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US ‘will not let Ukraine fail’, says defence secretary

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin attended a meeting in Germany (Michael Probst)
Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin attended a meeting in Germany (Michael Probst)

Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has vowed that the US will continue to support Ukraine’s war effort against Russia even though Congress remains stalled over funding to send additional weapons to the front.

“The United States will not let Ukraine fail,” said Mr Austin, addressing more than 50 defence leaders from Europe and around the world who are meeting at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

“This coalition will not let Ukraine fail. And the free world will not let Ukraine fail,” he added.

The meeting comes a week after US defence officials managed to find 300 million dollars (£235 million) in contract savings to fund a new package of military aid for Ukraine, pulling weapons from Pentagon stocks.

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Lloyd Austin met Ukrainian defence minister Rustem Umerov (Michael Probst/AP)

During the session, leaders from other nations promised new aid for Ukraine.

German defence minister Boris Pistorius told reporters that Germany will provide ammunition and armoured and transport vehicles worth about 500 million euros (£426 million).

Mr Pistorius said: “We are helping Ukraine with what it needs most in its defence against Russian aggression.”

He added that the aid includes 10,000 rounds of ammunition from the German Army stocks that would be delivered to Ukraine very soon, as well as 100 armoured vehicles for the infantry and 100 transport vehicles.

Asked whether he still sees the Americans as a reliable ally considering the ongoing delay in funding approval by Congress, Mr Pistorius said: “I have no doubt about the reliability of the Americans.”

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Mr Austin said that “Ukraine’s survival is in danger” and that he left the meeting “fully determined to keep US security assistance and ammunition flowing”.

He said: “That’s a matter of survival and sovereignty for Ukraine, and it’s a matter of honour and security for America.”

The 300 million dollar aid package from the US was the first tranche of weapons sent by the Biden administration since December as battlefield conditions in Ukraine have been getting increasingly dire.

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German minister of defence Boris Pistorius (left) with Rustem Umjerow, Ukrainian minister of defence (Uwe Anspach/dpa via AP)

The money — which officials called a “one-time shot” — allowed the Defence Department to use presidential drawdown authority (PDA) to pull weapons and equipment from Pentagon stocks and send them quickly to Ukraine.

The funds are then used to buy replacement items to ensure the US military is ready to fight and protect the homeland.

US leaders had insisted for the past three months that they could not take more weapons off the shelves because they had run out of money to replenish the stocks.

Congress has been deadlocked for months over a new 95 billion dollar supplemental Bill that includes about 60 billion dollars in aid for Ukraine.

US officials maintain there is bipartisan support for the package but a number of Republicans oppose it and House Speaker Mike Johnson has refused to bring the Bill to the House floor for a vote.

Funding to train Ukrainian forces is also at risk. The US Army regional command for Europe and Africa, which is based in Germany, has spent more than 500 million dollars out of its budget so far this fiscal year to conduct the training and expects to run out of money by June, according to US officials.

The command spent about 2 billion dollars for training in the fiscal year that ended last September 30, which was paid for through supplemental funding passed by Congress.

The US has trained about 19,000 Ukrainian forces to date, the bulk of them at the Army bases in Germany.

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Ukrainian soldiers have faced shortages of ammunition (Iryna Rybakova via AP)

All together, the international coalition has trained more than 129,000 Ukrainians at more than 100 different locations around the world.

Training has slowed a bit, as the US is waiting for the next large tranche of Ukrainian troops to arrive. Scheduling can be difficult because Ukraine often has to pull troops from the battlefront to send them for training.

US officials have been publicly expressing the hope that lawmakers will manage to act soon to approve the supplemental Bill but they have also been struggling to find other ways to get assistance to Ukraine.

Defence officials continue to warn that Ukraine remains heavily outgunned by Russia on the battlefield and note persistent reports of Ukrainian troops rationing or running out of ammunition on the front lines.

Just last month, Ukrainian troops withdrew from the eastern city of Avdiivka, where outnumbered defenders had held off a Russian assault for four months.

Troops complained of running low on ammunition while facing a constant barrage of air strikes from glide bombs, enormous unguided Soviet-era weapons, retrofitted with a navigational targeting system, that obliterate everything around them, as well as motion-sensing explosive drones that could enter buildings and hunt personnel.