NATO Unified, Resolute in Face of Russia's 'Illegal' Ukraine Invasion, Austin Says

NATO stands united in its support for Ukraine and strengthening the alliance’s collective defense in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III said today at NATO headquarters.

Europe is facing its largest security challenge since World War II as a result of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions, which include the recent “cruel attacks on civilian targets” in Ukraine, Austin said at the conclusion of a two-day ministerial.

Austin thanked the allies and partners that have stepped up to provide assistance to Ukraine.  

“Today this proud alliance of free countries stands together to condemn Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine,” he said. “Putin thought he could easily conquer his peaceful neighbor, yet the Kremlin’s war of choice is now in its eighth month.”   

In the face of this challenge, the alliance has never been more unified and resolute, he said.

“NATO has responded robustly and decisively to Russia’s imperial invasion, and our determination to protect every inch of NATO territory is unwavering,” the secretary said. 

Allies have placed tens of thousands of troops under direct NATO command, along with significant air and naval assets, to protect against Russian aggression, he said. 

Austin reiterated that NATO poses no harm to Russia. 

“NATO continues to make clear that we will not be dragged into Russia’s war of choice. But we will stand by Ukraine as it fights to defend itself,” he told a news conference.

Over the two-day ministerial, the participants discussed progress since the NATO summit in Madrid earlier this year. They discussed Ukraine’s urgent and long-term needs, the impacts of the invasion on broader security, and efforts to address the critical issue of ammunition stockpiles and defense industry capacity.

“I’m confident that our work here will help ensure that our allies maintain credible deterrence and defense while we continue our steadfast support of the brave citizens of Ukraine,” he said. 

Ministers from Finland and Sweden attended the NATO meeting as invitees. Austin described the decision for those nations to apply to be members as a “historic step” and recommended allies ratify those protocols for accession as soon as possible.  

Austin noted the importance of the alliance, saying President Joe Biden’s newly released National Security Strategy underscores the importance of NATO and working with like-minded allies and partners. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Austin appeared together for a press appearance earlier Thursday and highlighted NATO’s support to Ukraine and alliance security.

“We stand united as allies and in solidarity with Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said. 

“I welcome the unprecedented support the United States has delivered to Ukraine but also the unprecedented support that European Allies, Canada and partners are providing to Ukraine,” Stoltenberg said. 

Austin and the NATO secretary general voiced their support for the United Nations General Assembly’s condemnation Wednesday of Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” of four Ukrainian regions.  

In addition, Austin noted the United States is “absolutely committed” to the collective defense of the alliance under NATO’s Article 5 commitments, in which an attack against one member is considered an attack against all.

“We are committed to defending every inch of NATO territory if and when it comes to that,” he said, describing NATO as the “essential forum” for consultation, decision making and action when it comes to security of a region and transatlantic security.

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