U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is warning that if Russia is successful in Ukraine, China will be emboldened to use military force to expand its territory in the Indo-Pacific.
“We can’t live in that kind of world,” Austin told U.S. troops at a military installation in eastern Poland Tuesday after a surprise stop the day before in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
“If you’re another autocrat, say China, and you want to take over more ground [and] more territory, and you saw what happened in Ukraine and there were no consequences to be paid, you’d feel pretty good about it,” Austin said.
Austin also warned that Russian President Vladimir Putin will continue his push to overrun sovereign democracies in eastern Europe if he isn’t shut down in Ukraine.
“Putin won’t stop if he takes Ukraine,” Austin said. “The next thing is he’s rolling across the Baltics … and the next thing you know, you and your comrades will be on the frontlines fighting against a Putin that we should have stopped, or Ukraine could have stopped early on.”
Austin comments echo many concerns voiced by NATO allies in eastern Europe since the invasion began. Eastern European nations like Estonia, Romania and Poland have hosted increasing numbers of U.S. troops and weaponry, while also building up their own defenses to deter Russian aggression.
Austin spoke with Poland’s Minister of Defense Mariusz Blaszczak while visiting the Polish base, which officials asked to remain unnamed because of the major role it plays in pushing U.S. and Western military aid into Ukraine.
“This matters, because people are trying to survive on the other end,” Austin said. “There are people dying every day.”
Austin’s trip to Kyiv on Monday was a display of Western solidarity amid increasing concerns that support for Ukraine could be waning as U.S. attention is directed to the conflict in the Middle East.
U.S. Congress has yet to fund additional assistance to Ukraine, which in turn has caused the Pentagon to start sending smaller military aid packages to Kyiv in an effort to make the funding they have left last longer.
During the visit, Austin announced a new U.S. aid package of up to $100 million from the Pentagon’s weapons stockpiles, including an additional HIMARS artillery rocket system and more munitions. Prior to the announcement, he spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and members of his cabinet about the immediate winter fight and planning for future security assistance.
Monday marked the defense secretary’s first visit to the Ukrainian capital since April 2022, shortly after the nearly two-year war began. Russia launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February of that year, calling the war a “special military operation.”
“We don’t want to live in a world where an autocrat can wake up and … take over his neighbor’s property,” Austin said Tuesday.
The U.S defense secretary will host another round of talks of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group virtually from the Pentagon on Wednesday. The Pentagon says more than 50 nations are expected to participate in the talks, which help Ukraine’s partners coordinate military aid sent to Kyiv.
Defense officials say the U.S. will provide a steady stream of security assistance throughout the winter, and Austin told reporters on Monday he expects the Ukrainians to be “aggressive” in the weeks ahead.