US vows to move ‘Heaven and Earth’ on bolstering Ukraine defence
The US defence secretary says Washington is ‘engaging our colleagues’ to provide military aid to Kyiv against Russian aggression.
The United States has pledged to move “Heaven and Earth” to help Ukraine win its battle against Russia’s unprovoked invasion, as allies from 40 nations met at a US base in Germany to bolster Kyiv’s defence against Moscow.
The meeting called by the US at its Ramstein airbase in southwestern Germany aims “to help Ukraine win the fight against Russia’s unjust invasion and to build up Ukraine’s defences for tomorrow’s challenges”, said defence secretary Lloyd Austin as he opened the talks.
“As we see this morning, nations from around the world stand united in our resolve to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s imperial aggression.
“Ukraine clearly believes that it can win and so does everyone here,” he added.
The US is already the biggest supplier of international military aid to Ukraine and Austin said Washington is “going to keep moving Heaven and Earth so that we can meet” Kyiv’s needs.
At the talks, German defence minister Christine Lambrecht said Berlin has agreed to give the go-ahead to the delivery of used Gepard anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine.
The move towards heavy weapons deliveries marked a turning point from Germany’s timid backing for Kyiv which has put Chancellor Olaf Scholz under fire at home and abroad.
Lambrecht admitted that the Bundeswehr’s weapons stocks are limited, but said it will turn to the inventory of Germany’s armaments manufacturers.
“Ukraine orders and Germany pays,” she said.
Kyiv has been asking for heavy artillery and tanks to repel Russian forces trying to seize complete control of its vast southern plains and the eastern region of Donbas.
But the Russian-made equipment which Ukrainians have been trained to use is now rare.
Some countries in eastern Europe which still had stocks have sent them to Kyiv, sometimes in exchange for newer generation US equipment.
Austin had held a press conference on Monday at a Polish warehouse stacked high with tonnes of humanitarian and military aid ready to be packed onto trucks bound for Ukraine.
Next to the pallets of medical material and nappies were hundreds of Russian-made shells and rockets provided by countries that prefer to remain discreet about their participation in arming Ukraine.
Outside the warehouse, seven vehicles towing howitzers with a range of 30km (18 miles) were awaiting transfer. They were parked in front of hundreds of pallets of carefully packed shells and various ammunitions.
But all that is insufficient, and Washington, which had, in the beginning, limited its deliveries to so-called “defensive” weapons, has started to send heavy US-made arms, like howitzer cannons and various armoured vehicles.
The US is “engaging our colleagues in other countries for the same type of capability, and we see indications early on that … many countries are going to come forward and provide additional munitions and howitzers,” said Austin.
Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen said the US is “clearly trying to give a signal, to Europe mainly but also other countries, to prop up military support for Ukraine”.
“The US is trying to build this broad coalition of more than 40 countries which goes beyond NATO to include countries from Asia, Africa and the Middle East,” Vaessen said.
“They have been invited here to build this broad coalition, not only for immediate military support for Ukraine, which the US says is really needed, but for long-term military assistance to give Ukraine the security guarantees the US says it needs in the future,” she added.
“It is also significant that this meeting is [being held] in Germany, because Germany has been criticised for not doing enough. Until a few days ago, it was very reluctant to send heavy weapons to Ukraine, but just on the eve of this meeting the government decided to send tanks after all.”
France is delivering Caesar cannons with a range of 40km (25 miles) and Britain has provided Starstreak anti-air missiles and tanks.
The meeting is also aimed at ensuring Ukraine’s security in the longer term once the war is over.
“Ukraine needs our help to win today and they will still need our help when the war is over,” noted Austin.
The meeting on Tuesday is not being held under the auspices of NATO, but the alliance’s members including Washington’s European allies are in attendance.
Also present are countries further afield like Japan or Australia, which fear that a Russian victory in Ukraine could set a precedent and spur the territorial ambitions of China.
Finland and Sweden, traditionally neutral countries now looking at joining NATO following Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, are likewise participating.