Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin left open the possibility that Ukraine could reapply for NATO membership in the future.

The Biden Cabinet official made the remark while addressing reporters at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on Tuesday after he completed a meeting with more than 40 international counterparts who met to discuss the long-term issues surrounding Russia's invasion of Ukraine.


"I think that NATO will always stand by its principles of maintaining an open door, so I don't want to speculate on what could come," he said. "I do believe that in the future, if the possibility exists, I think Ukraine will seek to, once again, apply to become a member of NATO. But again, that's probably a bit down the road, and speculation at this point is not very helpful."

The defense secretary also explained that this group, which featured other defense leaders from NATO and non-NATO countries, will start meeting monthly.

"I'm proud to announce that today's gathering will become a monthly contact group on Ukraine's self-defense," Austin said. "And the contact group will be a vehicle for nations of goodwill to intensify our efforts and coordinate our assistance and focus on winning today's fight and the struggles to come."

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht announced the same day that Germany will deliver 50 anti-aircraft tanks to Ukraine, which is the first time it has agreed to provide such weaponry, and a day earlier, the United Kingdom made a similar pledge.

"I applaud all the countries that have risen and are rising to meet this demand. The briefings today laid out clearly why the coming weeks will be so crucial for Ukraine," Austin said. "And I know that all the leaders leave today more resolved than ever to support Ukraine in its fight against Russian aggression and atrocities. And I know that we're all determined to do even more to better coordinate our efforts."

In an interview with state television ahead of Austin's press conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned that the risk of nuclear war is "considerable" and should not be underestimated.

"The risks now are considerable," Lavrov said on the prospect of the war in Ukraine escalating to a nuclear level. "I would not want to elevate those risks artificially. Many would like that. The danger is serious, real. And we must not underestimate it." Austin later called those remarks "very dangerous and unhelpful."


Austin's meeting with defense leaders came a day after he and Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. They were the first senior U.S. officials to travel to Ukraine since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, and they announced plans for the U.S. to restart its diplomatic efforts.