WATCH: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin holds press conference after trip to Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — The longer Ukraine’s military fends off Russian invaders, the more it absorbs the benefits of Western weaponry and training — exactly the transformation President Vladimir Putin wanted to prevent by invading in the first place.

Watch the briefing in the player above.

The list of arms smuggled into Ukraine is long and growing. It includes new American battlefield aerial drones and the most modern American and Canadian artillery, anti-tank weapons from Norway and others, armored vehicles and anti-ship missiles from Britain and anti- Stinger aircraft from the United States, Denmark and other countries.

If Ukraine can hold off the Russians, its accumulated arsenal of Western weaponry could have a transformative effect in a country that, like other former Soviet republics, has relied primarily on Soviet-era weapons and equipment. .

But sustaining this military aid will not be easy. It is costly and, for some supplier countries, politically risky. It is also removed from Western stocks which will at some point need to be replenished. That’s why US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called a meeting at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base on Tuesday to find ways to maintain it, now and for the long term. Defense ministers and senior military officials from around 40 countries attended.

After the meeting, Austin told a press conference in Ramstein that Germany had agreed to send 50 Cheetah anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine and that the meeting had served to unify Western efforts to help Ukraine “win today and grow stronger for tomorrow”. He said participating nations had agreed to continue similar consultations through monthly meetings, either in person or virtually.

“We must move at the speed of war,” Austin said.

The goal, Austin said ahead of the conference, is not just to bolster Ukraine’s defenses, but to help them prevail against a larger invading force. In his opening remarks to the meeting, he said Ukraine’s allies “will continue to leave no stone unturned” to meet Ukraine’s short-term security needs.

“We think they can win if they have the right equipment, the right support,” Austin said in Poland on Monday after returning from a visit to Kyiv with Secretary of State Antony Blinken that included a discussion on the Ukraine’s military needs. He also said the goal was “to see Russia weakened to the point that it cannot do the kinds of things it did by invading Ukraine.”

LOOK: How the Czech Republic supports Ukraine’s fight against Russia

Despite its early failures, the Russian military still holds certain advantages that will be tested in the eastern Donbass region, where it musters more combat troops and firepower even as the United States and its allies of NATO are scrambling to obtain artillery and other heavy weapons. in this region in time to make a difference.

With the outcome of the war uncertain after two months of fighting, the Pentagon is supplying 90 of the US military’s most modern howitzers, along with 183,000 rounds of artillery – and other sophisticated weaponry that could give the Ukrainians a important advantage in the impending battles. The United States is also organizing more training for Ukrainians on key weapons, including howitzers and at least two types of armed drones.

On Monday, Austin and Blinken announced $713 million in foreign military funding for Ukraine and 15 allies and partners in Europe; some $322 million is earmarked for Kyiv, in part to help Ukraine transition to more advanced weapons and air defense systems. The rest will be split among NATO members and other countries that have provided Ukraine with critical military supplies since the war with Russia began, officials said.

Such funding is different from previous US military assistance to Ukraine. This is not a donation of weapons and equipment from Pentagon stockpiles, but rather money that countries can use to purchase supplies they may need.

The Ukrainians say they need even more, including long-range air defense systems, fighter jets, tanks and multiple rocket launcher systems.

“It will be true to say that the United States is now leading the effort to ensure this transition of Ukraine to Western-style weapons, by organizing the training of Ukrainian soldiers,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. , adding: “and I only regret that it hasn’t happened a month or two months ago since the very beginning of the war.

Philip Breedlove, a retired US general who led NATO in Europe from 2013 to 2016, says his abbreviated summary of what Putin wants in Ukraine and elsewhere in the Russian periphery is: “Weapons out, NATO and not America”.

“What happened is that Mr. Putin got exactly what he didn’t want. It advances more weapons, it advances more NATO, and it advances more America in Europe,” Breedlove said in an interview.

The complexity of maintaining Western military aid to Ukraine, even as its troops are fully occupied in a brutal war, is a reminder of what is at stake. Putin said before launching the invasion that Moscow could not tolerate what he saw as a Western effort to make Ukraine a de facto member of NATO. He argued that Ukraine’s interest in westernizing and staying out of the Russian orbit was due to “external forces” such as US pressure.

Putin demanded that Ukraine renounce membership in the NATO alliance, and beyond that he insisted on going back to 1997, before NATO started to add former Soviet and Allied nations to its ranks.

Ukraine is unlikely to join NATO, but Russia’s war has actually brought NATO closer to Ukraine. The result boosted Ukraine’s prospects of mounting a successful defense even in the eastern Donbass region where the Russians hold some advantages and where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.

AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.


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