Allies will move 'heaven and earth' to get arms to Ukraine: U.S. defence secretary
Lloyd Austin tells conference of allies that 'Ukraine clearly believes it can win'
Western allies are prepared to move "heaven and earth" to get Ukraine more weapons and munitions so it can continue to fight Russia's "unjust invasion," U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday during the opening session of an extraordinary international gathering at the American air base in Ramstein, Germany.
The meeting — attended by Defence Minister Anita Anand — involves more than 40 countries and is meant to get NATO and other partner nations on the same page when it comes to meeting Ukraine's immediate defence needs.
More than a dozen countries that are not NATO members — including Japan and Israel — were invited to attend the one-day conference.
"This gathering reflects the galvanized world," Austin said in prepared remarks at the beginning of the conference. "Ukraine clearly believes it can win and so does everyone here."
WATCH: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on the need to arm Ukraine
Together, allied nations have rushed roughly $5 billion worth of military equipment to Ukraine since the invasion began on Feb. 24. The United States accounted for the lion's share of that total: $3.7 billion.
Tuesday's meeting was attended by many top Western military commanders, including Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Canada's Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre.
Following the one-day conference, Austin said allies would meet once a month going forward to monitor the progress.
In his remarks, Austin accused Russian forces of committing war crimes — including executions of Ukrainian civilians.
Russia, he said, is waging a war of choice on Ukraine "to indulge the ambitions of one man" — a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"The stakes reach beyond Ukraine and even beyond Europe," Austin said, adding that the war in eastern Europe is a challenge to the entire free world.
Also present at the meeting is Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov. Austin acknowledged him in his remarks.
"My Ukrainian friends, we know the burden that you all carry," he said. "And we know and you should know that all of us have your back. And that's why we're here today to strengthen the arsenal of Ukrainian democracy."
Going into the meeting, Anand stopped to speak to reporters and discussed Canada's shipments of weapons to Ukraine and last week's announcement that her government plans to send the Ukrainians modern artillery and ammunition.
CBC News reported that four M-777 howitzers were taken recently from the inventory of 1st Regiment, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery, based in Shilo, Manitoba, and flown out on a C-17 heavy transport.
The Department of National Defence acknowledged the shipment in a statement at the time, but did not confirm the number of weapons being shipped. Speaking on CBC's Power & Politics late Friday, Anand said "there are certain details that we are keeping confidential for security reasons."
When asked about the number Tuesday at Ramstein, Anand hinted more howitzers might become part of the package.
"I will reserve [comment] on the precise number at this time as it continues to evolve," she said, adding that she will be in Washington later this week to meet with Austin one-on-one "regarding this very issue."
Given that the Canadian Army has only 37 of the 155mm big guns, replacing whatever is donated to Ukraine is a priority, Anand said last week.
Canada also has sent Ukraine anti-tank weapons, machine guns, light arms and ammunition. The federal government has said it is working on buying "commercial pattern" armoured vehicles for Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Anand announced that the government would send eight Roshel Senator APCs, a vehicle favoured by law enforcement for emergency response and rescue.