You can watch the full interview with Lloyd Austin on “CNN This Morning” on Friday at 6 a.m. ET.
The US believes the training and equipment it is providing Ukraine will “change the dynamics on the battlefield” in the war against Russia and allow Kyiv’s forces to “breach Russian defenses,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in an interview with CNN’s Kaitlan Collins for “CNN This Morning” on Thursday.
“We’re training and equipping several brigades of mechanized infantry — that’s a pretty substantial capability,” Austin said. “In addition to that, additional artillery, and so they’ll have the ability to breach Russian defenses and maneuver, and I think that will create a different dynamic.”
Austin’s comments come as the war in Ukraine reaches the one-year mark, with seemingly no end in sight. It also comes on the heels of a highly secretive and surprise visit to Kyiv by President Joe Biden, which aimed to send a stark message about the strength of the two nations’ alliance to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Indeed, Austin echoed a common sentiment among other American officials, including Biden, to CNN, reiterating that the US will stick with Ukraine for as long as it takes.
“As long as Ukraine continues to conduct operations and continues to work to take back its sovereign territory, we’ll be there with them,” he said, adding that “the international community will be with Ukraine once the fighting stops.”
The US and its allies have provided billions of dollars’ worth of ammunition, weapons systems, and training to the Ukrainians since the war began one year ago – $29.8 billion of that coming from the US alone since the beginning of Russia’s invasion. Recently that has included significant items like the Patriot missile system and M1 Abrams tanks, though both require substantial training and maintenance capabilities.
Those additional capabilities will make all the difference, Austin said.
“I think the things that we’re doing, the capability that we’re providing – again, capability, not just a platform – the capabilities that we’re providing I think will enable the Ukrainians begin to change the dynamics on the battlefield,” he said. “And so rather than having a stalemate, what you’ll probably see is Ukrainians shaping this fight so they can create opportunities for themselves and exploit those opportunities going forward.”
Austin said in Brussels last week that countries involved in the Ukraine Defense Contact Group have been “working hard” to ensure Ukraine has the capability it needs to create “the effects on the battlefield they want to create,” particularly in a renewed offensive he expects Ukraine to launch this spring.
Meanwhile, US officials have said China could be preparing to provide lethal military aid to Russia. Austin said he had not yet seen China do so, but that China “hasn’t taken that off the table for sure.”
“I’ve engaged my counterpart early on and told him that this would be a very bad mistake if China were to do this. It would complicate things,” he said.
Ultimately, the war will most likely “end with some sort of negotiation,” Austin told CNN. In recent months, the prospect of negotiations taking place have seemed unlikely as Russia has continued to bombard Ukrainian infrastructure and population centers.
“[W]hat the Ukrainians are interested in is getting the Russians out of their sovereign territory,” he said. “And I think that’s probably going to be their going-in point, but I’ll let the Ukrainians speak for themselves.”
CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed reporting.