WASHINGTON ― Denmark will arm Ukraine with with a modern Harpoon anti-ship launcher and missiles to protect its coasts, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Monday after concluding the latest U.S.-led meeting of international defense chiefs to coordinate military aid for Ukraine.
The announcement came as Russia’s blockade of Odessa, Ukraine’s largest port on the Black Sea, which is threatening global food supplies. At a joint press conference with Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said Ukraine, a major producer of grain, hasn’t been able to use Odessa as a transit point for 90 days because of Russia’s fleet, but he said the U.S. would not be intervening more directly.
“I think it’s quite important to the economy of Ukraine, and many countries in the world depend on Ukrainian grain,” Milley said. “As for what we’re doing about it, right now we don’t have any naval assets on the Black Sea, we don’t intend to. Right now its a bit of a stalemate between the Ukrainians wanting to make sure there isn’t an amphibious landing around Odessa. Right now it’s a no-go for commercial shipping.”
The Ukraine Contact Group, which included 40 member countries at the inaugural gathering at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on April 26, has since grown to 47 participants. Austin said Austria, Bosnia Herzegovina, Colombia, Ireland and Kosovo were among the newly represented countries helping Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy with military and humanitarian aid.
Italy, Greece, Norway and Poland would be donating artillery systems and ammunition, Austin announced. He also lauded the Czech Republic for transferring attack helicopters, tanks, and missile systems to Kyiv.
Though Pentagon officials have said the emphasis has been on Ukraine’s immediate needs against Russia’s invasion, Ukrainian officials have also sought donations to build up their future needs. Before the meeting, Austin said those long-term needs were on the agenda.
“We’ll deepen accountability for security assistance provided to Ukraine, and we’ll discuss how we can strengthen and modernize Ukraine, the Ukrainian armed forces for the long haul to help ensure that they can deter aggression in the future,” Austin said.
Also on the agenda Monday, Ukraine’s defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, was to offer an update on Ukraine’s fight and needs. Reznikov last week said Ukraine needs tanks and armored vehicles as well as multiple launch rocket systems, heavy artillery, aircraft and missiles.
Austin said during the post-meeting briefing that the Ukrainians are continuing to ask for long-range fires, armor and unmanned aerial capabilities.
He declined to say whether the U.S. would provide High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, but said Ukraine’s fight “is really shaped by artillery in this phase, and we’ve seen serious exchanges of artillery fires over the last several weeks.”
At Ramstein last month, Australia and Canada committed to providing M777 howitzers, which have since been delivered to Ukrainian forces. The UK has since delivered Brimstone missiles and a short-range air defense system.
“Many more countries have pushed hard to stand up new training missions and we’ve watched these efforts make a difference in real time,” Austin said ahead of the meeting Monday. “Now as Ukraine’s fight continues, our efforts must intensify and we must plan for all the challenges ahead.”
President Joe Biden, who has ruled out putting U.S. forces into direct conflict with Russia, has shipped billions of dollars in military assistance that has helped Ukraine put up a stiffer-than-expected resistance against Russia’s onslaught.
In recent days Biden signed a $40 billion Ukraine-related aid package, and sent the last $100 million’s worth of howitzers and other weapons from the previous, $13.6 billion package passed by Congress in March. That marked the 10th tranche of U.S. aid.
Biden, at a news conference in Tokyo on Monday, said that deterring China from attacking Taiwan was one reason why it’s important that Russian President Vladimir Putin “pay a dear price for his barbarism in Ukraine,” lest China and other nations get the idea that such action is acceptable, the Associated Press reported.
While the U.S. is committed to providing aid to Ukraine in the long term, Austin couldn’t say what will need to happen to end the conflict, whether there could be a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine, or the expulsion of Russian troops from the country.
“What [the] end state looks like will be defined by the Ukrainians and not by us,” Austin said. “And so we’ll leave that up to President Zelenskyy and his leadership to talk about, you know, how this transitions.”
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.