By Savannah Hulsey Pointer
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called Russia’s aggression toward a U.S. drone “reckless” in a March 15 meeting with the Tenth Ukraine Defense Contact Group.
Austin told the group that two Russian aircraft engaged in “dangerous, reckless, and unprofessional practices” over the Black Sea on March 14 when they dumped fuel on an unmanned U.S. MQ-9 aircraft conducting routine operations in international airspace.
The defense secretary said one jet also “intercepted and hit our MQ-9 aircraft, resulting in a crash,” in what he called a “hazardous episode” that “is part of a pattern of aggressive, risky, and unsafe actions by Russian pilots in international airspace.”
Austin said the attacks wouldn’t deter U.S. forces. “So make no mistake: The United States will continue to fly and to operate wherever international law allows.
“And it is incumbent upon Russia to operate its military aircraft in a safe and professional manner.”
The virtual meeting led by Austin comprised members from the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and the Indo-Pacific, all of whom reaffirmed their commitment to support Ukraine’s defenders in the face of Russia’s ongoing invasion.
Later in his comments, Austin praised the bravery of Ukraine’s forces in defending their sovereignty, territory, and freedom.
He stressed the devastating effects of the conflict on Ukrainian civilians.
“Ukraine’s forces have been fighting bravely to defend their sovereignty, territory, and freedom,” Austin said.
“No Ukrainian should have to endure daily shelling. No Ukrainian parent should have to worry that their child’s school will be bombed. No nation should have to fight for its survival against a foreign invasion force that is leveling entire cities and towns.”
The secretary of defense asserted that the situation is considered the greatest threat to European security since the start of the Cold War and a direct attack on the rules-based international order.
Austin also praised the Ukrainian Armed Forces, saying they have achieved several victories on the battlefield while transforming into a strong, professional force.
He said the contact group remains committed to helping Ukraine by providing necessary resources.
The United States recently announced an additional $400 million in security assistance to support precision weapons, artillery, and armored vehicle operations.
Other members of the contact group have also contributed tanks, air-defense assets, and other equipment.
However, Austin emphasized the need for continued resolve and unity, urging members to follow through on commitments and provide the tools needed to assist Ukraine with its national defense.
Near the end of his comments, Austin told the group, “I remain fully confident that we will support Ukraine’s defense for the long haul.”