PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: OK, a couple of things here before we get going.
I think you know that earlier this afternoon, Secretary Austin welcomed His Royal Highness, Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Bahrain, welcomed him here to the Pentagon. The two leaders met to reaffirm the strength of the U.S. bilateral defense relationship and partnership with Bahrain, which is a major non-NATO ally of the United States. They also discussed the importance of expanding regional cooperation to confront the full scope of threats from Iran, including strengthening air and missile defense and bolstering our maritime security. The secretary thanked the crown prince for Bahrain's long-standing hospitality to the U.S. force, including, of course, hosting U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and the U.S. Fifth Fleet. He also underscored U.S. gratitude for the crown prince's personal engagement in supporting the 2021 Afghanistan evacuation mission, which of course, exemplified Bahrain's dependable partnership.
Now, moving on, I often come out here and tell you what we have done both in terms of exercises and operations. Today I want to talk a little bit about something that we are not going to do, and I want to explain why.
Last weekend, as you saw, President Putin directed a special alert of Russian nuclear forces. Now, in this time of heightened tensions, the United States and other members of the international community rightly saw this as a dangerous and irresponsible, and as I've said before, an unnecessary step. Both the United States and Russia have long agreed that nuclear employment could have devastating consequences, and we both agreed, most recently this year in the context of the P5 statement, that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.
Such provocative rhetoric and possible changes to nuclear posture involving the most consequential weapons in our respective arsenals is unacceptable. The United States has not taken any similar steps. And so in an effort to demonstrate that we have no intention in engaging in any actions that can be misunderstood or misconstrued, the secretary of defense has directed that our Minuteman-III intercontinental ballistic missile test launch scheduled for this week to be postponed.
Now, we did not take this decision lightly, but instead, to demonstrate that we are a responsible nuclear power. This is not a step backwards in our readiness, nor does it imply that we will necessarily cancel other routine activities to ensure a credible nuclear capability. We remain confident in our strategic posture, as we've said before, and our ability to defend the homeland and our allies and partners remains fully intact and ready. We recognize at this moment of tension how critical it is that both the United States and Russia bear in mind the risk of miscalculation, and take steps to reduce those risks.
And then lastly, he's not sitting here, but I want to just take a moment to wish the department's best wishes to Mr. Bob Burns. He has just, as I think you know, announced that after 45 years of reporting, that he's going to retire and really finally get a chance to spend more time with his family. As you know, he's been a staple here for decades, the dean of the press corps, and without question, a gentleman in every sense of the word, a great, dogged reporter, but a gentleman.
And I'd like to just take a minute to read a little something from a book that was written by one of my predecessors. It's called "Confirm or Deny," and it's written by Phil Goulding, and I think this book, after he left the McNamara administration. But he says something here about the Pentagon press corps that I think suits not just all of you, but certainly, Bob Burns to a T. So if you'll just indulge me for a few minutes.
"And the responsible members of the underrated press corps of the Pentagon sit in their grubby room on the second floor of the big building and pore over the statements of top defense officials, checking them against the outstanding files many keep. Their dog-eared copies of the huge budget book, the posture statements and dozens of volumes of congressional testimony are underlined and indexed by their own work, and the margins are annotated. While they do understand the hardware of weapons systems, the good ones are also experts on the NATO alliance or the Middle East tinderbox, and several of them know more about nuclear strategy than some of the academicians who write on the subject."
I think that is a perfect way of describing Mr. Bob Burns, particularly that stuff about the nuclear strategy. He spent an awful lot of time reporting on our nuclear capabilities and our nuclear posture, our nuclear training, our nuclear readiness.
So with everything going on today, stuff that I just opened with and the tensions in Ukraine, the meeting with the crown prince of Bahrain, and the Middle East a tinderbox, as Mr. Goulding wrote about -- all of that happening today, and then to be able to talk about a guy of a Bob Burns' caliber fixing to retire after 45 years, I think just really, really appropriate.
And personally, I'm going to miss him. I'm actually really, really going to miss Bob Burns.
So with that, let's take questions. And Bob, I think I've got you on the phone.
Q: Thank you, John, and thanks for those very kind words. I appreciate that. Kind words not just about me, but about the whole Pentagon press corps. Thank you very much.
I do have a couple questions for you about the situation in Ukraine. You've described the last few days, the status of this large Russian convoy that's north of Kyiv. I think you've described it as either bogged down or stalled. Can you explain, has it moved at all in -- in the last day or so? Have Ukrainian forces begun attacking any part of it?
And then as a second question, can you give a picture of what's going on in the south? Are the Russian forces that made amid amphibious landing, are they expanding or extending that part of the campaign? Thank you very much.
MR. KIRBY: Yes, sir. So on the convoy what I would tell you is we still assess that that convoy, but more broadly speaking the northern push by the Russians down towards the south, towards Kyiv, remains stalled.
They haven't -- from our best estimates have not made any appreciable progress geographically speaking in the last 24 to 36 hours, and again nothing very significant. It is difficult for us to know with great specificity all that is going into this stall if you will.
But in general we believe there is a couple of reasons for that. One, we believe the Russians are deliberately, actually, regrouping themselves and reassessing the progress that they have not made and how to make up for lost time.
Two, we do believe that they have experienced logistics and sustainment challenges, challenges that we don't believe they fully anticipated.
And three, they are getting resistance from the Ukrainians. We have some indications -- nothing that we can 100 percent independently verify, but we have some indications that the Ukrainians have in fact tried to slow down that convoy. And we have no reason to doubt those reports, but again we can't speak to it in great specificity.
In the south the Russian forces appear to be experiencing, in general, less resistance than they are up in the north. That said, the town of Kherson, which we knew they were moving on out of Crimea towards the northwest -- that is, in our estimation at least from what we can see, still a very contested fight.
I know the Russians have claimed they've got the town of Kherson. We're not in a position to call it either way. It appears to us that the Ukrainians are certainly fighting over that town.
Coming out of Crimea to the northeast, we knew that they were advancing on Mariupol, a major population center in the south. We believe that that advance is ongoing. They -- but we don't believe that they are in the city center. And we do have every indication that Mariupol will be defended.
So they are sort of branching out. If you look at Crimea and go north, they're branching out to both the north -- northeast and the northwest. But they are beginning now -- our assessment is as they get closer to these two population centers down the south -- in the south, we believe they're facing more resistance.
Q: Thank you.
MR. KIRBY: Yes, anybody here? Tara?
Q: Hi, John. On the change to the Minuteman test, have any other changes been made to U.S. nuclear forces to put them on a higher alert readiness level?
And then secondly, while the convoy has stalled there are some indications that maybe the window is closing to be able to get aid into cities that may become under siege. What is the U.S. and NATO -- and NATO partners doing to maybe maximize the amount of aid that can get in while there's still a window open?
MR. KIRBY: So on the second question I would just tell you that security assistance continues to flow, not just from the United States but from many of our allies and partners, and as recently as just the last 24 hours. So we are making every effort to get as much security assistance as we can to the Ukrainians as fast as we can.
And on the humanitarian side, again, we're going to continue to work with international organizations and NGOs to try to stem and assist in whatever way, not from a military perspective. I'm talking about from an administration perspective.
We estimate, or we have seen, numbers coming out of the U.N. of, you know, more than 500,000 people now leaving the country, as well as perhaps tens of thousands if not more internally displaced. So clearly Mr. Putin is causing a humanitarian crisis as well.
Q: On the nuclear question?
MR. KIRBY: Oh, I'm sorry. So first, I'd say this delayed test is not affecting our strategic nuclear posture and our deterrence, it's just not. It's not canceled. We're just moving it to the right a little bit.
And I won't talk about the specifics of our deterrent posture except to repeat what I've heard the secretary say many times, that he's confident, that he's comfortable that the strategic deterrent posture that we have in place is -- is up to the task of defending the homeland, and our allies, and our partners.
Q: John, what will the U.S. government do if President Putin's soldiers kill or harm President Zelensky? What will the consequences be?
MR. KIRBY: Well, look, I'd rather not get into individual hypothetical scenarios, Jen.
Clearly, we know that Mr. Putin wants to topple this government and replace it with his own. And he's already caused the loss of life of innocents. He's already caused destruction of civilian infrastructure.
And all that blood is on his hands. And any more blood that's shed is still going to be on Mr. Putin's hands. But I won't speculate about particular outcomes here with respect to individuals.
Q: Can you authenticate these videos that are circulating of Russian soldiers who are being held as POWs? Do you have any -- or can you?
MR. KIRBY: We can't. I'm sorry. We've seen the same videos that you have. We have no reason to doubt them, but we can't independently verify them.
Q: I'm wondering are -- we heard a lot about false flags leading up to the invasion, are you still seeing any indications that -- of false flags?
One specifically that's sort of out there today is a local mayor in Luhansk who was allegedly kidnapped and killed. There's some speculation that this might be another attempt at a Russian false flag.
I know it's difficult for you to talk about specific cases like that, but...
MR. KIRBY: Yes.
Q: Have you heard anything on that case and then also more on the false flags?
MR. KIRBY: I haven't heard anything about that particular one. I'm happy to go take a look and see if we have anything on that. But that's the first I've heard of this particular report.
We did see false flags -- I mean, you know, car bombings and that kind of thing -- before he launched his invasion. And not to mention just the ridiculous, ludicrous claims that they were making in their own state-run media about Ukraine being a threat to their security and claims of being shelled by Ukrainian forces in the joint operations area to the east.
So we did see them run that play on false flags. I'm not aware that there's any such false flag operations ongoing now. That's not to say that they couldn't or wouldn't do it. But he's already tried and failed to create a pretext to go in, so he just decided he's going to go in. And he's done that now.
Q: And can I ask one on the ICBM test? Should we take anything from that as -- that -- whether that that was some sort of a reciprocal action in that you saw any indications that that was what Vladimir Putin may be planning here is any kind of a missile launch, a nuclear missile launch or anything like that?
MR. KIRBY: No. No, I -- obviously, we would. As I said in my opening statement, we'd certainly like to see Moscow reciprocate by taking the temperature down on rhetoric about nuclear posture. We certainly would like to see them deescalate by coming to a ceasefire and deescalating and moving those forces back home and getting out of Ukraine, but this decision was the secretary's decision and it was based on making sure that we were being very clear about our responsibilities in the nuclear realm.
And so, no. It was not tied to a specific action or inaction by Mr. Putin but rather a decision by the secretary to make it clear how responsible we are going to behave in the nuclear space. Let me go around to Dave.
Q: Russian forces have been described as risk adverse. How does that translate on the battlefield? What does that mean? And this -- the -- you said that the Russians are encountering less resistance in the south. Is that the only reason for the fact that in the south they seem to still be making progress or is there something else about the southern…?
MR. KIRBY: Yes. So on the south, I mean you also have to remember they started out on that -- on the two southern legs. They started out in Crimea, so their lines of supply and sustainment are short. And they've been in Crimea since 2014, so they had already built up a pretty sophisticated and healthy architecture to support their operations. I would also add, David, a quick look at the map will show you that they're not that far from their base of operations in Crimea, so we'll see how this goes.
They're meeting resistance in Kherson, and they're going to meet resistance in Mariupol. So I think we just need to see how this plays out. You know, and I saw the comment about risk adverse. Here I would just say that -- and you can see it for yourself. I mean, this is not stuff that you guys aren't seeing in imagery of your own. I mean, we're seeing vehicles abandoned. We're seeing sustainment problems in fuel, not just fuel but in food. We're seeing indications here early on that though they -- though they have sophisticated combined arms capabilities that they're not being necessarily fully integrated. So they have made some missteps, and they're working their way through that.
I want to be clear as we've been before that we have to be -- as we look at this we have to -- we have to be pragmatic. The Ukrainians are fighting bravely and creatively. The Russians have a significant amount of combat power applied in Ukraine, and they still have some significant combat power that they have not engaged in the fight, and we just -- we need to be mindful of that. As I've said before they will try to learn from these missteps and they will try to overcome these challenges. Jim?
Q: Just a matter of time before the Russians...
MR. KIRBY: I'm not -- I think that's too soon to make that argument. They have been surprised by the stiff resistance that they are facing by the Ukrainians, and I don't believe that they fully factored that in. So I'm certainly not going to be one to call it one way or another here. The Ukrainians are fighting for their country, and they're making a difference. Jim?
Q: First I second everything you said about Bob. And second, are you seeing the Russians bring in reserves from outside the areas that they had concentrated in before? Are you seeing them bring in more aircraft, more troops perhaps to apply to the struggle in the -- to apply to the invasion in Ukraine?
MR. KIRBY: No, Jim. We haven't. We haven't seen any indications that Mr. Putin feels the need to bring in additional reinforcements from elsewhere in the country. He began to build up this combat power starting in the early fall and has at his disposal more than 150,000 troops, more than 120 battalion tactical groups. And while we assess that the vast -- the majority of that combat power is now in Ukraine that doesn't mean that he doesn't have stuff that's not committed and it doesn't meant that what he has in Ukraine has been diminished. They have lost a sense of momentum here, but that doesn't mean that they still don't have the power at their disposal.
The Ukrainians also have retained a lot of their combat power our assessment is, and as I said they're fighting back. They're fighting greatly. Fadi?
Q: Thank you. Thank you, John. On the nuclear -- I had two questions on the nuclear issue on Ukraine. On the nuclear issue in addition to the recent announcement and recently relating to Russia as you said of the responsible behavior in the nuclear realm. Is there any context now with the -- with the Russian reports on this nuclear issue to try to bring down the tensions?
And on Ukraine, does the Pentagon assess that Russian forces whether they have basically met any of the objective of this operation so far on the seventh day? Did they achieve anything that they wanted to achieve based on the schedule that the might have had?
MR. KIRBY: On the nuclear question I have no communication to speak to. I think the secretary's decision today speaks volumes. On your second question, you have to forgive me for not having perfect knowledge of the Russian plan. All I can do is telling you what we're seeing as best we can see it. And they have not taken any of the major population centers that they appear to be wanting to take. And again, we think that there's a variety of reasons for that, not least of which is the bravery and the skill and the creativity of Ukrainian fighters. Yes, back there. Yes.
Q: Thank you, John.
MR. KIRBY: I can't see you. OK, go ahead.
Q: Yes, thank you. You talked at the very beginning about the situation in Kyiv and at the south of the country. My audience in Ukraine and their main concern is about the western Ukraine. Millions of people are going right now to....
MR. KIRBY: Yes.
Q: They believe it's safe there. So what's your estimate about the western Ukraine and any signs as of now that Russia's preparing to attack or to capture western Ukraine or they're concentrating on Kyiv assault only?
MR. KIRBY: Yes. I'm going to be careful here not to anticipate Russian moves. All I can do is tell you what we're seeing, and we're seeing a continued desire to advance on Kyiv, fighting in Kharkiv, fighting in -- and I'm probably going to not pronounce this right but Chernihiv, and then what I described in the south.
So largely the effort appears to be to the -- to north of Kyiv and to the east and the rest of the country. I don't know what Russian designs or plans are for Western Ukraine. So it's hard for me to predict. You know, yes.
Q: Mike Brest with the Examiner.
MR. KIRBY: Hey.
Q: Two questions. The first one, for the nuclear test, is there a date that is going to be postponed? Tours are postponed indefinitely until tensions simmer.
MR. KIRBY: We don't have a rescheduled date right now.
Q: And then the second thing, in your answer to Bob it sounds like you were parsing a little bit in terms of the attack on Kyiv or direction toward Kyiv. It seems like you were making a distinction between the convoy and everything you're seeing.
Is there a second portion of what Russia is doing towards Kyiv that you're seeing? Just because all the attention is focused on the convoy, it seems like you are dispersing a little bit in your language there.
MR. KIRBY: I assure you I never parse. What I was trying to make the point I was trying to make and I know there's a lot of interest in this convoy. I'm not clear -- we're not clear that you can segregate the convoy from their advances on Kyiv or what they're trying to do on Kyiv. We don't have perfect visibility into every vehicle that is in this convoy and what their intended destination is or may be.
But at the -- on the face of it appears to be a chance to contribute to the advance on Kyiv, just based on geography.
So what I was trying to do, perhaps inelegantly was to broaden this out a little bit and rather than stay focused on a convoy, try to look at in a perspective here, it's a piece of what we believe their desire, which is to take Kyiv.
Q: Could you speak a little bit more specifically on that larger picture that you're seeing from the north?
MR. KIRBY: I'm not sure I can give you much more than I have I'm afraid, Mike. as I said we're somewhat limited in our ability to know and understand everything. We still believe its Mr. Putin's desire to topple the government.
In order to do that he believes he has to take Kyiv. He continues to want to advance on Kyiv. That advance has been stalled. They are working through that, we think, right now. And a big reason why it stalled in the Ukrainian resistance, which continues right up to this hour. In the back there.
Q: Hi. I have two questions for you. One, just you've outlined all these different populations that are just being targets of the Russian advance.
MR. KIRBY: Yes.
Q: Is there anything that you're seeing to maybe connect the dots between some of those in a potential, you know, partitioning of the country but between the population centers efforts to kind of, you know --
MR. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: -- to just -- well, to connect those dots basically. And then the second thing, you mentioned how the Ukrainians are resisting, slowing things down with the convoy, et cetera. Tactically speaking, would you define those as, you know, defensive maneuvers or potentially offensive maneuvers if they are using against certain parts of the Russian military, whether it's convoy or other vehicle that you're seeing in the country?
Are they -- you know are they waiting to be fired on are they taking more aggressive measures --
MR. KIRBY: The Ukrainians?
Q: Ukrainians, yes, on that side. How would you define kind of their strategy here?
MR. KIRBY: They are defending their country. And every shot they take, every maneuver they execute is designed to defend the sovereignty of their country. It's about defense and they're fighting a very strong defense.
On your other question, again, I have to confess to not having perfect knowledge of Mr. Putin's planning here. But on the face of it, as we see what we see happening on a daily basis, it appears as if they are moving along, what we would describe as three main axes of invasion.
One is from the north down toward Kyiv. And essentially there are sort of two forks there, northeast and northwest kind of coming down on Kyiv. One avenue through Belarus and one avenue through Russia.
There's also a southern advance that we've already talked about that's branching out of Crimea to the Northeast and to the Northwest. And then we see a push from what we would consider sort of a Northeastern group that is moving on Kharkiv.
Kharkiv is valuable because it's such a big city. It is a major population center but it also could give, Mr. Putin, again could, I'm not an expert on what they're planning to do but it certainly could give him an avenue of approach towards Kyiv if the plan was to advance on Kyiv from multiple directions than that direction might be one credible that they could use.
Q: So you're seeing this as a potential multi-front advance on the capital, not on trying to like carve up the country potential with all these various population centers?
MR. KIRBY: We definitely can see an effort to move on the capital. It's difficult to know with certain what other moves inside Ukraine, Mr. Putin, might be trying to achieve. And again, it's hard for me to speak to a plan that we don't have perfect visibility on.
So this, the idea of carving Ukraine up, I just can't speak to that specifically. It is -- it is entirely also possible that what they're doing in the east could be an effort to fix Ukrainian armed forces in that Eastern region so that they can't come to the defense of others. But again, they have not achieved success in the major population centers to date that we see them trying to move on.
Q: I have a couple questions. One that is terrestrial and space related. You mentioned earlier that Russians haven’t fully demonstrated an integrated arms capability, this is something the U.S. practices all the time at the National Training Center and the Marines do also. What are you not seeing that would demonstrate a seamless -- marginally seamless combined arms capability by the Russians?
MR. KIRBY: Yes, again, I don't want to speak too much specifically on Russian operations, Tony. It's -- it's just when you look at -- when you look at what's happening, I would just say it doesn't appear that ground and air operations seem to be very well connected, based on what we're seeing happening. Yes.
Q: On a space question now. The richest man in the world, Elon Musk, successfully brought in Starlink internet communication dishes into Ukraine. The Ukraine Vice Premier -- Vice President then showed a picture of this. Want to get your sense, did the Pentagon at all help in the transport of a Starlink internet terminals and are you seeing any impact in terms of either helping the Ukrainians with tactical military operations or keeping a population connected basically as the Russians attack information nodes?
MR. KIRBY: No help from us that I'm aware of. I'm not sure I understand your second question there. I mean --
Q: The dishes are being installed, are you seeing any impact in terms of helping Ukrainians with tactical military operations --
MR. KIRBY: You mean from the Starlink?
Q: From the Starlink.
MR. KIRBY: That’s really for the Ukrainians to speak to, Tony, not for the U.S. Military and I know we've no involvement by us in respect to that. Yes.
Q: President Biden said the U.S. will join allies to close the U.S. airspace to the Russian planes. It's -- it was more about civilian aviation, of course, and U.S. airspace, of course. But, we know that the U.S. military has part of sea and airspace under its control.
And Russia military cargo planes cross into that airspace from time to time. Is there, in any way, their plan to limit Russian military efforts in northern Syria where the U.S. Air Force controls?
MR. KIRBY: I'm not aware any such plans. And, as you know, we are in Syria for one purpose and one purpose only and that's the counter-ISIS fight. And that remains an active fight. And that there's a deconfliction mechanism with Russian military forces in that part of Syria that has worked. That's as far as I can go on that.
Let me go to the phones here, guys, I haven't gotten to anybody. John Ismay, New York Times.
Q: Hi. Today at the Emergency Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said that cluster munitions and what she called vacuum bombs are banned under the Geneva Conventions. And I'll say here that I assume by vacuum bombs she meant fuel-air explosives or other forms of thermobaric weapons.
So, I was hoping you could tell me what the status is of the Pentagon's ongoing internal review on its own cluster munitions policy. And can you say whether the Pentagon believes that cluster munitions and thermobarics are banned under the Geneva Conventions? Thanks.
MR. KIRBY: John, I don't have any updates for you on the policy reviews with respect to cluster munitions. And I'm going to have to take your question on the Geneva Conventions. I'm afraid I'm not an expert on that. And rather than spitball it, I'll take the question and we'll get back to you.
Q: Thank you.
MR. KIRBY: Abraham Mashie?
Q: Hey, John, two questions. Number one, how much coordination is going on between the United States Air Force, NATO and the Ukrainian Air Force? And second question, is the U.S. Air Force continuing to fly ISR and other aircraft in international airspace, over the Black Sea? And if not, why not? Thank you.
MR. KIRBY: Abraham, I'm not going to talk about flight profiles. We don't have any aircraft manned or unmanned flying in Ukrainian airspace. And the question about specific coordination or communication with the Ukrainian Armed Forces is better put to NATO.
What I would just tell you, our support for the Ukrainian armed forces right now is very largely in the form of security assistance, which continues to flow and gets into their hands.
Q: John, can I just follow-up on --
MR. KIRBY: A NATO perspective -- the U.S. --
Q: Is the U.S. a signatory for the 2008 cluster bomb munitions?
MR. KIRBY: No.
Q: And if not, why not?
MR. KIRBY: We aren't and I don't -- again, we're still going through a policy review on this. So I don't have anything to update you on that.
Phil Stewart, Reuters.
Q: Hey there, real quick. What message would you have to American citizens, including retired U.S. military personnel who may want to go and fight in Ukraine?
And also, could you comment on the "New York Times" report about an apparent Russian request -- a Chinese request to Russia, that it delay the start of this war until after the Olympics? Thank you.
MR. KIRBY: On the second question, Phil, I don't have a comment on these reports that there was a request by China to wait until after the Olympics. I think that's an excellent question for President Xi and his administration to speak to, if they made such a request.
We tried, hard, to prevent the war through diplomatic engagement. There was no need for it to happen. Not to happen on a certain timeline or after a certain Olympic event. It shouldn't have happened at all. There was no reason for it. It was unprovoked. Ukraine was never an aggressor to Russia or anybody else. So, the issue of time, I think, that's one that Mr. Xi ought to have to answer.
And on the -- on the other question, I mean, what we would tell Americans who want to help Ukraine is to find ways to donate and contribute to the many non-profits that are already working to get humanitarian assistance into the people in need. The Secretary of State has been nothing but consistent over these many weeks, that Ukraine is not a good place for Americans to be right now.
Q: Hey, thanks for doing this. On Belarus, just can you give us an update about any indication of Belarus, their military getting involved? And also, we've all seen this video of the Belarusian president showing a map of the Ukrainian invasion. What's the Pentagon's take on this map? And it even seems like some of the attack was directed against Moldova. What are the possibilities of this war spilling over to Belarus or to Moldova?
MR. KIRBY: Yes, we've seen these images too, Carla. I can't speak to this map. I can't validate it. But -- we don't have perfect visibility into Russian plans for Ukraine beyond what we believe to be their desire to topple the government and to supplant it with one of their own. So, I think the Belarusian president should have to speak to this map and so should President Putin.
What we would say and say firmly and again and again and again, is this war didn't have to happen. And there's still options available to Mr. Putin that aren't in the military realm. He can still choose to agree to a ceasefire. He can still move his forces out. He can still deescalate.
And I believe that, quite frankly, the future of Ukraine should be up to the Ukrainian people. And they are making their choices pretty clearly know through the resistance that they're offering to this unlawful and unprovoked invasion of their country. And --
Q: Thanks, John.
MR. KIRBY: -- I forgot your first question.
Q: Oh, yes. That's what I was saying. And to my first question about the indication, has the Pentagon seen any indication that the Belarusian military is getting involved in this fight or preparing to get involved in this fight?
MR. KIRBY: We have not. No, we have not. Yes? Go ahead. Yes?
Q: Thank you for taking my question. So, one question is direct and then another that focuses the aperture a little wider. The first one is on reports that some people are reporting that there may be -- that the Russians may be preparing thermobaric devices to use within Ukraine. And I'm wondering if you can say anything to that? Have you any indication of that? Or do you -- can substantiate that or anything?
MR. KIRBY: No, we cannot.
Q: My second one is about the global posture, now that everything is focused on Ukraine. Can you talk about readiness on a bit more global scale? Has anything changed that's -- in terms of our readiness worldwide focus more on Ukraine?
MR. KIRBY: In terms of our ability to defend the nation elsewhere, outside of Europe, we remain confident that we can do that. There's been no diminution in American military readiness elsewhere around the world. And I would remind, and I know we get very focused on the numbers of troops that we have added to the European theater and that we've moved around inside it. But a sense of perspective is important here.
We already had more than 80,000 troops permanently deployed to Europe or on rotational orders. So just to give you a sense of perspective there. And NATO members themselves have nearly two million troops in their combined militaries. So I don't know of any permanent posture changes that are going to come as a result of this in Europe or elsewhere.
We're focused on the problem at-hand and the problem at-hand is making sure the Ukrainians can continue to defend themselves against an unprovoked invasion and that two that we are continuing to reassure our NATO allies. And that they know that we take our Article V very seriously. OK.
Q: Yes, John, do you have any sense if the Russians are able to or at least have been attempting to reconstitute any of these units that have been damaged -- that have been hit by the Ukrainians?
MR. KIRBY: I don't have specifics in terms of their ...
Q: You know these videos of the Ukrainians dragging away ...
MR. KIRBY: Sure.
Q: ... Russian tanks with tractors ...
MR. KIRBY: Sure, I don't know. I mean the convoy that everybody's fascinated with could be a part of this effort to replace damaged vehicles and to get their momentum back. But I don't have anything more specific, Mike.
Q: John, I was just wondering with the closure of U.S. airspace to Russian flights, can you -- can you sort of give us a sense of how that would work if a Russian flight attempted to approach U.S. airspace? It that NORAD's role to intercept? Is there coordination with the Canadians? Or how does that play out?
MR. KIRBY: Without getting into specific hypotheticals, NORAD is perfectly postured. This is the mandate for NORAD to protect our homeland, North American homeland and airspace and they're ready to do their contribution to the President's order. I think I just need to leave it at that.
Q: Thank you. I have two questions on Russia, China, and South Korea. First question, China and Russia have a strategic cooperative and have completed joint military exercises. How would assess China’s support for Russia?
MR. KIRBY: We have seen basically through statements some at least tacit approval by the Chinese for what Russia was doing. Now in the last few days some of their foreign ministry spoke people have appeared to walk some of this back a little bit by talking about Ukrainian sovereignty which is welcomed to see.
But we haven't seen -- we haven't seen China join the list of countries that have enacted sanctions on Russia. We haven't seen the Chinese blame Mr. Putin for the violence he's causing. Instead they have been blaming the United States incredibly that our support for Ukraine has some how precipitated this invasion of a sovereign state. So it's a little bit of a mix messaging coming out of there.
What was your next question?
Q: The first U.S. brigade combat team is deployed in South Korea. Will this team participate in U.S. and South Korea joint military exercises?
MR. KIRBY: I'd refer you to U.S. Forces Korea, Janne, to talk about training events and what that looks like and who's participating in them on a routine basis. I don't have that level of detail.
Q: Last year they said the routine but this year like -
MR. KIRBY: Yes, I don't have any updates on training events on the Korean Peninsula. That's something that's really better addressed by the U.S. Forces Korea and how they're going to do that and with what forces.
Q: Thank you.
MR. KIRBY: Yes, Matt.
Q: Hi, John, thanks. You said you're not aware of any ongoing false flag operations. I'm wondering if the U.S. is aware of any other sort of Russian preparations to posture along other borders, anything like that near the Baltics maybe or Kaliningrad bordering Lithuanian?
MR. KIRBY: No, we're not.
MR. KIRBY: No, sir. You already had one. Yes, sir.
Q: You mentioned you met with officials from Bahrain and they expressed concerns regarding Iran. What were they concerned about at the current stage? Was one of possible alliance with Russia in the sense that they have nuclear ambitions and both are viewed as pariahs on the world stage?
MR. KIRBY: I think just in general as is often the case when we get a chance to meet with our partners in Bahrain, there's general concern about Iran's destabilizing activities almost across the board. Support for terrorists and proxies. And advancing ballistic missile program, maritime threats and of their continued nuclear ambitions.
All of those were things that the Secretary and the Crown Prince had a chance to talk about. Not necessarily Iranian foreign policy beyond that.
OK, I'll take just a couple more and then I'm going to have to go. OK, go ahead.
Q: On China have you sensed the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, have you seen any increased air or naval intimidation by Chinese against Taiwan?
MR. KIRBY: I have nothing more operationally to talk to you today in terms of Taiwan specifically. I would just say that nothing's changed about our belief in the One China policy and in the Freedom of Navigation through the Taiwan Strait. I just leave it at that.
Q: John, can I ask a question real quick. You started out saying that the Minuteman-III test was delayed. For the record can you break down the last time this has happened? This is not the first time it's happened.
MR. KIRBY: A delay?
Q: Yes, when's the last time. I think you were here when Secretary Hagel delayed one over not -- a Minuteman-III test for a geopolitical reason. Can you give a breakdown of the last time?
MR. KIRBY: You're going to have to let me take that question.
Q: I know.
MR. KIRBY: I don't have that.
Q: I’m starting to get Twitter feeds from some of the Conservative members of Congress alleging you're perpetuating or this and that.
MR. KIRBY: As I said, let me repeat it, I'll get you the answer to your question. I don't have the history. This is not a diminution in our readiness whatsoever. It doesn't change our strategic posture. This was a test and we do several a year. They're planned three to five years in advance. It's not going to change our strategic deterrent posture one bit.
It is a wise and prudent decision by the Secretary to send a strong clear unambiguous message to Mr. Putin how seriously we take our nuclear responsibilities at a particularly tense time. Tension I might add, Tony, that Mr. Putin contributed to with his unhelpful and unnecessary rhetoric with respect to alert status on his nuclear posture.
OK, thanks everybody. Appreciate it. And we'll see you tomorrow.