Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin emphasized the Pentagon’s efforts to cooperate “respectfully” with partners and allies Friday after a spate of recent intelligence leaks threatened to sow discord during a critical geopolitical moment.
The documents not only revealed the status and prognosis of the war in Ukraine, including detailed battlefield conditions and plans for clandestine missions that could jeopardize ongoing operations, but described times when the U.S. and allies have disagreed, criticized and spied on one another. Austin opened his remarks at the head of a meeting with more than 50 partners at Ramstein Air Base in Germany focused on Ukraine security assistance efforts with a plea for unity.
“I know that many of you have been following the reports of unauthorized disclosure of sensitive and classified U.S. material. I take this issue very seriously,” he told reporters and defense ministers from other countries.
“And we will continue to work closely and respectfully with our deeply valued allies and partners,” Austin said. (RELATED: Massive Classified Document Leak Raises Questions About How Carefully The US Guards Its Secrets)
However, fallout from the document leaks has already caused friction between the U.S. and partners.
For example, the documents expose Russia’s combat strategy to counter NATO-provided battle tanks by establishing long, medium and short-range fire zones, each covered by a different constellation of weapons and unit types, according to CNN.
One document appears to suggest that the U.S. intercepted electronic communications from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, noting a comment from the president about “striking Russian deployment locations in Russia’s Rostov Oblast,” CNN reported.
Ukraine reportedly had to alter its counteroffensive preparations following information disclosed in the leak. South Korea, which has participated in some meetings of the Contact Group but so far declined to supply lethal aid to Ukraine, denied information in the documents insinuating South Korean officials discussed ways to circumvent Seoul’s longstanding policy against supporting countries at war.
Seoul confronted Washington about the disclosure, while both countries sought to play down some of the documents as fabricated.
“As I’ve discussed this issue with our allies and partners, I’ve been struck by your solidarity, and your commitment to reject efforts to divide us. And we will not let anything fracture our unity,” Austin told partners at the 11th Contact Group meeting Friday.
The meeting marks the one year anniversary of the first Ukraine Defense Contact Group summit, started in April 2022 to coordinate military aid to Ukraine coming from countries around the world, according to The Associated Press. The group has committed more than $55 billion to help Ukraine fend of Russia’s invasion, Austin said.
It’s always a pleasure to speak with my good friend & 🇺🇦 counterpart @oleksiireznikov. Over the past year, members of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group have provided tremendous capabilities to Ukraine. We will support them for as long as it takes. pic.twitter.com/SlEbwehOr3
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) April 21, 2023
Air National Guardsman Jack Teixeira is believed to be the source of the leaks, which could number in the hundreds of documents. He faces charges under the Espionage Act for unlawful possession and transmission of sensitive defense information and is awaiting a court appearance.
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