Speaking after a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on April 21, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that Russia's war against Ukraine is "not the result of NATO enlargement" but "the cause" of it.
According to Austin, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin "made a series of grave miscalculations" when he ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine over a year ago.
"He thought that Ukraine wouldn't dare to fight back, but Ukraine is standing strong with the help of its partners. Putin thought that our unity would fracture, but Russia's cruel war of choice has only brought us closer together," the Pentagon head said at a press conference.
His remarks come after defense ministers of 54 nations gathered at the U.S. Ramstein air base in Germany to coordinate efforts to provide further military aid to Ukraine. The Contact Group member Finland participated in the meeting as a NATO ally for the first time after joining the alliance on April 4.
Ukraine applied for a fast-track NATO accession on Sept. 30 after Russia illegally claimed the annexation of Ukrainian territory. However, until Russia's war against Ukraine ends, the country's prospects of definitive NATO membership remain uncertain.
Russia repeatedly lashed out at NATO, claiming that Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine was caused by the alliance's expansion and started by the West.