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Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

Feb. 28, 2022
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  All right, thank you.  Just a couple, one, actually just one administrative and personnel related thing to say at the top.  The Secretary has appointed Mr. Peter Levine and Ms. Lisa Disbrow to serve on the Commission on Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution Reform.  Mr. Levine previously served as DoD Deputy Chief Management Officer and acting Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

That following his 20 years of service as Minority Counsel, General Counsel, and Staff Director of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  And he's currently serving as a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Defense Analyses.  Ms. Disbrow, who I think many of you know previously served as Undersecretary of the Air Force.  And prior to that Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and the Comptroller.

She was also the Vice Director of the Joint Staff, J-8.  She currently serves as a director on the board of Mercury Systems.  The whole leadership team here and looks forward to working with Mr. Levine and Ms. Disbrow in their new roles as members of the commission.  We're grateful for their willingness to continue to serve the country in this capacity.

And I certainly look forward to the work -- the good work that the Commission will help us do in terms of our own programming and budgeting and execution.  So, with that, we'll go to questions.  Lita.

Q:  Thanks, John.  Two things.  One of the things that the Russians said today was that they boosted their staff at some of their nuclear sites.  I'm wondering if there's anything that the Pentagon has seen regarding any changes in their nuclear posture at all?

And then secondly, can you provide any assessment on the convoy that's headed to ?  And what the security situation in is to the best that you all can tell right now?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.  So, on the nuclear question, I have nothing to confirm these reports that they've changed their staffing.  What I would tell you is we've seen Mr.  Putin's announcement.  We believe it's as unnecessary as it is escalatory.  But we're reviewing and analyzing that announcement.  And I would only just tell you that as we continue to review and analyze and monitor that Secretary Austin is comfortable with the strategic deterrent posture of the United States and our ability to defend the homeland, our allies, and our partners.  On the convoy, I mean, I've seen the images that you're referring to, on television just like you.  And we see them as well.  I can't speak to specifics about its makeup and the timeline and the schedule that they're on, or what their ultimate destination is.

But clearly, we continue to see Russian forces, move on or move -- try to move closer to so they can move on Kyiv from the ground.  We still assess that they're outside the city center.  And -- but what we know clearly that they have intentions with respect to Kyiv.  What we also have seen is Ukrainians resisting quite effectively, around Kyiv.  And continuously, they have made it a tough slog for the Russians to move further south.

And as I think you've seen, in reporting of your own, that the Russians have not only experienced a stiff and determined resistance by the Ukrainians, but logistics and sustainment problems of their own.  So, I can't speak with specificity about this convoy and what's in it and what their designs are.  But it clearly appears to us just anecdotally, as of a piece of their desire to continue to move on the capitol.  Jen.

Q:  John, what's your assessment of the Russian military?  What have you learned about the Russian military from this last five days?

MR. KIRBY:  You know, I think it's too soon for us to have some sort of sweeping conclusions about the Russian military here in day five.  I would...

Q:  (Inaudible) look very modern?

MR. KIRBY:  I would just say a couple of things.  First of all, make no mistake, Mr. Putin still has at his disposal significant combat power.  He hasn't moved all of it into Ukraine.  But he's moved the majority of it.  He still has a lot that he hasn't moved into Ukraine.  It's combined arms.  And it's not insignificant, Jen.  Number two, yes, they have faced setbacks.  And they have faced resistance.

You got to hand it to the Ukrainians who have been fighting very hard for their country and making an impact and making a dent on Mr.  Putin's abilities.  But they will learn.  The Russians will learn from this.  We expect that they'll -- that there -- we haven't seen any change in what we believe their desires to move in Ukraine.

And so, they have suffered setbacks, but I don't think we can just assume that they're going to stay set back, if you will.  That they will try to work through these, the resistance and to work through the challenges they've had on the logistics and sustainment front.  Go ahead.

Q:  Have you seen any new threat to Article Five Nations from Russian forces?

MR. KIRBY:  We have not.  We have not.  Tara.

Q:  Russia has said it will now hold accountable any nation that supplies weapons to Ukraine that lead to the death of its own forces?  Is there a risk here that this could escalate if Russia decides to retaliate against nations that are providing these...

MR. KIRBY:  Tara, there's been a risk of escalation since before Mr. Putin decided to move in with tens of thousands of troops, and tanks, and mechanized forces, and aircraft, and ballistic missiles.  You want to talk about escalation?  Let's talk about escalation.

Mr. Putin is the one escalating this and continues to do so.  We're going to stand by the Ukrainian Armed Forces as we have as other NATO allies have.  And we're going to continue to find ways to help them defend themselves.

Q:  Over in Turkey today announced that they're closing the straits to the old warships for the (inaudible) and non-(inaudible) countries.  Do you have anything on that?  Any comment?

MR. KIRBY:  I am -- I don't have anything on that.  Yes, Abraham.

Q:  Thanks, John.  Is DoD coordinating air defense assistance with partners?  And can you comment on the EU offer to give Ukraine combat jets?

MR. KIRBY:  I can't comment on the EU offer.  We've seen that I mean, that's really for the European Union speak to but separate and distinct from that, and I think this gets really more your first question, we absolutely remain in close consultation and coordination with allies and partners about security assistance.

And I don't have a coordination mechanism to speak to like all of its being funneled through a single point or that kind of thing.  But we continue to coordinate closely with allies and partners about the security assistance that the Ukrainians continue to get not just from us, but from them as well.  Yes.

Q:  John.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  So many nations providing Ukrainians with advanced weapons.  They're not shy and revealing what types of weapons they're providing to Ukraine.  In the past, the U.S. has been reluctant and providing lethal weapon.  But now, you know, openly we're talking about these things.  However, you know, we're still talking anti-airborne, anti-armored, but there's no specificity.

Is this because of intelligence reasons?  Or, as some might say, you don't want to provoke the Russians more.  I mean, what is the reason that it's open -the U.S. will support the Ukrainian forces.  We're going to continue to do that as you said, and other officials.  But what on the specific side of these weapons?

MR. KIRBY:  Fadi, I don't think we've been inconsistent at all.  I can't speak for what other nations are saying and doing.  They can speak for the security systems, they're providing the Ukrainians, which is welcome, and, certainly encouraged.  We've been pretty consistent about A, acknowledging we're doing it and going to continue to do it.

B, giving you a sense of the size and scale and scope of it in terms of the dollar figures applied to it.  And C, been pretty, I think, transparent about what's generally in the package.  We're not going to give you an inventory list.  We're not going to put that out to the public.  Because as I've said, from this podium many times before, we don't think there's a value to operational security for the Ukrainians, to have that out in the public.

That -- what the shopping list looks like on any given day.  I just don't see a value to doing that.  I think we need to think about, we should always think about operational security, certainly in this case on the Ukrainians’ part.  So, we're doing that.  The kinds of material that are going to be in these security assistance packages going forward.  I think you've rightly said we've detailed it.  It's going to be some weapons that can support them on the ground as well as weapons that can support the airborne challenges that they have.

And I think we feel comfortable going about that far.

Q:  And on the images coming from Maxar, the satellite images of this convoy that extends for 17 miles.  Do you believe the Russian forces advancing on Kyiv are planning on basically encircle the city or storm Kyiv?  I mean this type of troops and armaments at this size, are you able to draw any conclusion from what you've seen?

MR. KIRBY:  I think the main conclusion we can draw this gets to Lita's question.  Is that we -- that they continue to want to move on Kyiv.  To capture Kyiv, to take Kyiv.  And although we don't know everything about this convoy, it is certainly in keeping with what we believe to be their intent with respect to the capital city.  How they're going to do that?

Whether it's encirclement or bombardment or street to street fighting.  I mean, I just don't think we have that level of dexterity now to give you that kind of detail in terms of Russian planning.  We don't have insights to everything that they're planning on doing.  What we can talk about is what we're seeing now.  And that's what we're seeing now.

And we're also seeing the Ukrainians put up a very stiff and determined resistance on their capital city.  And they have made it very difficult for the Russians to continue to move ahead.  We believe that the -- based on what we know, of what their plans were that they are behind schedule.  That they have faced a stiffer resistance than they anticipated.  Court.

Q:  Can you update us on any efforts at de-confliction.  And have there been any, like close calls or specific cases in the last five days where there would be a need for a tactical de-confliction?  And then like, how is -- are there calls that are being made from this building from the White House or from the State Department or whatever it is?  To try to establish that.

MR. KIRBY:  I would say that there is no de-confliction mechanism in place right now.  But certainly, we understand the importance of de-confliction, particularly now that the airspace over Ukraine is contested.  And some of that airspace butts right up against NATO territory.

And we're exploring options for, should there be a de-confliction mechanism, what would that look like?  How would that be when we're exploring those options, Court?  I think that's where we are right now.

Q:  When you say we, you mean, the Pentagon is?

MR. KIRBY:  The Pentagon, yes.

Q:  Is there a consideration of sort of like a larger NATO de-confliction?  So like, somehow NATO would be the one who would be communicating?

MR. KIRBY:  Sure.  That could be part of the calculus.  Again, we're kind of exploring the options right now.  We don't have concrete decisions.  And we don't have any indication right now from the Russians that they would also be interested in exploring those options.

It's got to be a two-way street.  But we are having discussions here about what that should look like, could look like, and certainly one option could be that it's done at, you know, inside the alliance, rather than a unilateral thing.

Q:  So, at this point, this is the -- Russia has shown no interest in establishing this (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY:  I think that's a safe bet.  Yes, ma'am.  Carla.

Q:  Thank you.  And now that we've seen civilian targets that have been hit is the U.S. considering installing a no-fly zone in Ukrainian airspace?

MR. KIRBY:  No.

Q:  And then to follow, can you tell us if there's been any more requests from NATO allies for US military assistance, and give us an update on the troops that have deployed for this potential inclusion in the NATO Response Force?  What are they doing right now?

MR. KIRBY:  There's no additional requests for allied support that I'm tracking, Carla.  But obviously, this is a dynamic situation, we're in constant touch with our allies and partners.  And we'll certainly continue to talk about that.  I would not rule out in coming days, additional week positioning in Europe as appropriate.  I don't have any updates for you on the NATO Response Force, or the troops that we have contributed.

The President spoke to the 7,000 that were going over there.  They could be elements of our contribution to the very ready Joint Task Force that NATO is working on putting together.  But you do really have to talk to NATO in the Alliance there in Brussels about their plans for that.  What I would just tell you is that Secretary Austin has been very clear from the very beginning that should it be activated, we want to make sure we're ready.

And that's why we've sent some additional forces to Europe to be in that posture to be ready.  Should that be the requirement that comes from the alliance, again, we haven't gotten specific requirements laid out yet for us.  And as for the troops that we've already repositioned and or deployed from the states unilaterally, they continue to work and train with the host nations as well as other NATO allies in wherever they are, whether it's in the Baltic region, or whether it's down in the southeastern flank, Hungary Bulgaria, Romania.  They continue to work and trained with their host nations and allied partners.  And then the 82nd, as you know, in Poland, they also there as a reassurance force.

But they are postured and prepared to assist, if needed with any evacuation assistance for Americans coming across that border.  There's been -- there hasn't been a heavy demand for that.  They're postured and ready to do that.  But there just hasn't been a large outflow of American citizens from Ukraine.  And those that have come by and large, by a vast majority have not needed any assistance from the United States military.

They've already made their plans.  They know where they're going.  There's obviously good transportation available to them in Poland.  OK.  Let me get to the phones here.  Tony Capaccio.

Q:  Hi, John, quick question.  How -- by how many days do you think the Russians have been derailed or been delayed from their original plans?  You've alluded to that you referenced that today that the behind what you think was the schedule?  Were they intending to be in Kyiv by today and have conquered the city under their original war plan?

MR. KIRBY:  Tony, I want to be reticent here to get too much into Russian planning.  I mean, I think they -- they're far better to speak to what their plans were.  We think that they're a few days behind where they expected to be writ large in the country.  I mean, I know we're focused on Kyiv now.  But we think they're, you know, they're a few days behind where they expected to be at this point.  Phil Stewart.

Q:  That we've provided to the Ukrainians, can you broadly say how effectively they've been used and how widely they've been used?  You know, we're talking javelins, and other ones that have been in the news.

MR. KIRBY:  I'm going to steer away from getting into a battlefield analysis of the weaponry that's being used on any given day into what effect.  We know that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are using a lot of the systems and equipment that had been provided to them not just by the United States, but by other nations.

And as I said, and you can see it for yourself.  And many of your outlets, you've got reporters on the ground who are seeing it up close and personal.  The Ukrainians have been effective at using these weapons and these systems.  And about -- and at resisting and pushing back Russian forces.  I want to remind again, that this is a, you know, this is a dynamic situation.

It's war, and war can be unpredictable.  And I don't think that anybody, including, perhaps especially Ukrainians are sniffing at Russian capabilities that they're facing.  Phil Stewart.

Q:  John, what would the U.S. or NATO allies do if Russia were to target these convoys or these shipments of these weapons that are going to Ukraine?  Especially now that Russia has warned that they find these shipments unacceptable.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I'm not going to get into a hypothetical Phil.  We're going to continue to provide security assistance to Ukrainian armed forces.  And we're still going to look for ways to do that in the most effective, efficient way possible.  Our support for Ukraine continues, as well as that of allies and partners.

And I'm going to refrain from hypothesizing about what ifs in terms of any disruptions or potential disruptions to that assistance.  Mike Glenn.

Q:  Yes, Hi, John.  Thanks a lot.  Question, the Russians have violated basically every maximum rule of war you can think of.  I mean, under the three to one rule, ratio rule, they should field about a million troops instead of the 200,000 or so they fielded.

They're not concentrating forces.  They don't have, you know, control of the airspace.  They don't have -- they didn't have a good situational awareness of their opponent.  My question is, our leadership in the building, are they surprised by just how bad the Russians have done, have bungled this invasion so far?

MR. KIRBY:  Watching this as closely as you guys are on a day-by-day basis.  And we're refraining from making some sort of broad assessments or assigning report cards to them on any given day.  It is day five, Mike.  This is day five.  And it's clear the Russians had not made the progress that they wanted to make by day five.

But that doesn't mean that they aren't going to adapt and try to overcome some of these challenges.  And it doesn't mean that the Ukrainians aren't going to also keep fighting for their country.  And what that looks like tomorrow and the next day, we just don't know.  So, it's clear, yes, the Russians have had their own challenges.

And they have met resistance that we don't believe they fully expected.  But I think it'd be dangerous territory for us to read too much into this on any given day and prognosticate about where it's going to go.  I would also just add, the one place that still could go, is a peaceful diplomatic outcome.  There's nothing other than perhaps his own obstinance preventing Mr.  Putin from doing the right thing here and to trying to find a way to stop this war, to de-escalate the tensions, and to reengage in some sort of diplomatic peaceful path forward.  We'll see if that can bear out.  It clearly doesn't appear to be the path he wants to choose.  Luis.

Q:  Can I ask you two questions.  One, there have been reports that the Russians have used cluster munitions in Kharkiv.  Do you had anything that would suggest that?  And how would you view that if that was the case?  And then I have another question.

MR. KIRBY:  Seeing the imagery, that you guys have seen that sort of leading to these questions, Luis, we can't independently verify that.  But look, let's not get hung up on a particular weapon system here.  He's perpetrating violence on a neighboring nation state that presented no threat to him.  And innocent lives are being killed, taken.

And we've seen casualties.  We know there's casualties on both sides of this conflict.  All of this Luis was avoidable.  So, the -- obviously certain weapons carry with them, ramifications that others don't.  But let's not get too wrapped up in whether it's this or that.  This is a war of choice completely and totally unavoidable.  And all the casualties are on his hands.  All the blood is on Mr.  Putin's hands.

Q:  On a different matter.  You spoke earlier about the thousands of soldiers from the 82nd pulled there…

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q:  To help with the situation that has not emerge.  I mean in helping Americans get out.  There's a broader situation that's taking place on that border, you now have almost 300,000 people who have crossed over the border in the last four days.

Is there any discussion that those forces may be committed to a broader humanitarian mission?  And under whatever authority to ease that situation, given the limited resourcing that Poland may have?

MR. KIRBY:  We're in constant touch with our State Department colleagues, and with Polish authorities.  And if there's such a demand signal outside of Ukraine, if there's such a demand signal, obviously the Department of Defense would do our part in and help out.  There's no such demand signal right now.  Jeff Schogol.

Q:  Thank you.  I just wanted to clarify, when you answered Tony's questions, I think you said something along the lines of no one is sniffing at these weapons.  Was sniffing the right word?

MR. KIRBY:  I think it was.  Let's see.  Heather from USNI.

Q:  Great, thank you.  I was wondering if you can give us an update on any naval movements you may have seen this afternoon, as well as any update on whether Turkey is planning to close off the Bosporus to ships outside the Black Sea Fleet?

MR. KIRBY:  Turkey -- I'll let Turkey speak to their application of the Montreux Convention.  That's for them to speak to.  In the maritime domain, we know that the Russians still had have warships as well, which includes amphibious landing ships in the Black Sea.  We know that they used some of those landing ships to conduct an amphibious assault late last week.

I don't have any updates, or specific things to speak about in the maritime domain in the Black Sea.  But we do know that they clearly still have combat capability at sea available to them.  And I just don't have anything more in terms of what we're seeing anything more kinetic to talk to.

Q:  Have you seen any evidence that the Snake Island Sailors are alive?  The Ukrainians, that were...

MR. KIRBY:  I mean we've seen some press reporting to that effect, Jen.  But I....

Q:  You have no way to...

MR. KIRBY:  No way to verify that one way or the other.  Sorry.  Yes, Oren.

Q:  The assistance, security assistance, both lethal and non-lethal that the U.S.  and others are sending in.  Do you have indications that that's getting where it needs to go?  Are those lines working?  And then how far into the country can they get?  Kyiv?  Kharkiv?

MR. KIRBY:  I would just tell you or in that, that the assistance continues to flow, and we are comfortable that it's getting into the hands that needed.  I think I'd leave it there.  Abraham, I already got you.

Q:  You go around twice.

MR. KIRBY:  No, no.  I'm not.  Alright, go ahead.

Q:  I wonder if you could talk...

MR. KIRBY:  I'll give you one more.

Q:  Thank you so much, sir.  I wonder if you could address some of the air policing mission, the United States has F-16s F-35s, moving fifth Gen capabilities to the eastern flank all the way from the Baltics down to the Black Sea.

MR. KIRBY:  And F-18s.

Q:  Can you talk a little bit about the turn of effect that has had and what they're doing exactly?

MR. KIRBY:  The Baltic air policing mission, I think you know, is long standing, it's something we've been doing for quite a while.  And it remains a valid mission set for our pilots and aircraft that are based there EUCOM.  As I said, some of them are coming from the Navy side as well.  And, and we're going to continue to work with the Baltic states on this air pollution.

But those missions are happening.  I mean, they are they're happening in real time.  And they and they have even before this crisis.  And it's important, especially, you know, back to some degree, back to Court’s question about de-confliction.

I mean, this is airspace that now butts up against what is now contested airspace.  So, in many ways, these air policing missions are more important than ever before.  Tara.

Q:  Just one more because you are feeling generous.  Do you -- has the Pentagon been able to assess anything additional from Putin's orders putting troops on the heightened nuclear deterrent posture?

MR. KIRBY:  I kind of already dealt with that with Lita.  I think I'll just leave my answer, like I left it with her.  OK.  You're it.

Q:  Thank you, John.  So, we know that Russians are using cruise missiles ballistic missiles and advanced air technologies.  Is the NATO airspace being protected by advanced air defense systems right now?  Are you ready to intercept any Russian missiles crossing into the airspace?

MR. KIRBY:  I won't talk about the specifics of how NATO airspace is or will be protected.  I will just tell you that one of the reasons why we have, and you've seen some of the air assets we've contributed now, in just the last week or so.

Is to make sure that we -- when we say we're going to defend every inch of NATO territory that means from the sky as well.  We are working in close coordination with our allies and partners and their air forces to make sure that we can meet that need.  OK.  Thanks, everybody.  Appreciate it.

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