U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday he expects Ukraine to conduct a new military offensive this spring to counter Russian attacks, while assuring the Kyiv government that the United States and its Western allies remain resolute in their support of its war effort.
"The Kremlin is still betting that it can wait us out," Austin said in Brussels at a meeting of NATO defense ministers to discuss coordination of new military assistance for Ukraine. More armaments are being sent by the day, but Kyiv is asking Western governments to send it advanced fighter jets, something the West has under consideration.
"I don't have any announcement to make today," Austin said.
Ahead of the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Austin said, "We stand united in our support for Ukraine's fight for freedom. And we will stand together, united and resolute for as long as it takes."
He added, "What Ukraine wants to do in the first possible moment is to establish or create momentum and establish conditions on the battlefield that continue to be in its favor."
General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs of Staff, cautioned that a Ukraine victory is not assured, and that Russia is continuing its assault on the industrialized eastern Donbas region.
He described Russia's progress as "slow," saying, "It's a war of attrition, they're taking heavy casualties. Their leadership and morale is not great. And they're struggling mightily."
"However, they do have numbers," he said. "And as you know, President [Vladimir] Putin did a call up of several hundred thousand [military conscripts] and those folks have been arriving on the battlefield. So, they do have numbers, and whether or not they're successful in pressing the fight, that remains to be seen."
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg stressed the need for providing Ukraine with more ammunition and completing pledged deliveries of tanks and other heavy equipment.
"Next week, we mark the first year of the terrible war in Ukraine, the full-fledged invasion by Russia against Ukraine," Stoltenberg said. "And we see no signs that President Putin is preparing for peace. What we see is the opposite — he is preparing for more war, for new offensives and new attacks."
Stoltenberg said the prospect of allies providing fighter aircraft to Ukraine "is not the most urgent issue now, but it is an ongoing discussion."
He also said discussions about military aid are not only about providing Ukraine with systems it does not have yet, but also about ensuring the ones it does have are working as they should.
"This has become a grinding war of attrition, and therefore it's also a battle of logistics and this is a huge effort by allies to actually be able to get in the ammunition, the fuel, the spare parts which are needed," Stoltenberg said.
At the start of Tuesday’s meeting of the U.S.-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group, Austin said Ukraine has "urgent requirements to help it meet this crucial moment in the course of the war" and called on the group to intensify its focus.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov was in Brussels to take part in both sets of talks in order to communicate his military’s needs.
He tweeted ahead of the meetings that his agenda included seeking more stocks of ammunition, protecting the skies over Ukraine, training for Ukrainian forces and the stability of logistics and maintenance.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.