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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  All right, a couple of things to hit at the top here if you’ll just bear with me.  Today all of us here in the department want to remember and honor four U.S.  Marines who were tragically killed in a training flight crash South of Bodo in Norway, where they were supporting exercise Cold Response 2022.

Captain Matthew J.  Tomkiewicz of Fort Wayne, Indiana; Captain Ross Reynolds of Leominster, Massachusetts; Gunnery Sergeant James W.  Speedy of Cambridge, Ohio; and Corporal Jacob M. Moore of Catlettsburg, Kentucky were all assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261.  Numerous NATO Allies and partner nations have offered an outpouring of operational support during and following this terrible crash.

We are grateful for their efforts and professional commitment to these long and enduring relationships.  The Marine Corps did assist the Norwegian led recovery effort.  The deceased will be reunited with their families through a dignified transfer in coming days.  Of course, the cause of the crash is currently under investigation.  The Secretary had a chance to speak directly with the Commandant of the Marine Corps General Berger this morning to express not only his personal condolences.

But the condolences of everybody here at the department and to pledge whatever support the Marine Corps and these Gold Star families as well as their fellow Marines might need going forward as they deal with this incredible, incredible loss.  So again, our thoughts and prayers go out to all of those affected by this but most particularly the family members of these four aircrews.

On travel, I can announce that the Secretary will be returning to NATO headquarters in Brussels this week to join President Biden at his meetings with NATO Allies, G7 leaders, and European Union leaders.  As they discuss international efforts to continue to support Ukraine and impose severe unprecedented costs on Russia for its unprovoked and illegal invasion.

Additionally, the Secretary will be accompanying the President to Poland.  Where the President of course, as you know, scheduled to also meet with his counterpart and other Senior Polish leaders.

Finally, the Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr.  Hicks met today with the German state Secretary for the Federal Ministry of Defense, her counterpart, Mr. Benedikt Zimmer.

They reaffirm the U.S.  German bilateral relationship.  The deputy secretary thank Secretary Zimmer for Germany's decision to provide defensive lethal and non-lethal aid to support the Ukrainian Armed Forces.  She also thanks Secretary Zimmer for Germany's leadership in NATO as the framework nation for the battle group in Lithuania, and for troop contributions to support the defense of NATO's eastern flank.

She congratulated Secretary Zimmer on Germany's decision to increase their defense spending to two percent GDP.  Meeting NATO obligations, while also making significant investments into improving military readiness and capabilities.  That includes Germany's decision to procure 35 F-35, next generation fighter aircraft.  She noted that Germany's investments will be significant towards increasing capabilities within the NATO alliance.  Mr.  Zimmer and Dr.  Hicks again expressed their commitment to continued collaboration on a range of issues.

Obviously, to include NATO interoperability, procurement challenges, and the shared security concerns across Europe.

And with that, we'll take questions.  Lita.

Q:  John, two things.  The President talked today about cyber threats from Russia.  Can you talk about anything the department is seeing in terms of any cyber - increased cyber activity by Russia?  And then, secondarily, there's been some discussion about Russia wanting to pull troops from places like Syria and other locations to go into Ukraine.  What are you seeing sort of as of today, in terms of any Russian troop movement at all?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have any specific cyber threats to speak to with respect to the department's infrastructure as a result of the President's statement today.  As you know, Lita, our systems get attacked every day.  And so, building cyber resilience and cyber defenses is something that's an ongoing process here.  We're committed to it every single day we remain so today.  But there's nothing specific to report on.  I'm sorry you had another one.  Foreign fighters.

Q:  The foreign fighters.

MR. KIRBY:  We have not seen an influx into Ukraine of foreign fighters hired or recruited by Russia.  But we continue to see an interest by Russia in doing just that, particularly out of the Middle East, to - I mean, they have as much of as announced it in Syria, but we haven't seen any influx.

Q:  So, you haven't seen any movement?  And are you including also Wagner group?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, the Wagner group is a private military contractor for Russia.  We know that they have interest in increasing their footprint in Ukraine.  But we don't necessarily count that as part of the foreign fighter effort.  I mean, they do hire people from foreign countries, but they are certainly interested in plussing up their presence in Ukraine as well.  We know they're there.  And we know that they want to increase their presence there in Ukraine.

But I thought that - I was referring to the question about separate foreign fighters.  And again, we know the Russians want to do that, particularly out of the Middle East.  But we haven't actually seen any flow to -- at this point.  Yes, Sylvie.

Q:  Thank you.  The secretary last week was visiting Slovakia to try to see if they could give some S-300 to Ukraine.  Did you make any progress into and finding some missile defense for Ukraine in the last few days?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I want to set one thing straight.  He wasn't going to Slovakia to press them to give S-300 missile systems.  We went to Slovakia because they're a key NATO Ally.  And they are obviously in a strategic location with respect to what's going on Ukraine.  And they have a great interest in making sure that - because they are on NATO's eastern flank that the United States and NATO writ-large remains committed to protecting that Eastern Flank.  It was not - he wasn't - it wasn't a shopping trip for the Secretary.

You heard the defense minister after their meeting, talk about their willingness to perhaps consider that.  And you heard the Secretary say that he'd be willing to stay in discussions with Slovakia about what that could look like.  And if and when, if and whether there ought to be some sort of offset capability provided to Slovakia.  You saw even last week while we were on the trip that Germany announced that they were going to provide one Patriot Battery to Slovakia.

So, these are ongoing discussions that we're having, not only with that nation, but many others about how to provide Ukraine, the kinds of defensive capabilities.  To include long range air defense, that we know that they're comfortable using, they're trained on, that they already have in their inventory, and whether that can be bolstered.

So, these are active consultation.  I don't have any specific arrangements to speak to today that the United States is involved in, but we are obviously actively involved in those conversations going forward.

Q:  How fast do you think you can provide such a defense to Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY:  You mean long range?

Q:  Yes.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, well, again, we like to do it as fast as possible.  But these are obviously sovereign decisions that other nations have to make.  These are systems that they - that they're employing for their own defense.  And so, they have to think through all the permutations about whether or not they can provide that and how fast they can.  And if there's an offset, how fast can that offset be provided?  I mean, there's a lot that goes in here.

Obviously, we're all mindful of the clock, and that Russia is intensifying their bombardment and long-range fires on cities and population centers throughout the country.  So, we're having these conversations literally actively, every day.  At various levels, not just at the Secretary's level, but at other levels here at the department.  Yes.

Q:  John on Saudi Arabia.  Saudi Arabia is in a tough situation currently be as their oil facilities are being targeted by missiles.  We hear that the United States provided Patriot Batteries just recently to Saudi Arabia.  Can you please walk us through the new deployment?  Can you confirm this new deployment?

MR. KIRBY:  No, I'm not - I can't confirm that deployment.  As we've talked about, many, many times, we're committed to helping Saudi Arabia defend itself against very real threats to their territory and to their people coming out of Yemen.  We're in constant discussions with the Saudis about this threat environment and always looking for ways to continue to help them defend themselves.  But I've got nothing to say with respect to that press report.  Yes.

Q:  Hi, John.  A defense official earlier today, talks about how Russia has been escalating the air war and is launching as many as 300 sorties a day now, in the last 24 hours.  Is this a new phase in their invasion of Ukraine?  And do you think that, or I guess my question would be why? Why do you think that there are additional sorties being launched?

Is it because they're convoys are still basically stuck miles outside the city?  What else are you seeing in the air to show that this may be a new phase?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, I can't speak to the Russian air plan here.  And I'm reluctant to get into a discussion about phasing here on their part.  But let me just back up and tell you what we think we're seeing here.  We're on day 26, the Russians have clearly not achieved many, or almost all of the objectives that they - that we believe they were setting out to achieve.

Clearly, and we said this from the beginning, Tara, that they wanted to get after population centers so that they could take control of key ports, key cities, key government institutions, and supplant the Government of Ukraine with one more friendly to Russia.  And then, basically, over time, erase the sovereignty of Ukraine.  When you look at what they've managed to do in 26 days, it's not that impressive.

They - we believe that they're in control of Curzon.  But even in Curzon, over the course of the last 48 hours though the Ukrainians launched the counterattack to go after them in Curzon.  And we know they moved up that coast towards Mariupol.  So, we assess that they're, you know, in control of a town called Berdyansk, but Mariupol hasn't fallen.

And the Ukrainians are fighting, as you all have seen very, very easily for yourselves, how bravely they're fighting to defend that city, that very key port city.  So, I think what we're seeing here is the Russians have been flummoxed.  They've been frustrated.  They have failed to achieve a lot of their objectives on the ground.  And because they are essentially still stalled outside Kyiv, outside Kharkiv, outside Chernihiv, and so many other places that they are stepping up there, what we in the Pentagon here call Long Range fires -- bombardment from afar.

Whether that's cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, artillery fire, they're lobbying an awful lot of hardware into the cities to try to force their surrender.  And it's increased over the last few days.  Again, I'm not telling you anything that you guys haven't seen for yourselves and so many brave reporters on the ground there.  And that's resulting in more civilian casualties, more damage to residential areas, hospitals, schools, and innocent victims at greater rates and greater numbers.

And it's an, in many ways, it's largely indiscriminate.  And so, what we're seeing, again, we think is the Russians reacting to this lack of progress, by stepping up these attacks to try to force - forcing this violence on the Ukrainian people to force the surrenders of cities and towns that they have not been able to make any progress on the ground.  So again, I be loath to call it a phase - a new phase, but clearly, they have they have stepped up this particular tactic.  Tom.

Q:  Along those lines of coercive and long-range fires, what are you seeing in Odessa?  There've been some strikes from the sea.  And also, we are seeing there are about a dozen Russians ships in the north Black Sea.  Can you give us a sense of the breakdown of those ships?  How many are LSTs?  How many might be used for some sort of amphibious landing?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, again, I'm going to be careful not to be spokesman for the Russian Navy.  But we have seen increased naval activity in the northern Black Sea.  We have seen we have indications that some of the bombardment around Odessa is coming from the sea from surface combatants.  I couldn't tell you exactly what munitions and how many and what they're hitting.

But we just see those indications that they have increased their activity in the northern Black Sea.  That's not something that we had observed over the last few days.  Clearly, we're observing that now.  It's difficult to know Tom what this indicates.  Is it the prelude to an assault on Odessa?  Is it a diversionary tactic to sort of hold and fix Ukrainian troops in the south so that they can't come to the relief of their comrades and Mariupol, and Kyiv?

It's difficult to know, all we can do is tell you what we're seeing.  And we're seeing some of that increased naval activity.  As for the breakdown of ships, again, our knowledge is imperfect.  The best I can do is tell you that it's a mix of surface combatants and amphibious ships.  The kinds of ships that you would use to put naval infantry or in our case, the Marines ashore.

Q:  Can you ballpark a number of people on the ships that...

MR. KIRBY:  Don't know.  Couldn't begin to guess that.  Just don't know.  Dan.

Q:  Could you give us a little idea of how the Russians are using their aircraft?  Are they - when Russian troops are pinned down do they come in and provide close air support?  Or is this sort of from a distance even come outside Ukrainian airspace.  And then also in Mariupol could just give us an idea of where things stand at the moment between the Russians and the Ukraine forces?

MR. KIRBY:  I'm probably going to forget both questions.  So let me start with Mariupol and remind me if I forget on the other one.  But the Ukrainians are very much defending Mariupol.  The Russians have tried to encircle Mariupol, surrounding it both from the north and from the south or up the coast.  And the bombardment of Mariupol and again, I'm not telling you anything you guys haven't seen through your own sourcing, has intensified over recent days.

They clearly want to take Mariupol and if you just look at a map, Dan, you can understand why that is.  It's a key port city there in the Sea of Azov.  It's a link between the Donbass area and Crimea.  And it could also be used if they want to squeeze off Eastern Ukraine and try to prevent Ukrainian armed forces from their own flexibility and maneuverability.  You can see why Mariupol might be of interest, but the Ukrainians are defending it bravely.

And have been able to stymie the Russians’ efforts to take it.  On the aviation question, see I didn't forget.  Again, I want to be careful not to speak for a Russian air plan that we don't own.  And we don't have perfect visibility in it.  I would say a couple of things.  We still assess that the airspace over Ukraine is contested that the Russians have not achieved air superiority.  They still have significant surface to air missile coverage over much of Ukraine. That is true.

A lot of that comes from systems that are outside the country.  And I would say that Ukrainians have been extraordinarily effective at preventing the Russians from achieving air superiority by the agility and the nimble way in which they are marshaling their own air defense resources.  And that includes everything from aircraft to surface-to-air missile systems, both short range and long range.  And that's why, to Sylvie's question, we're continuing to not only provide short-range air defense systems to them ourselves, but to work with Allies and partners to provide longer range air defense systems.

I really don't want to talk about how many flights either Air Force is flying.  Again, we don't have perfect visibility and knowledge in that.  I would tell you that certainly not all of the air launch cruise missile strikes that the Russians are perpetrating are coming from inside Ukraine airspace.  They don't need to. They can launch air assaults from outside the country as well.  And we've seen them do that.

But again, the Ukrainians have worked really creatively in the last 26 days to prevent the Russians from absolutely dominating the skies.  David.

Q:  Of those 1,100 Russian missiles, have the Ukrainians been able to intercept any of them?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, first of all, I can't confirm the number.  And I think they have certainly - I would just put it this way, David, they've used their air defense very effectively.  But I couldn't give you an accurate count of exactly how many that they've been able to strike and prevent.

Q:  But they have intercepted?

MR. KIRBY:  I think I'm just going to leave it at that.

Q:  We've been talking a lot about the resilience of the Ukrainian forces.  Are we seeing them shift into having the upper hand here?  And how are those weapons shipments helping?  And could this potentially turn the course of the war?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't want to get predictive here about what's going to happen, and when.  I would just say that we remain committed to helping Ukraine defend itself, that means helping them get the systems that they're trained on.  And are competent in to defend not only their actual ground, but also the airspace over that ground.  And they have done a very good job of that.

So, we're going to keep doing that as much and as fast as we can.  The President just signed another $800 million drawdown package that we are actively now filling out, and hopefully shipments - well not hopefully - shipments will be arriving very, very soon.

Q:  But their combat power, it's like, seems to be a 50-50.  Is - are they pulling ahead in terms of, you know, any success or?

MR. KIRBY:  You know, again, I want to be careful not to get into a qualitative assessment here of who's winning on any given day.  It depends on where you are.  I mean, one of the brilliant things that Ukrainians have done is to be thoughtful about where they're defending and with what and when to be there.  And that is what has stymied the Russian advance.

I mean, we're at day 26.  Day 26, and they're still well outside Kyiv.  They haven't taken Kharkiv.  They haven't taken Cherniv.  They haven't taken Mariupol.  And we're seeing them react to this frustration by evermore bombardment.  And so, I really don't think it's a useful exercise on a daily basis to say, you know, who's up and who's down.  The point is that the Ukrainians are actively and very effectively defending their territory and their people.

Now, that doesn't mean they can defend against every single bomb and every single missile.  Clearly, you've seen the pictures for yourselves the damage that the Russians are doing across the eastern part of the country. It's significant.  And they are killing thousands of people in the in the process of it.  But the Ukrainians with what they have they're being very smart about marshaling their resources and effectively defending it.

And I also, you know, again, we need to be careful how much information we're putting out there, too.  We, you know, we have to be observant of Ukrainians’ ability to defend themselves.  And that doesn't mean that we, the United States are not actively putting information out there that could work to their detriment.  Yes, over your Travis.

Q:  Thanks, John.  It looks like the last time DoD publicly reported its COVID case numbers was March 11.  I’m just wondering if you're going to continue reporting those numbers or if there was a decision to kind of ease back on that reporting?

And secondly, could you just kind of characterize where the department is as far as the pandemic now?  And finally, do you have any idea when we might go back to normal seating here in the briefing room?

MR. KIRBY:  Look I'm all for the normal seating and we'll get you back there.  We, as you know, we've increased the numbers here just recently.  We're still in a heightened health condition here at the Pentagon.  So, we're still trying to observe a measure of social distancing here in the briefing room.  But look, I’d love nothing better than to get back to normal and off of calling people on the phone.  And we'll do that, believe me as soon as I can.

But as for the COVID cases, there's been no decision not to report or to slim down our - the flow of information.  I can tell you that as of the 11th, I mean we've had it that's our last update.  And I think it's out there publicly, we've had more than 608,000 cases.  We've had just over 680, total DoD deaths that includes military, civilians, dependents and contractors.  As of the 16th of March, we're still working to get shots in arms.

We’ve administered more than 7 million shots in arms.  I can give you the breakdown of all the services here as of 16 March.  I won't give you the numbers, but we can certainly do that after the briefing.  But active-duty personnel with at least one dose administered now is at 97.7 percent.  Active-duty personnel that are fully vaccinated stands at 92.15 percent.  And the total force - this is reserves in guard as well at least one dose, stands at 93.8 percent.  And the total force fully-vaccinated is at 77.7 percent.

So, I mean, we're still working on this very, very hard.  And again, there's been no decision not to share that information.

Q:  Is there a feeling that we've made it through the worst?  And like how much caution is there for the potential of another wave?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, nobody's doing any spiking of any footballs here.  We know this pandemic is still ongoing, that the virus is still dangerous and deadly.  Because we still are reporting its much smaller numbers, but we're still experiencing deaths because of COVID.  So, we're watching this every single day.  And we're not afraid to make adjustments.

You know, just recently, we relaxed a little bit.  None of you are masked today.  And we put more seats in the briefing room.  But it wasn't long ago when we asked you to be masked in here, and we only had like eight seats in here.  So, we're going to keep adjusting as things change.  Obviously, we all share everybody's desire to get back to normal and to get to a post-pandemic life.  But we have to keep taking it seriously.

Yes, in the back.

Q:  Hey John, good afternoon.  [Inaudible] in the readouts that came out Friday that both President Biden as well as China's President spoke a lot about Taiwan during their call.  I'm just curious, since the invasion by Russia, have you seen any change to China's military posture towards Taiwan?

And also, I don't know if you saw over the weekend, the Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. said that China could be part of the solution, not the problem to what's going on overseas.  I'm just curious, have you seen any efforts on their part to do just that - to be part of the solution?

MR. KIRBY:  No, no changes specifically with respect to Taiwan to speak to.  Obviously, nothing's changed about our One China Policy, and our efforts and our intention to continue to help Taiwan with its self-defense needs.  And yes, I took note of the ambassador's comments over the weekend as well.  Certainly, should they have a sincere desire to help bring an end to this war, they would find the United States to welcome that.  We just haven't seen that yet.

Q:  The Chinese military spokesperson called the decision of the Ralph Johnson to go through the Strait as provocative. Any in response to that sir?

MR. KIRBY:  International waters, freedom of navigation doesn't just exist for whales and icebergs and those are international waters.  And we're going to continue to fly, sail, and operate where international law allows us to do that.

Yes, Tom.

Q:  Hi John, thanks for doing this.  I have a follow up to Lita's question, and a separate one.  When she asked about foreign fighters, you said twice, we have not seen an influx into Ukraine.  I just want to be accurate about this.  Influx tends to mean large numbers going in.  Are you saying you don't see large numbers?  Are you saying you haven't seen any indication?

MR. KIRBY:  We have not seen any indications that foreign fighters, outside of private military contractors, have flowed into Ukraine.

Q:  OK.  Thanks John.

MR. KIRBY:  And, Tom, I want to be very clear with all of you.  There's a limit to our knowledge here, right?  So, can I definitively tell you that by onesies and twosies, nobody's going in?  I can't.  We don't have that level of granularity.  I'm saying we just haven't seen any indications of it.

Q:  I understand that.  But then you...

MR. KIRBY:  I just want to make it clear, because as time goes on, things might change.  And our knowledge is, you know, we'll be as transparent as we can about what we know.  But we're not going to know everything.

Q:  I appreciate that.  My second question is, there have been reports over the weekend that the Russians are now trying to use some landmines in and around the major cities of Ukraine.  It's not asking to verify that, or substantiate that.  My question focuses on the use of landlines in a conflict like this, what impact will that have on the Pentagon's ongoing review of its landmine policy?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't know that that would have any effect on our own review of our policy.

I need to get to some - but obviously, again, I'm not verifying the reports.

Q:  I didn't ask you to.

MR. KIRBY:  But if - I know, you didn't Tom.  But if true, it's just another example of the degree to which the Russians are willing to sacrifice innocent lives for a completely unprovoked war of choice here.

Phil Stewart.

Q:  Hi, thanks.  I was hoping you could revisit this idea of targeting civilians in Ukraine.  And given all the images that have gone out there now about apartment buildings and churches and other structures that have been targeted - a theater in Mariupol.  Is it your - is it the U.S. assessment at this point that targeting civilians is part of the strategy by Russia in this war?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Again, Phil, without perfect knowledge of what the Russians - what they're - what have -their plans - we continue to see indiscriminate attacks on civilians, which we believe in many cases is intentional.  And, again, I can't - there's no justification for it.

So, I'm not even going to try to do that.  But clearly, they are causing increased numbers of civilian casualties.

MR. KIRBY:  Tony Capaccio.

Q:  Hey, John, I had a couple of quick questions.  One, can you clarify a little bit what you're doing right now to fulfill the President's $800 million order?  Basically, are you looking at Army and Marine Corps inventories for Stingers, Javelins, and these Switchblades and body armor?  Or are you going out and buying it?  Please give - clarify that a little bit.  And then I had a follow on.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, Tony, we're working very hard right now in both the policy lanes as well as the operational lanes to fill out that $800 million package that the President just signed a few days ago.  We started working on it immediately.  We're doing that now.  I can't speak to any specific deliveries.  As you well know, likely, deliveries of this material will happen over a period of time, and we won't - we'll try to expedite that as fast as possible.

I mean, if you think about that, $350 million - we think we'll be able to close out on that by the end of this week, that's just a couple of weeks of work to get.  That's unprecedented pace, and we're going to try to do it just as quickly going forward with this $800 million.  So, it'll be a series of installments and shipments over time.  Obviously, we're going to prioritize the kinds of things that we know the Ukrainians need the most in the fight they're in.

And just like we did with the $350 million.  So, it'll be - it won't just be a random rack and stack.  We're going to try to get them the things they need as fast as possible and make sure it's the right things.  I can't give you a delivery dates on Stingers or Javelins, or UAVs, or body armor.  Again, we're working on that right now.  We're in close consultation with not only the services, but the combatant commands to try to fill this out.

MR. KIRBY:  Carla Baab.

Q:  ...haven't they take out the air defenses?

Q:  Hey, did you hear Tony's question?

MR. KIRBY:  I think I missed it.  Tony, do you have a follow up?

Q:  Yes.  And again, on the Russian failure to suppress Ukrainian air defenses.  Both defense - those weapons are largely old Soviet weaponry.  Is the Pentagon fairly astonished that the Russian Air Force has had such problems taking out basically some of their older equipment from the evil empire so to speak?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, Tony, I mean, I would tell you we think that one reason that the Russians have been frustrated and in terms of the progress that they haven't made.  Obviously, a big reason is new Ukrainian resistance, but also there, we've not seen them properly plan and execute for logistics and sustainment.  They're still having fuel problems.   They're still having trouble feeding some of their troops.  They're having trouble with command and control on the ground.

So, they've made missteps of their own.  And that would also include what we in the Pentagon call “jointness.”  We don't see a level of integration between their air forces and their ground forces with any level of efficiency.  And I would say the same for maritime, although we haven't seen a lot of maritime activity.

We were talking about some increased maritime activity today.  It's it appears as if a lot of these operations are being conducted in silos, not necessarily integrated across the force.

MR. KIRBY:  Carla?

Q:  Hey, thanks.  Sorry.  Really quickly, just a follow up on Phil's - your comments to Phil.  You just said that you saw indiscriminate attacks on civilians, which the U.S believes is intentional.  Will there be further repercussions to Russians in addition to sanctioning them, and supplying the Ukrainians after Russia invaded Ukraine?

Will this new, you know, intentional attacking of civilians come with additional repercussions to the Russians?  That's question number one.  And I'm sorry for my lost voice.  Question number two, is the S-300 in Ukraine?  And then question number three, has the U.S. been discussing with Turkey about sending an S-400 to Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY:  Alright on repercussions, I'm not going to get ahead of where things are.  We certainly see clear evidence that Russian forces are committing warcrimes.  And we are helping with the collecting of evidence of that.  But there's investigative processes that are going to go on and we're going to let that happen.  We're going to contribute to that investigative process.  As for what would come out of that, that's not a decision that the Pentagon leadership would make.  I'm not going to talk about specific systems that are in Ukraine.  And I think you guys can understand why we wouldn't do that.  Operational security matters to the Ukrainians right now.  They're fighting for the country.  And the Pentagon is not going to be detailing publicly the tools with which they are doing that.

So, I'm not going to talk about specific systems one way or the other.

Mike Brest?

Q:  Thanks for taking my question.  The conversation about Ukraine's bio-labs, really began during Undersecretary Nuland's testimony on the hill.  And during her testimony, she mentioned that the U.S. was concerned that Russia could target these labs.  Has the Pentagon seen any evidence of that?

MR. KIRBY:  I don't have any indications to speak to today that there's been specific targeting of the bio-labs that were in Ukraine, no.

Let's see. Heather from USNI?

Q:  Hi, thanks so much.  Two questions.  First, going back to COVID-19.  I know you mentioned the numbers of people who are vaccinated.  But any concerns about the lawsuits that are currently making their ways through the different courts becoming class actions and preventing about 4,000 military personnel from being vaccinated?

And then on the maritime efforts, are you seeing anything of the other Russian fleets outside of the Black Sea Fleet attempting to go to the Straits to the Black Sea?

MR. KIRBY:  I have no additional Russian naval activity to speak to.  Again, I'm not going to become a spokesman for the Russian Navy.  I'm telling you what I - as much as I can about what we're seeing.  And as for lawsuits, I would just first of all, because there's active litigation, I'm not going to comment in a way that would affect that litigation.  I would only simply say that the secretary - the health and well-being of the entire force is his paramount concern.

To Travis's question, this is still an active pandemic.  People are still dying.  People in our family, in the DoD family are still dying from this.  So, we believe that the vaccine literally saves lives.  It is still a mandatory vaccine here in the department.  It's a lawful order to administer that vaccine, and we're going to continue to administer that vaccine to our troops and our civilians.  Because we believe that it makes individuals more healthy, which makes units more ready, and nothing has changed about that.

I got time for just a couple more.  Abraham.

Q:  Thanks, John.  A couple clarifications.  And I've got a question.

MR. KIRBY:  I don't think I need to clarify anything.


Q:  Is DoD ready to confirm if Russia fired hypersonic weapons into Ukraine?  That's one.

MR. KIRBY:  Do you want me to answer that, then go on to the second one? Look, we've seen the Russian claim that they used a hypersonic missile.  We're not in a position to refute that claim, but we're also not able to independently verify it.

Q:  OK.  I wanted to follow up on Carla's question.  You talked about - you're not going to say what systems are in Ukraine.  But is DoD talking to Turkey about transferring S-400?  That's one follow-up.  And then I would like to have a little more clarity on like, how the United States is - how DoD is helping to get Ukraine, the air defense systems that needs if we don't, in fact have those air defense systems?

And if this $800 million is used at all, for that purpose?

MR. KIRBY:  The drawdown package that the President signed is for the United States to procure the kinds of defensive assistance that we've been procuring.  Again, in lockstep with Ukrainians and talking to them about what they need.  And we put out a fact sheet the same day the President announced it.  So, you've seen the list – the inventory list.  Now it's just a matter of sourcing that, getting them, and getting them over there.

So, I'm not going to go beyond what the President already announced he's going to be providing.  Look on the S-300s, the S-400 rumor that I saw in the press, I would just tell you that our focus is on working with Allies and partners to help get into Ukrainian hands additional systems that they know how to use, that they operate, that they're trained on.  And that they can put to ready use.  I think I just leave it at that.  Yes, Mike.

Q:  Yes.  In a month since the invasion, have you all noticed or observed any examples of force-on-force engagements between Russian units and Ukrainian units?  Or has it been mainly, you know, one side firing artillery at schools and the other side ambushes, a lone Russian tank wandering in circles somewhere?

MR. KIRBY:  I mean, if you're asking me are Ukrainian armed forces in contact with Russian forces?  Yes, they are.

Q:  Are they as organized...

MR. KIRBY:  The Ukrainian armed forces are in contact with Russian forces and have been there's no question about that.  I can't give you specific units and specific locations.  I just don't have that level of detail.  But what's noteworthy too, Mike, is that average Ukrainian citizens are coming to the defense of their cities, and their homes, and their villages.  It was quite touching, I spoke to a - one of your colleagues a week or so ago who was in Poland, near a border crossing.

And seeing buses and trucks and cars and literally thousands of Ukrainians fleeing the country, families in tow.  And this colleague of yours didn't see a single man who wasn't turning right back around and going into the fight.  And there were many women doing the same thing.  Once they made sure that their children were safe, turning right back around to take up arms.  The sheer bravery of it is inspiring.

So, there is contact between the armed forces clearly.  But there's a lot of just average Ukrainian citizens of all stripes, that are fighting bravely for their country.  Yes.

Q:  Thank you.  There's been some reporting that Russia is planning to possibly locate nuclear weapons in Belarus.  Have you seen any indication of that?


Q:  And if it were - if they weren't to do that, would you consider an escalation?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m not going to speculate. No.

Q:  Thank you, John.  Poland has stated that the plans to submit a proposal for a NATO peacekeeping mission in Ukraine.  Does U.S. support that?  This the first, and the other thing, what's your position if these troops included NATO troops without U.S.  troops being involved?

MR. KIRBY:  Can you say the second question again?

Q:  What's your position if these troops included NATO troops, without U.S. troops being involved?

MR. KIRBY:  Look, I'm aware that Poland was going to make this proposal today.  I think that's a discussion for NATO leaders to talk about later in the week.  I'm not going to get ahead of that.  It kind of goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway.  I mean, there shouldn't be a need for a peacekeeping force because there shouldn't have been a war of choice by Mr.  Putin.

And he can end it today by negotiating in good faith and getting his troops out of Ukraine.  And stopping the killing and the death and destruction that he and his forces are responsible for.  But again, I'm not going to get ahead of international discussions here in this particular proposal.  OK.

Thanks, everybody.  We will see you tomorrow.