It is unclear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a final decision on an invasion of Ukraine, but he is continuing to build up his combat capability around Ukraine and in Belarus, according to Pentagon press secretary John Kirby.
“We’ve been watching this for months [and] we’ve been saying for weeks that it could be imminent,” Kirby said. “Every day, [Putin] adds more forces, which means he has more options at his disposal.”
However, the US believes there is still room for diplomacy, according to Kirby, adding that “here at the Defense Department, we would like to see that succeed.” Putin does have the capability to launch an invasion at this point, as he has “plenty of forces to do that,” said Kirby.
“”We want to see him deescalate,” he added, “but I won’t get into specific timeline predictions here.” Again, we believe there is a path for diplomacy to deescalate so that another incursion does not occur. That is what we are aiming for.”
Kirby refused to speculate on what scenarios might play out because “we don’t have perfect visibility” into Putin’s plans.
“What we want to ensure here at the Defense Department is that we can bolster our allies, that they have the capabilities they require, so that we can meet our Article 5 commitments to NATO if the need arises. We’re looking into ways to improve our capabilities.”
He rejected, however, the notion that the US might be tolerant of a limited incursion, pointing out that President Joe Biden and the entire administration have been ‘aggressive’ “”It is very clear” that “another incursion into Ukraine, at whatever level, geography, size, and scale, would exact consequences on Russia, not just from the US, but from the international community.” Nobody wants to see any kind of incursion.”
According to Kirby, forces in the United States have been put on an even “shorter tether,” with some units having been placed in a “heightened state of readiness, with a 10-day tether, to go now maybe on five-days.”
He did, however, add, “Some people aren’t quite there yet. We’re making sure they’re ready to go in a short amount of time in case they’re required. There have been no deployment orders issued.”
Meanwhile, the NATO response force has not yet been activated, according to Kirby, but “We have tens of thousands of troops in Europe, all over the continent, and we’re definitely keeping an eye on their posture… We’re not leaving anything on the table… No deployment issues have been issued, but we have stated unequivocally that this is a possibility.”
Meanwhile, the Florida National Guard already has a brigade in Ukraine for training purposes, and Kirby said that unit consists of “less than 200 Florida National Guardsmen on a rotational deployment.”
“We’ve been doing this for a while,” he explained. ‘They’re consultants and trainers.’ Without going into specifics about where they are geographically in Ukraine, we believe that if we had to make the decision to relocate them, we could do so fairly quickly. There aren’t a lot of them. They are still on the ground in Ukraine, assisting Ukrainian forces.”
Kirby also insisted that, despite concerns about Germany and its role in NATO, the country remains a NATO member “steadfast and powerful ally of the United States, both within NATO and bilaterally. We value their contributions to the alliance…every country will contribute in their own way, and we value that.”
He went on to say that the alliance “is unified in our concern about this buildup along Ukraine and in Belarus,” and that “we are certainly united in thinking through the options of what we would have to do as an alliance to bolster our self-defense, should Article 5 actually be put in jeopardy.”