Nov 17, 2022

Pentagon Officials Speak After Ukraine Meeting Transcript

Pentagon Officials Speak After Ukraine Meeting Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsGeneral Mark MilleyPentagon Officials Speak After Ukraine Meeting Transcript

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair General Mark Milley hold a press conference following their meeting with the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. Read the transcript here.

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Patrick (00:01):

Secretary Austin.

Secretary Austin (00:03):

Thanks, Patrick. Good afternoon everyone. We’ve just completed our seventh meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group and it’s been another highly successful session now. We were meeting today as Russia continues to target Ukraine’s civilians and bombard its energy grid, but Russia’s deliberate cruelty only deepens our resolve. And we’ll continue to support Ukraine’s bedrock right to defend itself and defend the rules based international order. Yesterday we saw reports of a deadly explosion in Poland near its border with Ukraine. I spoke last night to my Polish counterpart, deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense, Błaszczak, and I conveyed my deep condolences to the Polish people and to the loved ones of those who were killed. I also underscored America’s ironclad commitment to defend Poland. We have full confidence in the Polish government’s investigation of this explosion, and they’ve been conducting that investigation in a professional and deliberate manner. And so we won’t get ahead of their work.

We’re going to stay in close touch with our Polish counterparts as well as with our NATO allies and other valued partners. We’re still gathering information, but we have seen nothing that contradicts President Duda’s preliminary assessment that this explosion was most likely the result of a Ukrainian air defense missile that unfortunately landed in Poland. And whatever the final conclusions may be, the world knows that Russia bears ultimate responsibility for this incident. Russia launched another barrage of missiles against Ukraine, specifically intended to target Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure. This tragic and troubling incident is yet another reminder of the recklessness of Russia’s war of choice. And Ukraine has a bedrock right to defend itself and we will continue to stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine as a defender country. And we were joined again today at the Contact Group meeting by my good friend Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s Minister of Defense, and by Deputy Chief of Defense, Lieutenant General Moisiuk. I spoke with General Reznikov by phone before this morning’s Contact Group meeting about yesterday’s explosion in Poland and will remain in close consultation as we move forward. Ukraine’s commanders have shown tremendous leadership and tenacity, and they updated the Contact Group this morning on the current battlefield dynamics and on Ukraine’s most urgent self-defense needs. Ukraine’s troops continue to consolidate their gains on the battlefield as they head into the winter. And the Contact Group continues to push hard to bolster Ukraine’s air defenses in the face of Russia’s ongoing barrages. I’m pleased to be able to report that the NASAMS air defense systems that we’ve sent to Ukraine are now operational and their performance so far has been very impressive.

The NASAMS systems had a 100% success rate in intercepting Russian missiles as the Kremlin continues its ruthless bombardment of Ukraine, including yesterday’s attacks. We’re also working to secure more critical equipment to protect and repair Ukraine’s energy infrastructure after Russia’s indefensible attacks. We also heard an important update from General Cavoli, our Supreme Allied Commander in Europe. I’m confident that the training efforts spearheaded by the United States and many other members of this Contact Group will equip the Ukrainian armed forces with the skills that they need to consolidate their gains and to seize new opportunities on the battlefield. I’d also like to acknowledge the European Union’s important efforts here. The EU’s training program across Europe will do a great deal to reinforce what other countries are doing bilaterally.

I’d also like to recognize Germany and Poland for their leadership in this larger mission. And let me thank the UK for pledging to train another 19,000 Ukrainian troops next year. The Contact Group also discussed important industrial based initiatives to sustain our security assistance to Ukraine. Let me also thank the department’s acquisition and sustainment team, as well as the co-host of the National Armaments Directors, the working group under the Contact Group auspices. Now, all of these initiatives help prepare the Ukrainians to consolidate their gains during the winter and to prepare to seize new initiatives in the spring. And you can see this Contact Group’s ongoing unity and commitment in some of the announcements that its members made. I’d like to thank Sweden for coming forward today with a substantial $287 million package of assistance to Ukraine.

This package includes key capabilities, including an air defense system that will bolster Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against Russia’s ongoing ruthless attacks. And Spain has promised to send two more launchers and missiles, and Canada is stepping up with its latest tranche of $500 million in assistance. And Canada remains one of the lead donors of winter gear. Germany has advanced much needed donations of air defense, artillery and MRS ammunition. And Greece also announced an important donation of 155 millimeter ammunition. And Poland has committed additional artillery and tank ammunition, as well as short range air defense capabilities. And so these contributions will make a real difference, and so does as coordination of our security assistance that this Contact Group makes possible.

So we will continue to deepen our work together. And the Contact Group has met seven times this year, and each meeting has produced tangible results that help Ukraine defend itself and its citizens. You can see that progress in Ukraine’s victories and Kharkiv and Kherson. Over the weekend, the world saw Ukrainian forces liberate Kherson, demonstrating once again the determination of the Ukrainian people to live free in their own country. Now, our resolve is only strengthened by Russia’s indefensible attacks on civilian targets, and we’ll continue to stand together in common purpose because no member of this Contact Group wants to live in a world where big countries bulldoze their peaceful neighbors. And we won’t just accept Putin’s imperial aggression and erosion of international norms as some kind of new normal. Instead, we will continue to stand up for Ukraine’s inalienable rights to defend itself.

We’ll continue to strengthen our unity and resolve. We’ll continue to show the power of partnership. And we’ll continue to bolster Ukraine’s armed forces by rushing them the capabilities that they need to defend their country. And we will continue to help the people of Ukraine in their fight for freedom. Thank you very much, and I’ll turn it over to General Milley for his opening comments.

General Milley (08:15):

Thank you, secretary Austin. I appreciate that and I appreciate your leadership as we gathered today this morning for the seventh consecutive convening of the Ukrainian Contact Group, which we’ve been doing every month as you know. And thanks also to all the ministers of defense out there who participated and all of my counterparts, all the charges that participated and other senior representatives from almost 50 countries showed up at this meeting this morning and continue to take part in these discussions which are very productive. The mission of the group remains clear, to support Ukraine as they counter the illegal and unprovoked Russian aggression, and to continue to supply Ukraine with the capabilities necessary to defend their sovereignty. Through these Contact Group sessions and other close coordinations that I have and the secretary has with our counterparts that I talked to General Zaluzhny weekly, and my staff continually talks to his staff.

We continue to respond to Ukraine’s battlefield requirements and their needs for means of fighting for their freedom. This is a war of choice. It’s a war of choice for Russia. They embarked on a tremendous strategic mistake. They made a choice in February of this year to illegally invade a country that posed no threat to Russia. In making that choice, Russia established several objectives. They wanted to overthrow President Zelensky and his government. They wanted to secure access to the Black Sea. They wanted to capture Odessa. They wanted to seize all the way to the Dnipro River, pause, and then continue to attack all the way to Carpathian Mountains. In short, they wanted to overrun all of Ukraine. And they lost. They didn’t achieve those objectives. They failed to achieve their strategic objectives, and they’re now failing to achieve their operational and tactical objectives.

Russia changed their war aims in March and beginning of April. Their war of choice then focused on the seizure of the Donbas, Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. That was their operational objectives, and they failed there. Then they changed again and expanded to seize Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. These strategic reframing of their objectives, of their illegal invasion have all failed, every single one of them. And we’ve just witnessed last week, Russia’s retreat from Kherson. They retreated across the Dnipro River. They moved to more defensible positions south of the river. Their losses due to Ukrainian success and skill and bravery in the battlefield have been very, very significant. And it’s clear that the Russian will to fight does not match the Ukrainian will to fight. On the battlefield, Ukrainian’s offensive up in Kharkiv has been very successful where they cross the Oskil river, and they have moved the east and are near the town of Svatove. There is a significant ongoing fight down in Bakhmut right now and in the vicinity of Sivers’k and Soledar, where the Ukrainians are fighting a very, very successful mobile defense.

There is limited contact right now in Zaporizhzhia and limited contact in and around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant. And as we already discussed, Kherson’s offensive has been successful. So across the entire frontline trace of some 900 or so kilometers, the Ukrainians have achieved success after success, after success. And the Russians have failed every single time. They’ve lost strategically, they’ve lost operationally, and I repeat, they lost tactically. What they’ve tried to do, they failed at. They started this war, and Russia can end this war. Russia can make another choice and they can make a choice today to end this war. However, Russia is choosing to use their time to attempt to regroup their forces, and they are imposing a campaign of terror, a campaign of maximum suffering on the Ukrainian civilian population in order to defeat Ukrainian morale. The Russians

General Milley (13:00):

They’re striking throughout the depth and breadth of all of Ukraine with air launch cruise missiles, with caliber sea launch cruise missiles, and with other types of munitions. They are striking the Ukrainian civilian infrastructure and it has little or no military purpose. While assessments are ongoing, yesterday strikes looked like they launched at least 60 missiles, and they may have launched upwards of 90 or even perhaps a hundred, and we’ll have better assessments in the days ahead.

But it was likely the largest wave of missiles that we’ve seen since the beginning of the war. These missiles, again, they targeted intentionally and damaged civilian power generation facilities to cause unnecessary suffering with the civilian population. We assess now that over a quarter of Ukrainian civilians or without power. The deliberate targeting of the civilian power grid causing excessive collateral damage and unnecessary suffering on the civilian population is a war crime.

With the onset of winter, families will be without power, and more importantly, without heat. Basic human survival and subsistence is going to be severely impacted. And human suffering for the Ukrainian population is going to increase. These strikes will undoubtedly hinder Ukraine’s ability to care for the sick and the elderly. Their hospitals will be partially operational. The elderly are going to be exposed to the elements.

In the wake of unrelenting Russian aggression and incalculable human suffering, Ukraine will continue to endure. Ukraine is not going to back down. Ukrainian people are hard, they’re tough, and most of all, they’re free and they want to remain free. Ukraine is going to continue to take the fight to the Russians. And I just had a significant conversation with my Ukrainian counterpart and he assures me that that is the future for Ukraine.

As Ukraine continues to fight, air defense capabilities are becoming critical for their future success. An integrated system, an integrated air defense system, an integrated air and missile defense system is what is necessary as Ukraine repels Russian aerial attacks. And a significant portion of today’s conversations in today’s meeting with almost 50 countries focused on how we as a global coalition can provide the right mix of air defense systems and ammunition for Ukraine to continue its control of the skies and prevent the Russians from achieving air superiority. To combat continued Russian strikes, last Thursday, the United States announced a $400 million in additional commitments to support Ukraine and those capabilities included missiles for the Hawk air defense systems, which is a compliment what Spain has recently committed. There’s other air defense systems included in that 400 million package along with ground systems such as up-armored Humvees, grenade launches and additional HIMARS ammunition and lots of other pieces of equipment. Wars are not fought by armies, they’re fought by nations. This war is fought by the Ukrainian people and is fought by the Russian people. And this is a war that Russia’s leadership has chosen to put Russia into. They didn’t have to do this, but they did. And they have violated Ukrainian sovereignty and they have violated territorial integrity of Ukraine. It is in complete contradiction to the basic rules that underlined the United Nations charter established at the end of World War II.

This is one of the most significant attempts to destroy the rules-based order that World War II was fought all about. And we in the United States are determined to continue to support Ukraine with the means to defend themselves for as long as it takes. But at the end of the day, Ukraine will remain a free and independent country with its territory intact. Russia could end this war today. Russia could put an end to it right now, but they won’t. They’re going to continue that fight. They’re going to continue that fight into the winter, as best we can tell. And we the United States, under the direction of the President and the Secretary of Defense, we will continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes to keep them free, sovereign, independent with their territory intact.

The president of the United States has been very, very clear to us that it’s up to Ukraine to decide how and when or if they negotiate with the Russians. And we will continue to support them as long as it takes. The United States will continue to support Ukraine with the best possible equipment to position them on the battlefield, to give them positions of strength against the Russians. And that is also true of all the other nations that attended the meeting today. There is an absolute sense of urgency, an absolute sense of determination on the part of all the member states that attended our meeting today. And I can tell you the cohesion and coherence of the organization is complete and the resolve is high.

Ukrainians are not asking for anyone to fight for them. They don’t want American soldiers or British or German or French or anybody else to fight for them. They will fight for themselves. All Ukraine is asking for is the means to fight, and we are determined to provide that means. Ukrainians will do this on their timeline, and until then, we will continue to support all the way for as long as it takes. It is evident to me in the contact group today that that is not only a US position, but it is a position of all the nations that were there today. We will be there for as long as it takes to keep Ukraine free. Thank you, and I welcome your questions.

Staff (19:46):

Mr. Secretary Chairman, thank you very much, gentlemen. First question will go to Associated Press, Tara.

Tara (19:52):

Thank you. Mr. Secretary, President Zelensky just denied that it was Ukrainian air-defense missile that landed in Poland. How are you certain that this was possibly a Ukrainian air-defense missile and was not a Russian missile?

Secretary Austin (20:09):

Thanks, Tara. First of all, the investigation is still ongoing and Poland is conducting that investigation. We are assisting in any way we can. We do have some experts on the ground there helping Polish leadership. We have full confidence in Poland’s ability to conduct this investigation in a proper way. And until that’s complete, again, I think it’d be premature for anybody to jump to conclusions. And I know that Ukraine has offered to participate and help in any way they can as well.

So we won’t get ahead of the investigation, but our information supports what President Duda said earlier in his preliminary assessment, was that this was most likely, most likely, a result of Ukrainian air-defense missile, but we’ll let the investigation play out here.

Tara (21:12):

So at this point, are you confident in saying that this was not a Russian missile?

Secretary Austin (21:17):

We’re going to let the investigation play out and then once the results are released, we’ll be confident in everything. But again, our information supports what President Duda has said earlier.

Tara (21:31):

And then Chairman Milley, after this strike occurred, did you reach out to your Russian counterpart or did any other military officer reach out to their Russian counterparts to protect against escalation? And if not, why not?

General Milley (21:47):

I do that through my staff to set the calls up. The short answer is yes, some attempts were made, no success. But the Russian counterpart, I did talk to my Ukrainian counterpart immediately, General Zaluzhnyi, talked to him several times in fact. Also Polish counterpart and several other CHOD’s in Europe. And exactly what the Secretary said, investigation’s ongoing. There’s professionals there to do the forensics, all the debris that’s in and around the impact site and so on so forth. And very shortly we’ll know all the facts and we just don’t know them right this second.

Tara (22:23):

So Russia did not take the call.

General Milley (22:26):

Right. My staff was unsuccessful in getting me linked up with General Gerasimov, that’s correct.

Staff (22:31):

Let’s go to next question, ABC, Luis Martinez

Luis Martinez (22:34):

For Mr. Secretary, for the Chairman, actually, I’d just like to follow up on Tara’s question initially, because in his remarks, President Zelensky cited a conversation with your counterpart, General Zaluzhnyi, saying that he had confirmed to him that it was not a Ukrainian missile. Based on your conversations with him today, was there a disconnect there? And then I’ll follow up with another question.

General Milley (22:58):

Yeah, I’m not going to talk about it. He and I, our agreement between each other is not to talk about the substance of the conversations that we have. We have conversations several times a week and we acknowledge that we have the conversations, but we don’t discuss the substance of the conversation. So I have to honor that, and I’ll continue to honor that.

But I can tell you that right now, the investigation’s ongoing. These are professional investigators. There is a debris field there. There’s other forms of data that are going to be available that come from various technical means. And I suspect very shortly we will have very confirmed data as to what the point of origin is, point of impact, what the angle of the weapon system was, the flight trajectory. All of the details are going to be known in due time, but it’s pretty early actually in the investigation. So we’ll know that and Secretary will know that. President Biden will know that, and we’ll all get informed here shortly by the investigators. And Poland has put together a team. They have lead, and they’ve put together a team of professional investigators to do that.

Luis Martinez (24:03):

Thank you. So Mr. Secretary, yesterday, it was kind of the reality of the speculation that has been going on for months about how NATO might respond if a Russian missile went into NATO territory. On the opposite side, the United States have been very careful not to provide weapons, systems that might reach into Russia. What about Crimea?

If the United States, the supplied HIMARS systems are able to reach inside Crimea regularly, is that a concern given what we saw yesterday? And to follow-up, sir, to your comments about earlier from last week about the possibility of discussions put on by a slowdown in the fighting, let’s say, during the winter. It sounds like the comments that you’re making today about the winter are that the Ukrainians are going to continue very strongly. Are you pulling back from your comments from last week that you see an opportunity for negotiations with the Russians?

General Milley (25:03):

No, I think the Ukrainians should keep the pressure on the Russians, to the extent that they militarily can. But winter gets very, very cold. And the natural tendency is for tactical operations are going to naturally probably slow down. And right now what we’re seeing is the lines from Kharkiv all the way down to Kherson, for the most part, are beginning to stabilize.

Now, whether that means they will be stable throughout the winter or not, nobody knows. Nobody knows for certain. Come January, February, that ground probably will freeze, which could lend itself to offensive operations. So there could be a lot of activity in the winter. But typically speaking, because of the weather, the tactical operations will slow down a bit. And I think that President Biden and President Zelensky himself has said that there’ll be, at the end of the day, there’ll be a political solution. So if there’s a slowdown in the actual tactical fighting, if that happens,

General Milley (26:00):

That may become a window, possibly it may not, for a political solution, or at least the beginnings of talks to initiate a political solution. That’s all I was saying.

Speaker 1 (26:11):

Crimea sir?

Secretary Austin (26:12):

First, let me just agree with what the chairman just said, in terms of, there probably will be a slow down in the fall, and going in into winter. The fall’s a muddy season, as you know, and so is the spring. When the ground hardens, traffic ability will probably improve and then, we may see more activity. I would remind everyone that this war started in February. Winter does not mean that we’re going to stop fighting, or the Ukrainians are going to stop fighting. I certainly, like the chairman, believe that they won’t. We’re going to do everything within our power to make sure that they have the means to accomplish their goals and objectives.

Along that line, the goals and objectives of this fight are the Ukrainians’. They’re not ours, and we haven’t prescribed to the Ukrainians what they can and cannot do. Our focus is to continue to provide them the means to be successful in their endeavors. That’s my response to the question on Crimea. Again, Crimea is an issue to be thought through and sorted out by the Ukrainian leadership.

Speaker 2 (27:35):

Let’s go ahead. Helene, New York Times?

Helene Cooper (27:40):

First for General Austin. With winter coming-

Secretary Austin (27:45):

It’s a bad habit. You keep calling me general.

Speaker 2 (27:47):

It’s ingrained in my head. Secretary Austin, do you agree with General Milley’s comments in New York last week, that Ukraine cannot achieve a military victory as defined by driving Russia out of all of its territory, including Crimea, and therefore, should use winter as an opportunity to negotiate.

Secretary Austin (28:16):

Again, having the chairman here, I think it’s fair to allow him to really provide context for his comments. You’ve heard me say this before, there are countless numbers of people that have been amazed and astonished by what the Ukrainians have accomplished. I won’t presuppose what’s possible or impossible for them. What I am focused on is just making sure that they have the means to do two things. First is to protect themselves and their civilian population from some of the things that we’ve seen here recently, with the aerial bombardments. The second thing is to enable them to achieve their goals and objectives on the ground, as they continue to try to take back their sovereign territory. We’re going to continue to support them, and again, I think to this point, we’ve seen them come up with very achievable goals and objectives. We’ve seen a very successful counter offensive both in Kharkiv and also in Kherson, and I think they will continue to keep the pressure on the Russians going forward.

In terms of what’s a good time to negotiate, we’ve said repeatedly that the Ukrainians are going to decide that, and not us. We will support them for as long as it takes. We just spent almost four hours with our colleagues, in a Ukraine defense contact group meeting. It was amazing to me how many ministers of defense, on their own said, “We’re going to do this for as long as it takes.” I continue to see unity, I continue to see resolve, and that’s very encouraging. I think it’s encouraging for Oleksii Reznikov and his team to hear that as well, because as you know, they’re in the meeting as well.

General Milley (30:22):

Helene, I’ll make a couple of comments, first on the Russians.

Helene Cooper (30:27):

I still have a question for you, though.

General Milley (30:28):


Secretary Austin (30:29):

That’ll be like four questions I think, Helene.

General Milley (30:32):

Let me help you out with this one first. Start with the Russians. Ukraine’s a pretty big country, this is not a small piece of turf. The probability of Russia achieving its strategic objectives of conquering Ukraine, of overrunning Ukraine, the probability of that happening is close to zero. I suppose theoretically it’s possible, but I don’t see it happening militarily. I just don’t see that happening. They do currently occupy about 20% of Ukraine, so they occupy a piece of ground that’s about 900 kilometers long, and probably about 75 or 80 kilometers deep. It’s not a small piece of ground. They invaded this country with upwards of 170,000, 180,000 troops in multiple field armies, combined arms armies. They have suffered a tremendous amount of casualties, but he’s also done this mobilization, and called up additional people.

The Russians have reinforced, and they still have significant Russian combat power inside Ukraine. Ukraine’s had great success in the defense. They did a tremendous job in defeating the Russian offensive, it’s incredible what they were able to do. Then, they went on the offensive at the beginning of September, and they had great success up in Kharkiv, and they’ve had better success even down in Kherson, as you just witnessed. Kherson and Kharkiv physically, geographically, are relatively small compared to the whole. The military task of militarily kicking the Russians physically out of Ukraine is a very difficult task, and it’s not going to happen in the next couple of weeks, unless the Russian army completely collapses, which is unlikely. In terms of probability, the probability of a Ukrainian military victory defined as kicking the Russians out of all of Ukraine, to include what they claim as Crimea, the probability of that happening anytime soon is not high militarily.

There may be a political solution where politically, the Russians withdraw. That’s possible. You want to negotiate from a position of strength. Russia right now is on its back. The Russian military is suffering tremendously. Their leadership is really hurting bad. They’ve lost a lot of casualties, killed and wounded. I won’t go over exact numbers, because they’re classified, but they’ve lost a tremendous amount of their tanks, and their infantry fighting vehicles. They’ve lost a lot of their fourth and fifth generation fighters and helicopters, and so on and so forth. The Russian military is really hurting bad. You want to negotiate at a time when you’re at your strength, and your opponent is at weakness. It’s possible that there will be a political solution. All I’m saying is, there’s a possibility for it. That’s all I’m saying.

Speaker 2 (33:42):

Okay, we’ve got time for just a couple of more. Go to VOA, Carla Babb.

Carla Babb (33:48):

Thank you gentlemen both, for doing this. Mr. Secretary, you stressed that the United States and their allies are committed to Ukraine for as long as it takes. How long do you think Russia can continue this war with its current arsenal, and its current personnel? How much have Iran and North Korea’s weapons extended their ability to wage this war? Mr. Chairman, thank you, you thoroughly answered my question with Louis and Helene, so I’m going to ask you a question on China, if I may. After the meeting with President Biden and President Xi, have you seen any indications that China has changed its ambition to control Taiwan? The last time that national defense strategy was rolled out, the Pentagon said America’s military edge was eroding. Now that this new one has rolled out, is America’s military edge still eroding to China?

Secretary Austin (34:42):

Thanks Carla. In terms of how long Russia can sustain their efforts, that’s left to be seen. I think the chairman just gave a very accurate and compelling description of where the Russians are right now. They have some problems. They’ve had problems since the very beginning of this, trying to sustain their efforts. Those problems have only become more acute. They’ve lost a lot of people, and as important, they’ve lost a lot of important military gear. The numbers of tanks that they’ve lost, the numbers of armored personnel carriers, pretty staggering numbers. As important, the numbers of precision guided munitions that they’ve rifled through in this endeavor is striking. They won’t be able to reproduce those munitions very quickly, because there are trade restrictions that prevent them from rapidly gaining microchips and other things that are required to produce these kinds of munitions. It may take years for them to restock that inventory up to the point that they were before they started this conflict. We’ve seen them struggle with having enough munitions to fight the way that they want to fight, so they’re reaching out to Iran, they’re reaching out to North Korea. I do think that those countries will probably provide them some capability. For that reason, I don’t think this will be over anytime soon. Our goal, our requirement is to make sure that we continue to provide Ukraine with the means to do what’s necessary to prosecute their campaign. They have to continue to keep the pressure on the Russians going forward, and I think a winter fight favors the Ukrainians. We’ve pushed enormous amounts of winter gear into Ukraine, thanks to countries like Canada and others, who have really been very generous. Russia, on the other hand, they’re fighting in a foreign country, Ukrainians have challenged their supply lines. It will be difficult for them to get the kinds of gear into their troops that they need to be able to fight effectively. I think the Ukrainians will have the upper hand in this fight, as they have right now, but they’ll continue to maintain that upper hand going into the winter, just like we saw them operate in February of last year. They know the land, they can pull things from the local communities, and they’ll be prepared for this winter weather. I don’t think the Russians will be as prepared, and they’ll continue to struggle to get things into their troops using the supply lines that they currently have, and the Ukrainians will continue to pressure those supply lines there.

Carla Babb (37:51):

Do you think the Russians can hold out while it takes from the years that you say it would take for them to fully resupply?

Secretary Austin (37:58):

I don’t think the Ukrainians are going to allow them to hold out. I think the Ukrainians are going to continue to pressure them, and this battlefield dynamic will change, continue to change. The Ukrainians know that allowing them to rest, refit, and re-arm is a mistake. That’s an operational mistake. I don’t believe they’re going to make that mistake. My goal is to make sure that they have the means to do what’s necessary, to ensure that they don’t hold out.

General Milley (38:31):

You had two questions for the secretary, so I get a bye on mine. On China, as quickly as I can say it, China is the pacing threat as we describe it in DOD, as part of the National Defense strategy. It was defined in the previous ones, it’s defined in the current one as the pacing threat. What do we mean by that? We mean that China is the one country out there that geopolitically has the power potential to be a significant challenge to the United States, and they are, based

General Milley (39:00):

On their population, their technology, their economy, and a bunch of other things. China is the greatest geopolitical challenge to the United States, and China is not shy about their goal. They want to be the number one power in the globe by mid-century, by 2049. And they want to do that militarily, diplomatically, informationally, economically, and so on and so forth. So, they want to be number one by midcentury. By the 2030s, mid 2030s, they had previously said they wanted to be number one regionally. So, they want to have a military that out does the United States military regionally by the mid 30s. They had previously said that. And then, they advanced that goal to 2027. So, they advanced that goal in, I think, it was two party congresses ago or one party Congress ago. And what they have said is that they want to be the equal to or superior militarily to the United States.

That’s only five years away. So, they’re working on that, and they’re working on that very, very hard. But we are not static, and we are working on it. Right now, the United States military is, without question, despite whatever criticisms people have, the United States military is the most lethal war fighting machine on Earth, bar none. The United States military is number one, and we intend to stay number one. In our task, militaries only have two tasks. We have a single purpose, really, which is to either to prepare for war or to fight a war. And we are laser focused on that, and we intend to stay number one. China is not going to be a better military than the United States military is. But they’re going to try, but they’re not going to get there. We will be number one five years from now, 10 years from now, and 50 years from now. We are not going to let China take number one.

They have made gains in a wide variety of areas in cyber and space and land, sea, and air. So, a peasant army of largely infantry based. When I was commissioned in 1980, that’s what Deng Xiaoping had when he made his reforms. So, he had a very large dismounted infantry, peasant based army, more or less. That had some tanks, but not much. And then, they got rich. They made a massive amount of money with a 10% rise overrun and dropped down to 7%. Maybe it’s going to down to 3 or 4%. But the GDP allowed them to buy a military, and they believe that it’s their day in the sun.

They believe it’s, once again, time for the middle kingdom to be number one. So, that’s what they’re shooting for. And we are not going to allow that to happen. The United States military is number one now, and we are going to be number one five years from now. 2027 is not going to be the date that China becomes number one, and we’re going to stay number one the entire time. And as long as we remain number one, then we will deter the war that people worry about, a great power war between China and the United States. As long as we have the military capability, we have the will to use it, your adversary knows it, then you’ll deter that war. But the key is to have the military capability, and we intend to stay number one

Speaker 3 (42:19):

Time for one final question. We’ll go to Nikkei, Ryo Nakamura.

Speaker 4 (42:22):

I thank you very much for taking my question. To the Secretary, first, President Biden and the President Xi essentially agreed to maintain the open lines of the communications. Do you expect China will resume some of the military to military channels they suspended in August after Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan? And are you planning to meet with your Chinese counterpart during your visit to Cambodia next week? And to the Chairman, also on China, the President Xi consolidated his power in the Chinese Communist party and he’s now surrounded by his royal advisors. How much are you concerned that President Xi might make an ill advised or ill informed decision to take Taiwan by force as President Putin did in the leading up to the invasion into Ukraine? Thank you very much.

Secretary Austin (43:24):

Thanks, Ryo. As you’ve heard me say a number of times, I think it’s really important for large countries with significant military capacity to talk to each other. And as I told Minister Wei when we talked, we met face to face in Singapore, that we needed to work to keep the lines of communication open. That helps with crisis management, it helps with a number of things. And so, my hope is that they will open up their communications channels at not only at my level, but at the Chairman’s level and at the level where our Combatant Commander, Admiral Aquilino, can engage with his counterparts, as well. So, you’re right. We will both be in Cambodia here in the near future. I don’t have any announcements to make in terms of any scheduled meetings, but there is an opportunity there. And so, we’ll see how things play out.

General Milley (44:28):

So, I think first of all, President Xi is, I don’t know him, I’ve never talked to him, and he’ll make decisions based on what he thinks is in his national interest. But as best I can tell, he’s a rational actor. I think he evaluates things on cost benefit and risk. And I think that he would conclude that an attack on Taiwan in the near future would be an excessive amount of risk, and it would end in a strategic, really, debacle for the Chinese military. And I think it would throw off their China dream of being the number one economic and military power, and so on. So, would he do it? Who knows. I don’t know. But I can tell you that we watch it closely. We are militarily prepared. And one of the keys, now, is to make sure that Taiwan can defend itself. And there are a lot of lessons learned coming out of the Ukrainian war.

There’s lessons learned for Taiwan. There are lessons learned that we’re learning. There’s lessons learned European countries are learning, and there’s lessons learned that President Xi and the Chinese military are learning. And one of the things people are learning is that war on paper is a whole lot different than real war. And when blood is spilled and people die and real tanks are being blown up, things are a little bit different. There’s a lot of friction and fog and death in combat. And for a military that hasn’t fought in combat since fighting the Vietnamese in 1979, they would be playing a very, very dangerous game to cross the straits and invade the island of Taiwan. They don’t have the experience, the background to do it. They haven’t trained to it yet. They do peace part training. We watch it very, very closely how much amphibious capability they have, how much airborne capability they have. Now, they could bomb it. They could missile it. They could attack Taiwan, in that sense.

But attacking and seizing the island of Taiwan across the straits, putting troops on the island of Taiwan, that is a very difficult military task to do. You’ve got a large city of Taipei with 3 or 4 million people. With the suburbs, about 7 million people. You’ve got very complex terrain with mountains. Most of Taiwan is a mountainous island. So, it’s a very, very difficult military objective, a very difficult military operation to execute, and I think it’ll be some time before the Chinese have the military capability and they’re ready to do it. Now, that could be wrong. An incident could happen, some sort of political thing could happen in a moment in time, and all of the decisions would change very, very rapidly. But I think that the Chinese would be high risk to take on an operation like that. And I think it would be unwise. It would be a political mistake, a geopolitical mistake, a strategic mistake similar to what the strategic mistake is that Putin has made in Ukraine.

Secretary Austin (47:06):

I’ll be traveling with some of you later this week and into next week. But for those who I won’t see between now and Thanksgiving, I want to take this opportunity to wish you and your families a happy Thanksgiving. And on behalf of the Department of Defense, thanks for what you continue to do for our nation. Thank you very much.

Speaker 3 (47:26):

Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. That’s all the time we have for today.

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