Return to Transcripts main page

At This Hour

U.S. Military Officials Hold News Conference on Ukraine War. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired January 20, 2023 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. Thank you so much for being here At This Hour. I'm Kate Bolduan. We are going to focus in first on the war in Ukraine. Any moment now, we are standing by to hear from the Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Mark Milley. They're going to be holding a press conference, a news conference in Germany. This is an important moment, a critical moment in the fight in Ukraine. Western allies are meeting and have been there for a couple of days to hammer out the latest plan to support Ukraine now and support Ukraine going forward. A key point of contention right now is Germany's refusal so far to supply Ukraine with tanks that it says are necessary to win against Russia. Tanks are not part of the latest aid package that was just announced by the Pentagon. A very big package, though $2.5 billion for Ukraine, that does however, include Stryker armored vehicles for the very first time.

We're going to stand by we're going to be going to this press conference any moment. Oren Liebermann is standing by with us at the Pentagon. Oren, what are we expecting to hear?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: One of the things I think we can definitely see and we'll hear from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is a thank you for everything that countries have provided. The U.S. on the front foot here with just announced yesterday $2.5 billion package, the second largest the U.S. has ever provided Ukraine and that includes a lot of the mechanized capabilities you just mentioned, Bradleys, Strykers, MRAPs, which are mine resistant vehicles, so a few brigades worth of equipment.

As we all know, the U.S. has already started training Ukrainians on what's called the combined arms training. So the ability to use all of this and then we've already heard from nearly a dozen other European countries on everything they've provided, so there is --

BOLDUAN: Oren, I'm going to interrupt really quickly. We're going to head over there and listen to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Defense Secretary.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will moderate those questions and call on journalists and would ask that we limit follow-ups due to our tight schedule. Thank you for your assistance. With that, and over to you Secretary Austin.

LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, good afternoon, everyone. And thank you all for joining us today at Ramstein.

We've just concluded the eighth Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, and it was great to start the new year by deepening our coordination as we work together for Ukraine's self-defense.

As President Biden has said, this is a decisive decade for the world, and this is a decisive moment for Ukraine's struggle to defend itself. So this Contact Group will not slow down. We're going to continue to dig deep, and based upon the progress that we've made today, I'm confident that Ukraine's partners from around the globe are determined to meet this moment.

The United States remains committed to leading in this coordinated effort, and this morning, I was pleased to announce another major round of U.S. security assistance designed to meet Ukraine's urgent battlefield requirements. And this $2.5 billion package is one of our largest yet. It helps Ukraine meet its air defense needs with additional NASAMS munitions and eight Avenger air defense systems.

And this package also helps tackle Ukraine's urgent need for armor and combat vehicles. It includes 59 additional Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers, 53 MRAPs and 350 up-armored Humvees, and it will provide thousands round -- thousands more rounds of artillery.

Now, we were honored to hear this morning from President Zelenskyy of Ukraine and let me also thank several other brave Ukrainian leaders for joining us today. And that includes my good friend, Minister Oleksii Reznikov, the ministry of defense, and Lieutenant General Moisiuk, the deputy chief of defense. Their presentations gave us a first-hand account of what Ukraine's military and citizens are facing.

Today's meeting focused on Ukraine's needs for air defense and armor. We also pushed hard on how to synchronize those donations and turn them into fully operational capabilities, and that means every step, from donation, to training, to maintenance, and then to sustainment.


We also focused hard on how our collective and individual training efforts would be prosecuted. So as you heard President Biden recently announce that the latest U.S. training initiative and it builds on U.S. programs to train Ukrainian troops dating back to 2014. Other countries are stepping up with their own initiatives, and many are joining the European Union's military assistance mission.

And meanwhile, we're also continuing to strengthen our defense industrial bases through the work of the National Armaments Directors under the auspices of this Contact Group.

And all of these efforts underscore how much we've deepened our cooperation since the Contact Group began last April. Our work shows how much nations of goodwill can achieve when we work together, and it shows our long-term commitment to supporting Ukraine against Russia's unprovoked aggression.

Now, as we saw again just days ago in Dnipro, Russia continues its assault on Ukraine's civilian and critical infrastructure, and Russia continues to bombard Ukraine's cities with cruise missiles and drones. But the Ukrainian people stand defiant and strong, and Ukrainian troops are bravely defending their country and their fellow citizens.

As Russia's cruelty deepens, the resolve of this Contact Group grows, and that's clear from the announcements that we've heard today, and I'll start with air defense. Several countries have come forward with key donations that will help protect Ukraine's skies and cities and citizens, and France and Germany and the U.K. have all donated air defense systems to Ukraine, and that includes a Patriot battery from Germany. And that's especially important, coming alongside our own contribution of a Patriot system.

And the Netherlands is also donating Patriot missiles and launchers and training. And meanwhile, Canada has procured a NASAMS system and associated munitions for Ukraine. And so these air defense systems will help save countless innocent lives.

We're also pushing hard to meet Ukraine's requirements for tanks and other armored vehicles. The U.K. has announced a significant donation of Challenger 2 tanks for Ukraine, and this is the first introduction of Western main battle tanks into Ukraine. And I also commend our British allies for making this decision.

And Sweden announced it's donating CV90 Infantry Fighting Vehicles and an additional donation soon of Archer howitzers. We've also heard inspiring and important new donation announcements from several other countries, and that includes Denmark, which will donate 19 howitzers, and Latvia is donating more Stingers and helicopters and other equipment, and Estonia is providing Ukraine with a significant new package of much-needed 155 millimeter howitzers and munitions.

Now, all of today's announcements are direct results of our work at the Contact Group and these important new commitments demonstrate the ongoing resolve of our allies and partners to help Ukraine defend itself, because this isn't just about Ukraine's security, it's also about European security and it's about global security. It's about the kind of world that we want to live in and it's about the world that we want our children and grandchildren to inherit.

The members of this Contact Group are standing up for a world where rules matter and where rights matter and where sovereignty is respected and where people can choose their own path, free from tyranny and aggression, and I'm confident that this group will remain united. And we'll continue to build momentum, we'll support Ukraine against Russian aggression for the long haul, and we'll continue to work toward a free and secure Ukraine and a stable and decent world.


And with that, let me turn it over to the Chairman for his comments.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you, Secretary Austin, for your leadership in this eighth Ukrainian Contact Group, in support of Ukrainian freedom. And thanks, as well, to all of the ministers and the CHODs, the Chiefs of Defense, that were here who represented 54 different countries today.

A special thank you also to the Ukrainian Minister of Defense Reznikov and Deputy Chief of Defense General Moisiuk. I had -- recently had an opportunity to meet with General Zaluzhnyi in Poland and General Moisiuk was here representing him. They all represent the exceptional bravery of the Ukrainian Army, and most importantly, the Ukrainian people.

This week, after meeting General Zaluzhnyi, I had an opportunity to visit some of the training and the mech infantry that we are doing at Grafenwoehr here in the training area in Germany. Also had an opportunity to do some coordination meetings in Wiesbaden and then attended the NATO CHODs Military Committee Meeting, where all of the members of all of the CHODs of NATO had an opportunity to meet, with one of the primary topics being support to Ukraine. And then, of course, this week -- ending it today this week with the Contact Group.

I think that, over my 43 years in uniform, this is the most unified I've ever seen NATO, and I've dipped in and out of NATO over many, many years. The war has evolved over the last 11 months but the mission of this group, this Contact Group under General Austin's leadership -- under Secretary Austin's leadership, has remained the same.

We are effectively committed to support Ukraine with capabilities to defend itself against the illegal and unprovoked Russian aggression. In the words of President Biden, Secretary Austin, and many other national leaders, as much as it takes for as long as it takes in order to keep Ukraine free, independent, and sovereign.

These Contact Group meetings play an important role as we support Ukraine in the defense of its territory and they are a clear, unambiguous demonstration of the unity and resolve of the allied nations.

Yesterday, as Secretary Austin just mentioned, President Biden released our 30th security assistance package, signifying our continued commitment to Ukraine, and this package, combined with our previous one, includes combined arms maneuver capabilities with supporting artillery, equivalent to at least two combined arms maneuver brigades or six mech infantry battalions, 10 motorized infantry battalions, and four artillery battalions, along with a lot of other equipment.

This package, this U.S. package, along with the allied donations that were indicated today, signify our collective resolve and our commitment to Ukraine to protect their population from the indiscriminate Russian attacks and to provide the armor necessary to go on the offensive, to liberate Russian-occupied Ukraine.

Additionally, this week in Germany, we began battalion and brigade collective training that I had an opportunity to visit at the Combined Arms Maneuver Training Center here in Grafenwoehr, in support of the Ukrainian Army.

That training, in addition to the equipment, will significantly increase Ukrainians' capability to defend itself from further Russian attacks and to go on the tactical and operational offensive to liberate the occupied areas.

With the training that the United States and our partners are doing, the Ukrainians will advance their command and control, their tactics, techniques and procedures, their ability to integrate fires with maneuver, and they will more effectively synchronize all of the combined arms in order to execute maneuver-based operations.

The support that we discussed today in this Contact Group meeting, the training that we discussed today and the way ahead, is really an extension of what's been going on since 2014, and today signifies the very real and tangible difference in the -- Ukraine's efforts to defend itself.

International aggression, where large countries use military force to attack smaller countries and change recognized borders, cannot be allowed to stand. Eventually, President Putin, Russia, will realize the full extent of their strategic miscalculation, but until Putin ends this war, his war of choice, the nations of this Contact Group will continue to support the defense of Ukraine in order to uphold the rules-based international order.


Thank you and I welcome your questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Secretary, Chairman. Our first question will go to Utesh Spaneberger (ph) from ARD.

UTESH SPANEBERGER (ph), ARD: Hello, Mr. Secretary of Defense, my question is, many of us thought that today we will have a breakthrough in the discussion about heavy battle tanks. You didn't mention that at all. We didn't talk about Leopard 2 or Abrams tanks. So did you talk about that today?

AUSTIN: I think you heard the -- you may have heard the German minister of defense say earlier that they've not made a decision on the provision of Leopard tanks. What we're really focused on is making sure that Ukraine has the capability that it needs to be successful right now. So we have a window of opportunity here, you know, between now and the spring when I -- you know, whenever they commence their operation, their counteroffensive, and that's not a long time, and we have to pull together the right capabilities. And you heard the chairman walk through some of the substantial combat power that we and some of our allies have offered to provide.

There are tanks in that -- those offerings. Poland, for example, is -- continues to offer tanks and will provide tanks, and other countries will offer some tank capability, as well. I don't have any announcements to make on M1s, and you heard the German minister of defense say that they've not made a decision on Leopards, so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Next question will go to Idrees Ali, Reuters.

IDREES ALI, REUTERS NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN POLICY CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Secretary, over the past week, a number of European --

BOLDUAN: All right, we're listening in the continues -- the questions continue to the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. As much as it takes, as long as it takes, that is a message from top U.S. military leaders on America's support and Western support for Ukraine. Let's talk about this critical moment in the fight there.

CNN military analyst, retired Army Major General James "Spider" Marks is here. CNN's Senior Political Commentator, former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger is also here. CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is in Ukraine. Congressman, let me start with you. From everything you heard laid out, this is the 8th meeting of the Contact Group. What sticks out to you and what you heard?

ADAM KINZINGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the -- you can kind of see in General Austin or Secretary Austin's face of pain when talking about the issue of main battle tanks. I think you can tell we certainly want Germany to commit to these -- to sending the main battle tanks in there. We'd like to see him step forward now. He's trying to be a little diplomatic in that. It's confusing with me, with Germany. I mean they're trying to compare apples and apples when Germany says, well, the U.S. has to send M1s first.

The reality is, our M1s take a lot different of a logistical footprint. They burn a lot more fuel, for instance, in a fuel starved region. So it's not really apples to apples. I personally think we do need to start are sending M1s, but the Germans should do it. So that's what kind of stood out. There is a real stepping up, of course, of the infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers that are going to make a big difference, but this is still going to go on. It's a slogged.

BOLDUAN: What do you see, Congressman, as the hesitancy? The hesitancy on the part of the United States when it comes to M1s or, but specifically we know that Germany is at the center of this right now and this pressure campaign and the talk of the Leopard 2. What do you see as the hesitancy here?

KINZINGER: You know, from the German perspective, first off, they probably have some of their defense stocks are not as deep as it should be, you know, a lot of the times you see these countries that have produced material, they don't have anything really backing up if they do find themselves in a war. But in terms of the hesitancy on our end, some of it is letting Europe kind of lead the way. I think diplomatically that makes sense, but I think we've been slow to react to some things. It's not critical on the Biden administration. They have certainly stepped up, but we keep sitting here saying we're not going to send, you know, HIMARS, we're going to send -- and then we end up doing it later. Give everything Ukraine needs now to win, because the sooner this war can end, the cheaper it's going to be in human lives and American tax dollars. BOLDUAN: And Clarissa, this gets to what the congressman speaking to is really the message that we've heard from Zelenskyy to this point, which is there is no more time to hesitate. I mean, his message today to leaders was hundreds of thank yous or not hundreds of tanks. Do you hear a new level of urgency from the Ukrainians? What are you hearing there?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think you've heard a pretty consistent level of urgency from the Ukrainians because of the nature of this fight. But there's no question that this feels like kind of an inflection point, right? The Ukrainians have momentum on their side. They have had several key successes and major counter offenses at the end of last year. We know that Russia has been in a state of disarray militarily, that they're running low on ammunition, and the Ukrainians don't want to allow them the time and the space to regroup and rearm.


And most importantly, they don't want to allow those 150,000 mobilized troops who will be completing their training in the next few weeks to be part of a larger offensive. They want to make sure that the momentum is still on their side. Beyond that, I would just say there's this kind of broader frustration with the drip, drip, drip nature of the weapons supplies. From the Ukrainian's perspective, it's like, listen, it takes you a while to get there. You slowly start giving it, then you give more. Can we just cut to the chase and get to the bit where the faucet really opens and the weapons start flowing because they see this as a decisive moment, and they want to be able to take Russia on and to really finish this.

And they're saying even beyond the tanks, they need long range artillery, they need F-16s. There's no indication from anyone at the Contact Group that those might be coming imminently. But definitely there's a sense of growing urgency here that they really need these weapons in order to finish what they've started.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And I know, Congressman, F-16s is something you've been talking about for sure. General Marks, let me ask you what sticks out to you and what you heard. I mean, if I say it in a crude way, you speak Pentagon very well. What did you hear?

MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, this is the first time I've heard that the overarching concern has been a gap between the ends that President Zelenskyy has indicated, which is the removal, the departure of all Russian forces from Ukraine and the support from the NATO forces. There's been a gap. It really went from what I heard today was it went from I don't want to be cynical about this, but it went from, let's just not lose this thing, to I think we need to win this thing.

And you saw Secretary Austin lay out all the kit that's going to be provided, and then you had the reinforcement of what that kit means from General Milley. He described the brigades, the number of maneuver battalions, et cetera. So what I heard, however, there's one more, however, and that is Secretary Austin started his comments by saying, we're here as the Contact Group to ensure the self-defense of Ukraine. And then you heard General Milley say, we're here to help liberate, Ukraine. We're still at least at a narrative where those two don't link up.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, according to "The Washington Post," one question that Ukraine has had, especially in the most recent meeting, when the CAA director was just over there briefing them on kind of the analysis of where things are headed, is concern, continued concern over U.S. funding if there is an end date, if it can dry up. This stemming from mixed messaging we've heard from Republicans since Republicans have taken the majority. Do you think Ukraine has a reason for concern here?

KINZINGER: I think they have a reason for concern. I don't think it's a reason for panic. So first off, we've appropriated money through the end of this fiscal year. There's going to be a lot of fighting between now and then. Secondarily, there's still stocks of equipment, there's still ways to get Ukraine stuff. But, yes, I mean the strangest thing to me is watching some on the far left and far right link up in their opposition to Ukraine and support for what Russia is doing and using their kind of minority position and able to block things to say we're not going to fund Ukraine anymore.

I don't understand it. I think Ukraine needs to stay on the offensive diplomatically and politically here in the United States. We need to keep talking about the people that are dying, the innocents that are dying, and how frankly Ukraine is fighting for the rest of us. But I don't think we're at the point of needing to panic quite yet.

BOLDUAN: I think that's an important message that clearly President Zelenskyy and his team needs to hear. Clarissa, tanks or no tanks, if you will, what is the sense that you're getting there of what the spring is going to look like with this new threat of a new Russian offensive? We heard Secretary Austin took note, he says we have a window here, but that's a window here between now and spring. That's not a long time in his view.

WARD: Yes, and it's -- listen, it's grim. I don't think we can paint too rosy a picture here. You look at the fighting that's been taking place in Bakhmut, in Soledar, it is a grind, it is ugly. There is a heavy rate of attrition, a huge rate of casualties. You see the attacks that we saw in Dnipro, more than 40 people killed in the residential apartment building. And you see the rolling blackouts, the attacks on the infrastructure.

Ukraine is feeling the pain, they are fighting valiantly. They have had a lot of success. But in this moment, I don't think there's an obvious key strategic target for them to go for. That's an easy win. There will be some very tough battles ahead and they know that they need a lot of support in order to begin to even attempt those.

BOLDUAN: This is exactly what we're looking at with this 8th meeting of the Contact Group. Thank you guys very much. I really appreciate it.

[11:24:55] So we're also watching this, Alec Baldwin is fighting back as he now faces criminal charges in the deadly shooting on his movie set. The prosecutor insisting that he is one of the people at fault.


MARY CARMACK-ALTWIES, NEW MEXICO FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Nobody was doing their job. There were three people that if they had done their job that day, this tragedy wouldn't have happened.


BOLDUAN: But can they prove it to a jury? That's next.



BOLDUAN: So, Alec Baldwin's lawyer says that the actor was blindsided by the announcement that he will be charged for the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. As we've learned yesterday during our show, he is facing two counts of involuntary manslaughter.