Umerov’s first international appearance since being appointed follows a dramatic reshuffle of Ukraine’s military leadership after several corruption scandals that undermined confidence during a critical time for the country’s survival. Umerov was brought in two weeks ago, and six deputy defense ministers were fired Monday, the eve of the meeting at Ramstein.
The shakeup comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy faces the biggest struggle of his life off the battlefield.
More than 18 months into the Russian invasion, he is trying to convince his foreign backers to continue supporting Ukraine amid a sluggish offensive, looming winter and waning international attention.
As President Joe Biden urged world leaders not to abandon Ukraine in its grinding war against Russia as he spoke at the United Nations on Tuesday, some 4,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, his defense secretary said Washington and its allies were moving “heaven and earth” to get Ukraine what it needs to defeat the Kremlin’s army.
Still, while promises to supply Ukraine with more tanks, missiles and ammunition came Tuesday, there was no mention of weaponry that was discussed by analysts and the media ahead of the gathering of the kind that Kyiv says could really give it an upper hand against heavily-mined and fortified Russian defense lines. They included longer-distance weapons, such as U.S.-made Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS), with a range of up to 190 miles, and Germany’s Taurus cruise missiles, with an even greater range of more than 300 miles, as well as Swedish Gripen fighter jets that could help Ukraine provide its ground troops with the desperately-needed air cover.
In fact, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at Ramstein on Tuesday that the 31 M1 Abrams tanks, promised by the U.S. some nine months ago, are just now about to enter Ukraine.
In all, since the beginning of the war, Washington and its allies have pledged more than $76 billion in direct security assistance to Kyiv, he said.
Although Washington has celebrated what it calls a “tangible progress” in Ukraine’s counteroffensive, it also appeared at odds with Kyiv about just how much time Ukraine had to keep its campaign going. Kyiv pushed back against comments made by Milley earlier this month that it had as few as 30 days of fighting weather left.
At Ramstein, Milley appeared to walk back those comments, saying that, in fact, there was “plenty of fighting weather left” and that there was “no intention whatsoever” by the Ukrainians to stop fighting during the winter. He also acknowledged that Ukraine is in for a “tough fight” trying to expel all the Russian troops from its occupied territories.
It’s a fight Washington has long said Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes will tire out Ukraine’s supporters. The Russian leader indicated last week he was bracing for a long war, as he held talks with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un amid Western concerns that Pyongyang could help arm Moscow’s shell-deprived troops.
Speaking at the U.N. shortly after the Ramstein gathering, Biden said the Kremlin is counting on the world growing “weary” of the war, but admitted that the U.S., “like every nation in the world,” wants it to end, and strongly supports Ukraine “in its efforts to bring about a diplomatic resolution.”
Mention of a “diplomatic resolution” comes ahead of what promises to be a bruising 2024 presidential election, with some voters fatigued by support for Kyiv and Republicans increasingly resistant to seemingly unlimited aid for Ukraine.