Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a bilateral exchange at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a bilateral exchange at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023. (Jackie Sanders/Department of Defense)

WASHINGTON — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday during a visit to the Pentagon that U.S. aid is doing a great deal to help defend Ukraine, but he stressed Western allies must provide all the weapons Ukrainians need to beat back Russian forces in a war that’s closing in on its one-year anniversary.

Stoltenberg met with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday, and the two said they would evaluate the latest strategies in Ukraine and discuss how U.S. and NATO allies can best help the country.

“NATO stands stronger and more united than ever,” Austin said Wednesday during an introductory meeting with Stoltenberg, adding the alliance and the U.S. must “build on momentum” that’s been achieved in Ukraine. “Deterrence and defense remain job No. 1 for NATO.”

Stoltenberg arrived in the U.S. on Tuesday for three days of meetings with top officials in President Joe Biden’s administration. Austin welcomed him at the Pentagon just a few hours before they were scheduled to join Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the State Department for further discussions.

Next week, Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will travel to Belgium for a meeting of the NATO defense ministers, the Pentagon said. Stoltenberg will lead the meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We must continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs to retake territory and prevail as a sovereign independent nation,” Stoltenberg said at the Pentagon.

In his meeting with Austin, Stoltenberg said the billions in aid provided by the U.S. is making a difference on the battlefields of Ukraine “every day” and all Western allies must be prepared to stand with the country “for as long as it takes.”

“If [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wins, it will be a tragedy for Ukraine and dangerous for us,” he said. “It will send a message that Russia can achieve its goals when it uses military force.”

The NATO chief also thanked the U.S. earlier for “unwavering leadership and bipartisan support” that has united the alliance “like never before.”

Stoltenberg’s U.S. visit follows Biden’s approval of billions of dollars in weapons and equipment for Ukraine, such as a Patriot missile defense system and dozens of M1 Abrams battle tanks. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and others in Kyiv, however, have also requested fighter jets, such as the Air Force’s F-16 Fighting Falcon — a weapon that Biden has said the U.S. is not considering as part of its military aid to the country. Biden and U.S. defense officials have previously taken the same stance on other weapons that they ultimately decided to send, such as the Abrams tanks.

Stoltenberg’s visit to the Pentagon on Wednesday is his first since the summer and his second since Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago. The one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion is Feb. 24.

“Since then, NATO allies have provided unprecedented support for Ukraine, about $120 billion in military, humanitarian and financial assistance,” Stoltenberg said. “Regrettably, we see no sign that Russia is preparing for peace.”

U.S. leaders and Stoltenberg also discussed other security and humanitarian matters that have arisen in recent days — such as the Chinese balloon that floated above the United States and the earthquake that has left thousands of people dead in Turkey and Syria.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon transported 170,000 pounds of equipment and civilian rescue teams to Turkey, a NATO ally, to assist in searches for survivors.

Meanwhile, military and civilian teams are still searching a large debris field in the Atlantic Ocean from the Chinese balloon that was shot down last weekend by a U.S. fighter jet. U.S. officials have said they are certain that the balloon was spying, and rejected Beijing’s claims that it was a civilian research aircraft. Some experts have said the wreckage could yield a “treasure trove” of Chinese intelligence.

“The Chinese balloon over the United States confirms a pattern of Chinese behavior where we see that China over the last few years has invested heavily in new military capabilities, including different types of surveillance and intelligence platforms,” Stoltenberg said Wednesday. “We need to be aware of the constant risk of Chinese intelligence and step up what we do to protect ourselves.”

It highlights that security is not regional, he said.

“Security is global. What happens in Asia matters for Europe, and what happens in Europe matters for Asia and also, of course, for North America,” Stoltenberg said, noting he visited Japan and South Korea last week to discuss such security issues.

The importance of U.S. allies and global strategic partnerships was a chord that Biden struck Tuesday night in his State of the Union address.

“Allies are stepping up, spending more, and doing more,” he said. “Look at the bridges we’re forming between partners in the Pacific and those in the Atlantic.”

“Putin’s invasion has been a test for the ages — a test for America, a test for the world,” Biden said. “Together, we did what America always does at our best — we led. We united NATO, we built a global coalition, we stood against Putin’s aggression, we stood with the Ukrainian people.”

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Doug G. Ware covers the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. He has many years of experience in journalism, digital media and broadcasting and holds a degree from the University of Utah. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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