senior Russian officials claim is using Ukraine as a proxy.
“NATO, in essence, is engaged in a war with Russia through a proxy and is arming that proxy,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview with state-controlled media Monday night. “War means war.” The comments were striking in part because the Kremlin has refused to admit that it is waging war in Ukraine and instead has insisted on “special military operation” as a euphemism.
However, the participant list in Germany, while mostly NATO countries, did stretch further around the globe to include Australia, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand, South Korea and Tunisia. There were no countries from Central or South America.
By contrast, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, which the U.S. created in 2014, includes 84 countries.
The EU and NATO also participated in Tuesday’s meeting in Germany, though NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was unable to attend because he had cold symptoms.
Austin traveled to Ramstein following a visit on Sunday to Kyiv with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov also attended Tuesday’s event.
“Ukraine has done a magnificent job defending its sovereignty against Russia’s unprovoked invasion,” Austin said in opening remarks. “And Ukraine’s valor and skill will go down in military history. You know, the Battle of Iwo Jima took 36 days. The Battle of the Bulge lasted 40 days. And Ukraine has now beaten back the Russian military for 62 days. Your resistance has brought inspiration to the free world, even greater resolve to NATO, and glory to Ukraine.”
He added that since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, over 30 allies and partners have committed more than $5 billion of equipment to support Ukraine. Of that, the U.S. has committed about $3.7 billion.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Austin was also pressed to clarify comments he had made in Poland on Monday saying the U.S. wanted to see Russia weakened.
The defense secretary said the goal of the U.S. was to help make sure Russia can no longer wage aggression against its neighbors.
“We do want to make it harder for Russia to threaten its neighbors and leave them less able to do that,” Austin said, before laying out the heavy losses Russia has suffered during its invasion of Ukraine. He added: “So we would like to make sure, again, that they don’t have the same type of capability to bully their neighbors that we saw at the outset of this conflict.”
Austin was also asked about worries that Russia might use a tactical nuclear weapon in Ukraine, a fear exacerbated by casual threats being made by some Russian politicians and television commentators.
“You heard us say a number of times that that kind of rhetoric is very dangerous and unhelpful,” Austin said. “Nobody wants to see a nuclear war happen. It’s a war that, you know, all sides lose, and so, rattling of sabres, and, you know, dangerous rhetoric is clearly unhelpful, and something that we won’t engage in.”
The U.S. defense chief also praised Germany, which announced in Ramstein on Tuesday that it would send heavy weapons, including tanks, to Ukraine.
“Those systems will provide real capability,” he said.
Hans von der Burchard contributed to this article.