Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is encouraging U.S. allies to “dig deep” and provide more air defense systems for Ukraine, saying that the munitions could be critical to stop Russian missile barrages.
“Air defense is saving lives,” Austin said at a meeting of NATO and allied military leaders in Germany. “So I urge this group to continue to dig deep on ground-based air defense for Ukraine. We must continue to push hard to provide Ukraine with air-defense systems and interceptors.”
Tuesday marked the 15th meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, made up of military leaders from more than 50 nations focused on supporting Kyiv against the Russian invasion.
Ukrainian leaders have consistently requested long-range missiles, which could strike into Russia, but the U.S. and other allies remain wary, concerned that strikes on Russian soil will further escalate the war.
A group of four Republican senators backed calls for long-range missiles in a letter to President Biden on Saturday.
Austin also said that the 31 Abrams tanks promised for Ukraine will arrive soon, with a defense official telling The Associated Press they are already in Europe and will be in Ukraine in the coming days.
International support for Ukraine has continued, despite political movements against financial assistance growing in the U.S. and elsewhere. The Biden administration announced an additional $1 billion in aid for Ukraine earlier this month.
Austin encouraged allies to continue their military and financial support.
“Ukraine’s recent gains also hinge on the crucial capabilities provided by the members of this Contact Group,” he said. “And our shared commitment will be vital during the current battles — and for the long road ahead.”
That $1 billion in aid comes as Ukraine makes progress in its long-awaited counteroffensive in the country’s east. The offensive has moved slowly, worrying some allies, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a recent visit that he is pleased by “real progress in recent weeks.”
“Ukrainian forces have taken back more than 50 percent of the territory seized by Russian forces since February of 2022,” Blinken said while in Ukraine earlier this month. “In the ongoing counteroffensive, progress has accelerated in the past few weeks.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is scheduled to visit Washington this week, where he will meet with Biden and members of Congress.