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The US defense chief is calling on countries to dig deep and give Ukraine more desperately needed air defense systems

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday called on allied defense leaders to “dig deep” and deliver more air defense systems to Ukraine to help the country block the increasing barrage of Russian missiles.

But while allies said they will discuss how best to help Ukraine’s counteroffensive, they appeared no closer to agreements on the longer-range missiles that Kiev’s leaders insist they need.

“Air defense saves lives,” Austin said as he opened the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. “So I urge this group to continue to dig deep into ground air defense for Ukraine. We must continue to push hard to provide Ukraine with air defense systems and interceptors.”

The group is made up of defense and military leaders from more than 50 countries and is the main forum for raising contributions of weapons, other equipment and training for Kiev’s war effort. It meets approximately once a month, in person and virtually, and this is its 15th meeting.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian leaders have repeatedly pushed for longer-range weapons. Advocates have argued that Ukrainian forces should be able to attack Russian troops and facilities while remaining out of reach.

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But the U.S. remains hesitant, voicing long-standing concerns that Kiev could use the weapons to push deep into Russian territory and anger Moscow. The Army Tactical Missile System, known as ATACMS, could give Ukraine the ability to strike Russian targets from a distance of about 300 kilometers, but the US also has other variants of the missile that have a shorter range.

Before the meeting began, Bill Blair, Canada’s defense minister, told reporters that the allies were listening to Ukrainian leaders’ descriptions of their military needs and discussing “new and important ways” to help strengthen the ongoing counteroffensive.

Austin said the M1 Abrams tanks promised 31 months ago will arrive in Ukraine soon, as expected. A defense official said they have arrived in Europe and will cross the border with Ukraine in the coming days. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the precise location of the tanks is sensitive.

Ukrainian forces began training similar tanks in June, while the soon-to-arrive tanks were refurbished in the US

Defense leaders are working to continue what they say is unconditional support for Ukraine, despite growing concerns that public and international government support for the war, well into its second year, may be beginning to wane.

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Zelenskyy will be in Washington DC later this week to meet with President Joe Biden and congressional leaders in an effort to shore up support for continued US funding and weapons. The visit comes as there is a growing partisan divide within Congress over the continued funding of Ukraine.

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has told reporters he wants more aid to Ukraine to be debated on its own merits as a standalone bill, rather than tied to other priorities such as government funding. But Senate leaders want to combine the aid with other priorities, such as a short-term spending bill that will likely be needed to avoid a shutdown in late September.

Nations have pumped millions of artillery and other weapons into Ukraine, but fear their supplies are dwindling and the defense industry is struggling to ramp up production lines. At the same time, Ukrainian forces are making slow progress in breaking through Russian battle lines in a counter-offensive that is not progressing as quickly or as well as initially hoped.

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“Ukraine’s recent gains also depend on the critical capabilities provided by the members of this Contact Group,” Austin said at the opening of Ramstein. “And our shared commitment will be critical during the current fight – and for the long road ahead.”

Military leaders, including Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have pushed back on criticism that the offensive has been too slow, arguing that Ukrainian forces are making steady progress in a difficult fight. This, Milley has said, is a real war and Ukrainian forces are carefully making their way through large and deadly Russian minefields.

At the end of a meeting of NATO military leaders on Saturday, Admiral Rob Bauer of the Netherlands, chairman of the alliance’s Military Committee, acknowledged that countries must weigh the risks of supplying Ukraine with more weapons without compromising their own security needs. to set the game.

The Ramstein meeting also marks Milley’s final session as chairman of the U.S. Joint Leaders. He will retire at the end of the month after four years of service.

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