Austin’s remarks came after he and Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the capital of Kyiv on Sunday and announced several new U.S. actions, including an expanded diplomatic presence in the country and more military financing.
On Tuesday, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby — speaking from Germany — elaborated on Austin’s latest assessment of the conflict, telling CNN that a victory for Ukraine “is certainly in the cards.”
“I think winning is very clearly defined by a Ukraine whose sovereignty is fully respected, whose territorial integrity is not violated by Russia or any other country for that matter,” Kirby said. “And they can win, as the secretary said. And they certainly believe that they can do it.”
The 40 nations participating in Austin’s consultative group on Tuesday “also believe” Ukraine can triumph over Russia, Kirby said.
“It’s not just the West. … It’s not just NATO,” Kirby continued. “There are countries from all around the world, including the Indo-Pacific region, who are dedicated to trying to help Ukraine win this war.”
Ultimately, that victory is “going to be defined by” Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people, Kirby said.
Zelenskyy has previously expressed confidence that Ukraine will achieve victory and repel Russia’s invasion, which has dragged on for 62 days. “Yes, of course, and [we] will,” he told CNN this month.
But Zelenskyy also has insisted that Ukraine is not willing to cede territory in the eastern part of the country in order to bring an end to the conflict.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reiterated Zelenskyy’s position on Tuesday, telling MSNBC that U.S. assistance to Ukraine “will never be enough until Russian soldiers leave their footprints on Ukrainian soil.”
“The moment that we liberate our country, the moment that we win this war, I will say, the United States did everything they could, and everything was enough to achieve this victory,” Kuleba said.
Kuleba went on to issue a more forceful prediction, saying: “Ukraine will win.”
“It will be a European, democratic country,” Kuleba continued. “And Russia will be contained. It will not be able to pose a threat to any country in the world. We will pay the price for the safety of the world. But we are ready to do it, because it’s also the price for our own independence.”
After retreating from around Kyiv in northern Ukraine this month, Russian forces last week launched their anticipated assault in the southeastern Donbas region.
The Donbas is home to two breakaway areas largely held by Moscow-backed separatists: the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. A Russian commander reportedly said last Friday that Russia plans to take full control of the region and southern Ukraine.
Asked on Tuesday whether Ukraine is currently winning the war against Russia, Kirby said Ukrainian forces have thus far “certainly defeated” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “strategic objectives.”
“It’s hard to look at this fight and [conclude] that Russia has won, that Mr. Putin achieved his objectives,” Kirby said. “He has not. The Ukrainians have beaten him back at almost every turn.”
The remarks in Germany from the Pentagon officials are the latest escalation in Washington’s wartime rhetoric toward Moscow.
On Monday, following his and Blinken’s meeting with Zelenskyy, Austin said the United States wants “to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”
Russia “has already lost a lot of military capability and a lot of its troops, quite frankly,” Austin told reporters in Poland. “And we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.”
Kirby echoed Austin’s statements about a “weakened” Russia on Tuesday, saying: “We want Russia not to be able to threaten their neighbors again in the future. That’s what we’re talking about here.”
Austin “doesn’t want to see a Russia that can invade its neighbors and threaten and coerce other countries on the continent,” Kirby said, adding: “We don’t want a Russia that’s capable of exerting that kind of malign influence in Europe or anywhere around the world.”