Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Wednesday that Russia’s rocket attacks against civilian targets in Ukraine reveal “the malice and cruelty of Putin’s war” as the Pentagon chief encouraged Western nations to remain united in support of Kyiv as the war nears its eight-month anniversary.
”We’ve come together again today — united by our shared determination to help Ukraine defend its sovereignty, its territory, and its people from Russia’s unjust and unprovoked assault,” Austin told the members of the Ukraine Defense Contract Group during their gathering in Brussels.
“The whole world has just seen yet again the malice and cruelty of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s war of choice — rooted in aggression, and waged with deep contempt for the rules of war,” he added at NATO headquarters, flanked by Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
Putin has rained rockets on Ukraine this week in retaliation for the bombing early Saturday of the strategically important Kerch Strait bridge that links Russia to the Crimean peninsula.
At least 26 people have been killed in the bombardment that has largely targeted civilian centers and utility stations.
“Russia’s latest assaults have only deepened the determination of the Ukrainian people — and further united countries of goodwill from every region on Earth,” Austin told the officials from more than 50 Western nations that make up the contract group.
As the members gather in Brussels to support Ukraine, he said “our resolve and steadiness of purpose has only been strengthened.”
The Pentagon leader reminded the group that it vowed during its meeting last month to back Ukraine “for the long haul.”
“And that’s exactly what we are doing. Because our support for Ukraine’s right to defend itself doesn’t hinge on the outcome of any particular battle. Our resolve to support Ukraine’s defenders extends through all seasons,” he said.
Austin’s raw language describing Putin’s “malice” comes in stark contrast to President Biden, who described Putin in a CNN interview Tuesday night as “a rational actor who has miscalculated significantly” by invading Ukraine.
Later in the interview with Jake Tapper, however, the president said Putin was “irrational” in believing that he needed to unite all Russian speakers by attacking his western neighbor.
“So if he’s not rational,” Tapper began to say before Biden cut him off: “I didn’t say he’s not rational.”
“I think the speech, his objectives were not rational,” the president said. “I think he thought, Jake, I think he thought he was going to be welcomed with open arms, that this was the home of Mother Russia in Kyiv, and that where he was going to be welcomed, and I think he just totally miscalculated.”