April 24, 2022
Senior Defense Official and Senior State Department Official Hold a Background Briefing
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So, we can just give you guys a -- a sense of the meetings today, and I think if you're good with it, we'll layout the deliverables so they can have those at the right time and we'll give you guys a -- a head start on that.
So, as [SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL] said, they'll arrive shortly. They're going to meet with (inaudible) -- as we understand it, it will be sort of one extended bilat of 90 minutes or so was at least the time allotted on the schedule with President Zelenskyy, Foreign Minister Kuleba, Defense Minister Reznikov, and Minister of Interior Denys, D-E-N-Y-S. I'm not even going to try the last name, M-O-N-A-S-T-Y-R-S-K-Y, Monastyrsky. So, they'll have a -- a bilateral engagement with them.
During the course of that meeting, and this is where we want to -- they'll obviously talk about how we continue to support the Ukrainian government, the Ukrainian people, including through our security assistance, our economic assistance, our humanitarian assistance. And they'll, of course, have an opportunity to talk about Kyiv's attempts to end Russia's regression through dialogue and diplomacy as well.
We gave you guys off-the-record, at least to our State travelers, a quick sense of some of the deliverables, but let me walk through within here in -- in a little bit more detail, and we can start questions, too. So at least from our side, Secretary Blinken will share that President Biden tomorrow morning -- this will be 7 a.m. Eastern Time, around then -- will formally nominate Bridget Brink, who's currently our ambassador to Slovakia, to be the next U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. She's previously served as a senior advisor and deputy assistant secretary in our European -- European Affairs Bureau; previously served as the deputy chief of mission at our embassies in Tashkent and Tbilisi. She has deputy (inaudible) experience with the departments and someone that the secretary knows well and has full confidence in.
Underscoring the diplomatic engagement and our support for Ukraine, the secretary will also relay in the course of this meeting that U.S. diplomats will be returning to Ukraine this week, meaning this coming week, starting tomorrow, Monday -- sorry, this week that starts tomorrow, not necessarily they'll go back into Ukraine starting tomorrow.
Again, this will be -- this will underscore our commitment. And I'll make clear that we'll seek to have our diplomats return to our embassy in Kyiv as soon as possible. We're accelerating planning to return to the embassy as soon as that is feasible.
The secretary will also inform President Zelenskyy that we intend to obligate more than $713 million in foreign military financing.
Q: Sorry, how much?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: This -- $713 million in FMF. This includes funding for Ukraine and 15 other allied and partner nations in Central and Eastern Europe, and the Balkans. This includes $650 million in funding provided by Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, more than $322 million, and its obligation is (inaudible) Ukraine. It will provide support for -- for capability, training needs especially for the fight in Donbas. This system will also help Ukrainian armed forces transition towards advanced weapons, air defense systems, essentially NATO-capable systems.
We will -- the secretary will also inform President Zelenskyy that we have -- that he's authorized foreign military sale of up to $165 million for what's called nonstandard ammunition. And I may defer to [SDO] here to speak more to -- to what that means.
Q: Sorry, how much?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Up to $165 million. And so, with this, we will have committed about $3.7 billion in security assistance since the invasion begin, more than $4.3 billion since the start of the administration. There's a -- a training piece that you want to speak to that.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yeah, so Secretary Austin is going to be updating President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian leaders basically on three things. One is the deliveries of the -- the -- the two most recent presidential drawdown packages, both of them $800 million, you know that. But even on the one that was just announced just a few days ago, the secretary will be able to report to President Zelenskyy that some of the howitzers from that package are already in Ukraine. So, all the first 18 have been -- have been brought in, and we are now working on additional howitzers from the most recent security package, which is, you know, had 72.
And as you are here today and just (inaudible) there -- there are seven of them that are being prepared as we speak to go -- to go into Ukraine. So, he'll give them an update on that. In -- in addition to that, not insignificant, is the -- the vehicles, the tow vehicles, which are also coming as well because you need these tow vehicles to move them, they're towed - they're towed howitzers.
So, he'll give them an update on -- on PDA 8, as we call it. He will also give them -- as [SSDO] mentioned, he'll give President Zelenskyy an update on the training. So tomorrow, the first tranche of more than 50 Ukrainian artillerymen will complete their training. It's in a country outside Ukraine. We're still not identifying that country, but that training is going well and wraps up tomorrow. And they will be -- it will be a short turnaround, and there'll be another tranche of more than 50 Ukrainian artillerymen at the same location to get another six days' worth of training on -- on the 155 howitzers.
He will also have an opportunity to brief President Zelenskyy on some additional training venues that -- that we have been able to coordinate with -- with another host nation in Europe. That host nation does not want their identity made public, so we're not going to do that. But the point is that we're going to expand some of our ability to do some of this training outside Ukraine. And we're also looking and talking to other countries about the possibility of -- of additional training sites. So that's moving in a very good direction. And again, the feedback that we've gotten from the Ukrainians that are in this first tranche is very, very positive. So -- so we -- we think we're on a good track there with the howitzers.
And then lastly, Secretary Austin will update President Zelenskyy on the consultative meeting that he has convened for Tuesday in Ramstein. Forty or so invites went out. We have well over 20 nations have agreed to come. And I think I can get you an update later; I think we actually have even more than -- than -- than that from -- from last night.
Secretary-General will -- will be in attendance. Secretary Jens Stoltenberg and, of course, the Defense Minister of Ukraine, Minister Reznikov will also be in attendance. The secretary will start the day with a bilat with him, and then they'll both open it up the -- the consultative meeting.
There's three things on the agenda in -- in general. One is -- the first thing they'll talk about is an update on the battlefield, what's the operation looking like, how are the Ukrainians resisting, where are the Russians, and what they're doing. Number two will be -- the second session will be devoted to what we call "Tomorrow's Wins." It will be focused on security assistance that is now going in and will be going in, in days and weeks in addition to not just the United States' security assistance, but what the United States -- Secretary Austin is doing to get other allies and partners to contribute, as [SSDO] noted nonstandard ammunition and -- and systems that we can't get our hands on, but these other allies and partners can. And we're still working that very aggressively. So, the second session of that day will be dedicated to security assistance, not just from the United States, but from other nations, and pulsing them on -- on what they have in their stocks that they would be willing to continue to contribute.
And then the third session will really be more long-term, and it'll be a discussion of -- of the defense industrial base in all of our nations and the degree to which the -- that defense industrial base can continue to meet what we anticipate to be Ukraine's long-term defense needs in a -- in a post-war environment, and what that -- and what that looks like. That's it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So that's basically the deliverables. We can pause there for questions in -- on that front.
Q: Can you -- can you just explain what nonstandard ammunition is?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Sure, it's -- it's ammunition that -- that -- that we don't have in our stocks, that's not U.S. or NATO.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's not U.S. or NATO-recognized ammunition.
Q: So, the Chinese -- Chinese (inaudible)?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, it's just -- it's -- it's the kind of ammunition that -- that -- that the Ukrainians still use because they -- so many of their systems are ex-Soviet.
So, for instance, Matt, I mean, we're giving them howitzers, which is a 155-millimeter round. They still have a lot of artillery systems that use the 152-millimeter round. I know it didn't sound like much of a difference, but it actually is. And so, we are working with other allies and partners who have any leftover 152 rounds to make sure we get them in. So that's when we say nonstandard, we're talking about really ex -- ex-Soviet stuff ...
Q: So, it's not (inaudible) some super-secret doctrinal (inaudible)?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It is not, no.
Q: On -- on the seven howitzers under preparation, is that here, meaning that when we do write the story, is that the location in (inaudible)?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Yes, but -- but I think you know the ground rules in terms of what you're able to say ...
Q: We won't say that, but the actual location ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: You're not going to see them and ...
Q: ... but it will be the same location where it is.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: But it is where you are, yes, yes. And there are more coming, I mean, I'm talking seven. Today, they're going to be prepared for -- for shipment. And even over the next 24 hours, there'll be additional systems coming in.
Q: But these are not self-propelled howitzers?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: They're -- these are towed.
Q: Towed, OK.
Q: So, you're providing this nonstandard ammunitions and (inaudible) because they have -- that's what they can already use.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That's right.
Q: But then you also mentioned transitioning to NATO compatible ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Right, so when -- so when I talked about this third session tomorrow, I mean, one of the things they want to talk about is (inaudible) -- is -- is to what degree would Ukraine be willing and able to move away from Russian-made systems and ex-Soviet systems for a long-term sort of defense partnership with NATO nations going forward in a post-war environment.
Q: (Inaudible) not necessarily by NATO membership, they could -- they could ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, no, no this isn't about -- this isn't about NATO membership, it's about helping them with their long-term defense needs going forward with the potential migration away from Soviet systems.
Q: How about things like security guarantees that they're seeking in this part of the negotiated settlement?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, this will be a topic of discussion, the diplomacy that they're engaging in with the Russians and what we can do to support that diplomacy. You know, we have made clear all along that we're going to continue to stand by Ukraine. We know it will continue to be a sovereign independent country and we'll continue to provide support to security.
Q: So how advanced are those discussions?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don't really want to go into it, but we will -- this is something that -- where we've engaged our (inaudible) partners on.
Q: This new assistance and, you know, the Defense Secretary going to Kyiv during a war with Russia, does that raise the stakes? Does that mean that the U.S. and NATO participate in a greater degree in Russia's war (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, the -- the President has been very clear there'll be no U.S. troops fighting in Ukraine, and that includes the skies over Ukraine. This visit does not portend actual involvement by U.S. forces in Ukraine.
Q: So, we're -- we're going to be -- we are already being asked by our colleagues about U.S. military escorts into - like a -- like in an Austin, and you know, (inaudible) ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We're not going to talk about ...
Q: ... so what should we ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: But you can tell them we're not talking about the security protocols for this visit. We just wont.
Q: So Zelenskyy has been pretty clear that he's expected, you know, something along the lines of the deliverables that you guys are talking about; is he going to be - is he going to be happy with this or is he going to complain maybe ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'll defer to my State Department ...
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We - we will let President (inaudible) ...
Q: This isn't obviously exactly what he wants, but it certainly does some of what he wants.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I'm -- I'm sure he will have a reaction to this visit. I think what we can say from our part is that what we are providing today is responsive to what we've heard from our Ukrainian partners. We've done this at every step of the way. [SDO] can speak to this in more detail, but, you know, what we provided before the war, what we provided as the war has switched from, you know, the battle to Kyiv to the battle to the south and east, that has been based on their current needs, the demands, what they have, what they don't have, so at every -- at every step, we've tailored what we provided to precisely what they need and what they -- what they've requested.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: And look in his -- his own comments yesterday, he -- he noted that -- that the -- there have been heavier systems being sent at a faster rate. He noted that himself and that he was grateful for that, so he said that publicly.
And I would tell you that -- I mean, we're not done, and we're -- we're tailoring each package to the -- to the -- the -- the fight they're in. And the fight they're in in the Donbas is going to be heavily reliant on what we call long-range fires artillery, particularly, so that's why they're being -- we're focusing them on getting them artillery, as well as tactical UAVs, which can help them in this sort of open Kansas-like space, which is less urban and -- and more open ground.
And the other thing I'd say, Matt, is we -- if you look at some of the things we're sending that -- that the Pentagon Press Corps keeps banging me on for details and we don't -- we're not offering a lot of details, what we're doing is we're -- we're being very creative about sending systems that -- that we don't have a lot of, but that are -- that are, in some cases, still in development, but we think would be valuable for them. So, this Phoenix Ghost drone is -- is a good example. It's not -- you know, we don't -- we don't have thousands and thousands of them. It is -- it's a program that is -- that is still under development. But when we looked at the development of it and how far along it - it had come, we realized that this could be valuable. So, some of the stuff is literally being -- being pushed into the field of battle, sometimes earlier than what it normally would be to try to help them in the fight they're in right now.
Q: Can we say that the howitzers are on the frontlines being used at this point?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I -- I -- you'd have to -- we don't know.
Q: You don't know.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We're not -- as I've said, we don't -- once we -- once it becomes Ukrainian property, it's Ukrainian property.
Q: Yes, but you haven't seen any evidence that it's being used yet, in the south ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I haven't seen any indication. And again, they -- the -- the first tranche of trainers is just finishing up.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So, they wouldn't have had the training in the field to use the howitzers.
Q: Got it.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: We felt it was important to move them as quickly as possible so that when this first class of trainers is done, they're falling in on equipment that they actually have in country.
Q: And just an obvious question, the Ukrainians have been asking for President Biden to come. Why not send President Biden? Why have the Defense Secretary and the -- the Secretary of State come when other countries like Boris Johnson and others have -- have sent their presidents and prime ministers?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Look, President Biden obviously has had a chance on many recent occasions to speak directly to President Zelenskyy. The fact that the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense are there today, is a testament to our commitment, they'll be going with some additional support in hand. But, you know, the President of the United States is somewhat singular in terms of what a -- what travel would require, so it's -- goes well beyond what a cabinet secretary would, or what virtually any other world leader would require.
Q: So, it's really a security issue.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It's among the considerations, yes.
Q: What -- what -- oh, go ahead.
Q: Oh, sorry. Sorry, can you tell me -- well, you mentioned the transferring -- the possible transitioning into NATO-standard weapons, other than howitzers, are there priorities that you think could be -- that -- whether it's ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I don't want to get ahead of decisions where we are, John. We're -- we're literally having conversations with the Ukrainians almost every day at various levels, staff levels mostly about their needs. But I won't get ahead of future packages and what that will look like. The -- the need -- the acute need right now is no kidding artillery. That's the acute need, and that's why we're focusing on that.
Q: Two questions, what would you guys be able to say on background about the fact that Zelenskyy announced this visit when it had not been previously announced? I mean, that is going to be a part of the story, I think, you know, like that it was supposed to be an unannounced visit, and that Zelenskyy made it public.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The -- you know, it's his country. He is -- he is, of course, free to say what he would like. We're -- you know, we plan for any number of contingencies. And as you know, the visit is going forward, didn't change anything about our -- our commitment to -- to go there today and to share what we have to say.
Q: And ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I would just say, too, in the planning of this we -- we obviously highly anticipate ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: ... information getting out there that -- that -- further ahead of -- of what we had planned. So, I mean, it wasn't like we hadn't thought through contingencies.
Q: Okay. And then for you, [SSDO], can you talk a little bit more background about the significance practically or -- of the (inaudible) -- the resumption of that presence there? What will that mean for ...
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.
Q: ... Americans in Ukraine, people -- you know, our ability to do diplomacy in -- in Ukraine?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. So, as you know, since the start of hostilities we've had a team across the border in Poland who's been handling this work for us. Starting this week, members of that team will be able to do day trips into -- into Ukraine. They'll start with day trips into (inaudible). From there, you know, they will graduate to potentially other parts of the country and ultimately to resume presence in -- in Kyiv.
What this will allow us to do in the first instance is to coordinate with our Ukrainian partners face-to-face and more easily. They'll be able to -- you know, the -- their Ukrainian officials with the presence in (inaudible), so that will be, that will make that that (inaudible) much easier.
Ultimately, as -- as our presence expands and the frequency of these trips expands we'll be able to do more in the way of consular services as well. But this is the first step and we expect to be able to accelerate that in the coming engagement weeks.
Q: Can you say what message that would be to Putin and to also Ukraine reopening the embassy? What is the message to Putin?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, it's really a message to Ukraine. It's a message that we're standing by them, that we have, you know, an official presence in -- in the country. Now, of course, we had our diplomats just across the border, and they were able to carry through with much of this important work. But there is no substitute for that face-to-face engagement. And, of course, there is a symbolism to being back in the country. But, you know, I think that the -- the symbolism is most important for the government of Ukraine, the people of Ukraine.
Q: What's the hold-up in going back to Kyiv? Cause other countries -- other countries (inaudible) were able to re-establish their own embassies?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: There's no hold-up, I mean, as I said before we're accelerating planning today to -- to get back there. That remains our goal. We'll -- we'll get back there as soon as we can. Of course, the consideration for us is safety and security of our -- of our people. So as soon as we're able to meet those requirements we'll be back.
Q: Are there facility issues that -- that would prevent, you know, returning to Kyiv immediately or ...
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Are there facility issues?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We're -- we're considering -- you know, and we're -- we'll be able to evaluate, you know, if we need to do anything vis-Ã -vis our embassy. Right now, there's -- there's no indication of that, but these are all considerations that -- that we're looking at as we've seen (inaudible) to re-establish our presence.
Q: Do you have any indication that the Russians went into the U.S. embassy while we evacuated?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don't have any indication of that.
Q: Go ahead, John.
Q: Will -- will the (inaudible) presence include Marine Guards?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I -- we -- we don't talk typically about the force protection of diplomats, so I mean, we will be in constant coordination with the State Department about their security needs. And to the degree the U.S. military needs to be a part of that, then, you know, we'll -- we'll talk about that. But -- but I -- I don't have anything on that right now.
Q: [SDO], are you -- on -- on Tuesday, in Ramstein, are you expecting any further announcements on the deliverables then or is it all in the planning (inaudible)?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: It's -- it's really more of discussion and planning so ...
Q: OK, so you shouldn't be looking for Tuesday, cause here's, you know, 20 nations or 40 nations are ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No.
Q: ... going to ramp up and this is what (inaudible) ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, but look, I mean, the discussion hasn't happened yet, so we'll see where it goes, but we're not planning on it. It's -- there's no precooked outcome here that we're driving to or ...
Q: So, it's not like today?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Well, I don't know.
Q: (Inaudible) ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Do -- do you think today is a precooked outcome?
Q: Well, you just told us what was baked.
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: That's for tomorrow.
Q: Since we have you here ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: So, listen, before we go, go ahead.
Q: I was just having here, if you wouldn't mind just a quick evaluation of how the new phase of that war is going for Russia or Ukraine in the south and east. And number two ...
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: OK.
Q: ... these comments from a Russian commander, what's the latest on whether he would actually try to seize the wholesale south of the country all the way to Odesa ...?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: I'd say -- I know we got to go, but just give me a minute. And I'm glad you asked that question because it -- it's actually a good segue to what I was going to say before, which is when -- when we go down there down into the (inaudible), you're going to get an on-the-record briefing from Maj. Gen. LaNeve, who's the 82nd Airborne Commander, and from Lt. Gen. Kolasheski, who's the 18th Airborne Commander, his superior.**
They're going to talk to you about security assistance and how -- how we're helping with the flow here. And they're going to talk to you about the training that they're doing. They are not going to give you a battlefield update, so do not waste questions on those two about what's going on inside Ukraine. That's not their -- that's not their mission, that's not their goal. So, they're -- they're going to be talking to you. And they'll have some opening comments, but you'll see how they bound it. Just I would ask you to keep your questions to what their mission is and their mission is not, what's going on in Ukraine.
Q: So, their mission is what again?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: Training and security assistance provision, helping -- helping with that security assistance flow from here.
So, your question, we still see efforts by the Russians to want to move south into the Donbas from the north -- from that Izyum line of axis. And they have made very little progress in that regard over the last 24 to 48 hours. The Ukrainians continue to push back. As they come out south of Izyum, they come on three lines of axes: one going straight down to Kramatorsk and then two that are branching out more to the southeast and the east. And they have not made much progress in the last 24 hours. The Ukrainians continue to push back on that.
In the south, we still -- we still consider Mariupol contested. The Ukrainians are still there. We still assess that they are resisting Russian efforts in Mariupol. Mariupol continues to be the target of -- of bombardment airstrikes and -- and artillery from Russian forces that are around Mariupol.
We have not seen as -- I know [an SDO] talked to some of you guys at the Pentagon that -- you know, that -- that -- that they have about a dozen or so battalion tactical groups dedicated to Mariupol either in or around it. We haven't seen any wholesale movement of them away from Mariupol. So, they are still very focused on Mariupol. So, for all the Russian claims that they've got it, they're -- they're certainly not acting like an army that thinks they've got it because they continue to hit Mariupol. And again, we assess that the Ukrainians are still defending it.
We still believe that -- that what the Russians want to do, and obviously they want Mariupol for the land bridge opportunity. It gives them the Crimea, but also as a springboard to head north into the Donbas. So, they want to pinch off the Donbas from the north and from the south to try to fix the Ukrainian forces that are -- that are in the Donbas in between. They've got forces to the east of them and now they want to come in from the north and the south and have forces to the west of them. But they have not been able to do that yet. So, the -- the -- the -- I -- I guess the best way I would describe fighting in the Donbas is certainly ongoing and -- and not conclusive for either side right now.
Q: But you're not seeing southwest towards Odesa or Moldova?
SENIOR DEFENSE OFFICIAL: No, no. OK?
Q: (Inaudible) you just put on background the -- the stuff you told us about talking to Guterres, so, you know, if we put out a statement. ...
Q: ...on the U.N.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, yes, he's definitely with them on -- on Friday where he coordinated with the -- with the Secretary General about this visit. As we said before, we support every effort at diplomacy that engages our Ukrainian partners, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. That is -- it was true before the start of the aggression. It's true now that Ukraine is engaging efforts with Russia to bring an end to this through dialogues in closing.
[**Eds. note: Army Lt. Gen. Kolasheski is commander, V Corps. While on this deployment, 82nd Airborne Division is task organized under V Corps, rather than 18th Airborne Corps. The commander of 18th Airborne Corps is Lt. Gen. Christopher Donahue.]
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