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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing, March 30, 2022

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Hello, everybody. Goyle, how you doing?

Q: I'm good.

MR. KIRBY: Good to -- good to see you. Great.

A couple things at the top here. Early this morning, I think you all know, the secretary met with his German counterpart, the defense minister, Christine Lambrecht, to reaffirm the U.S.-German bilateral relationship. The two leaders discussed Russia's unprovoked and premeditated invasion of Ukraine, with each leader making note of the bravery and the skill with which Ukrainian Armed Forces are defending their country. The secretary thanked the minister for German assistance to Ukraine, including lethal and non-lethal assistance, and he also thanked the minister for Germans' support to helping bolster NATO's eastern flank, including through their support to U.S. and -- and NATO force deployments to and through Germany; the German leadership, as well, for being a framework nation for the NATO battlegroup in Lithuania, their leadership of that in Germany's decision to deploy Patriot batteries to Slovakia in support of the NATO battlegroup there.

The leaders also discussed security challenges in the Indo-Pacific. The secretary commended Germany's decision to increase their defense spending to two percent of -- of their gross domestic product. They agreed to remain in close contact on shared security concerns in Europe and in the run-up to the NATO summit in June. 

Yesterday, the secretary, just to catch you up to speed, had a chance to speak with his Canadian counterpart, the minister of national defense, Anita Anand. They spoke, obviously, by phone to discuss a range of bilateral and global issues, including, of course, what's going on in -- in Ukraine and the future of U.S.-Canada cooperation in the Arctic, as well as steps taken by both countries to implement NORAD modernization.

Just a schedule note: I think you probably are aware, but on Friday, General McKenzie will be relinquishing command of U.S. Central Command to General Kurilla, and the secretary will be going down there to officiate over that ceremony to note the incredible work that Central Command continues to do for our national defense, but also the leadership of General McKenzie over these last several years, and in particular, just in the last several months with respect to leading a -- a truly historic evacuation out of Afghanistan. So he's looking forward to that and to getting a chance to -- to highlight General McKenzie's extraordinary military career as he -- as he gets ready to retire. 

With that, we'll take questions. Lita, you're first.

Q: Thanks, John. Two things, please. Can you -- there's been discussion about the Russian troops that have been sort of leaving the area surrounding Kyiv and moving towards Belarus. Can you give us a better sense of what the department is seeing? Is it dozens? Is it hundreds? And is there actual movement within Belarus of attempts to get supplies, et cetera, to them?

And then my second question is, there's been a lot of discussion about Putin's advisors not giving him accurate information, particularly about the state of the battle. Does the Pentagon believe those reports? And do you have anything that you can point to that you -- that -- that actually suggests that that is actually happening?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, so on the withdrawal, we -- we have seen, over the last 24 hours, the repositioning of a -- a small percentage of the troops that -- and the battalion tactical groups that Russia had arrayed against Kyiv, probably in the neighborhood of 20 percent of what they had, they are beginning to reposition. Some of those troops we assess are repositioning into Belarus. We don't have an exact number for you, but that's our early assessments. 

None of them -- we have seen none of them reposition to their home garrison, and that's not a small point. If the Russians are serious about de-escalating, because that's their claim here, then they should send them home, but they're not doing that, at least not yet. So that's not what we're seeing. And I don't know, you know -- our -- our assessment would be, as we said yesterday, that -- that they're going to refit these troops, resupply them and then probably import -- employ them else -- elsewhere in Ukraine. But I -- I don't believe that at this stage, we've seen the refitting going on, you know, with any specificity.

On the reports of -- of Putin not being well -- be advised -- you know, I'm going to be careful here not to getting -- not -- not to getting into -- into intelligence. But we would concur with the conclusion that -- that Mr. Putin has -- has not been fully informed by his ministry of defense at every turn over the last month. Now, I want to caveat that. We don't have access to every bit of information that he's been given, or every conversation that he's had, and I'm going to be very careful here not getting into too much more detail on this. But we -- I've seen these press reports attributed to a U.S. official, and -- and -- and we and we -- we would concur with the basic finding. I -- but I'm not going to get any more specific than -- than that. OK, Court.

Q: Can you talk -- I just want to be clear on the repositioning the 20 percent. You're not saying that all of those are going to Belarus and if not...

MR. KIRBY: I said less than 20 percent.

Q: Less than 20 percent. Less than 20 percent of what's been a raid around Kyiv...

MR. KIRBY: Right.

Q: ...has now moved out. But all those...

MR. KIRBY: Has now been -- been -- they've started to reposition. I don't know that I'd say all of them moved out. We -- we've seen them begin to reposition less than 20 percent. But our assessment is on, you know, today and we think some of them, not all but some of them have already moved into Belarus.

Q: What do you mean by reposition then? Are -- they're moving further away from Kyiv?


Q: Like how...

MR. KIRBY: Yes, they're leaving -- they're -- they're -- they're leaving Kyiv and heading more towards the north. Yes, away from -- away from the city.

Q: And are they continuing -- as they're moving away are they continuing to -- to launch attacks on the city? I mean, are they launching artilleries from further away still? I mean, what -- would you characterize that...

MR. KIRBY: No, I think -- I think the -- the troops that we're seeing move away are -- that sort of focus is moving away. But we still assess as we did yesterday that -- that Kyiv is still being attacked by -- by bombardment, artillery fire, as well as airstrikes.

They're still -- as I said yesterday, I mean, there's still a majority of the forces that Mr. Putin put around Kyiv are still there. Now, as I've said a couple days ago, they're largely in defensive positions. We -- we several days ago stopped seeing any advancement on their part.

They weren't moving closer to the city, they -- from a -- from a ground effort there was no more advancing on -- on Kyiv. But the airstrikes have not stopped, not at all. So Kyiv, as I said yesterday, is still very much under threat.

Q: But you said how many total BTGs there were around Kyiv before they...

MR. KIRBY: We never actually gave a number of the total and I want to be careful about that but -- but, again, our best assessment is less than 20 percent over the last 24 hours now we've seen to start to reposition.

And I want to hit again because I think it's an important point, if -- if the Russians were really serious about de-escalating and the way they spun this yesterday that they're trying to take the pressure off. Well then send them home. And that's not what they're doing, at least not yet. David.

Q: So just to be clear on the -- what troops you're talking about here. There were basically three lines of advance...


Q: ...on Kyiv. Northwest, Northeast, and (inaudible).

MR. KIRBY: I would say from the north and northwest. Those groupings are the ones that they're drawing from now.

Q: So does that include Chernihiv?

MR. KIRBY: Yes, it does. It -- it -- it -- we do think some troops that were a raid against Chernihiv have also been part of this repositioning. And as well to the -- farther to the east there's a town called Sumy, S-U-M-Y, and we think some of those troops have also repositioned into Belarus.

Q: So -- so, John, is it wrong to say that, I mean, you're using the word reposition -- I'm trying to understand the situation. Is it -- is it wrong to say that Russia withdrew some its forces from around Kyiv?

MR. KIRBY: They have -- they are beginning to move some forces away from Kyiv, if you want to call it withdrawal I'm not going argue with you on the verb. I'm using reposition on purpose because the way it's being spun by the ministry of defense is that they're -- that they're pulling back, and they're trying to de-escalate, and depressurize the situation.

And we just don't believe -- we haven't seen any evidence of that right now.

Q: We separated from the whole de-escalation because clearly, you're saying there's still bombardment, they're using missiles, they're using artillery...

MR. KIRBY: That's right.

Q: ...not necessarily center of the city but Kyiv --

MR. KIRBY: I don't know where they're landing.

Q: No, this is according to our reporting. But the forces regardless of de-escalation Russia is withdrawing some of his troops away from Kyiv.

MR. KIRBY: They are repositioning some of their troops away from Kyiv, yes. Sylvie.

Q: Do you see more troops going in the direction of Donbas as they say they would refocus on Donbas?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, we haven't seen, you know, of the -- of the small percentage of troops that we have observed that they are repositioning, we haven't seen any of them go elsewhere inside Ukraine. All I would tell you is that the Russians have said themselves they're going to prioritize the Donbas region.

We have seen them become much more active there in the last few days. For instance, we think that the Wagner Group now has about 1,000 people dedicated to the Donbas. We have seen an increase, I shouldn't say in increase, we have seen them prioritize airstrikes in the Donbas area.

So if you look at, again, I'm not, you know, you can't -- I can't count every single, and I'm not going to count every single artillery shell or missile strike. Because they continue to bombard population centers through the air. That's Mariupol, that's Chernihiv, it's Kharkiv, it certainly is Kyiv.

But generally, where we see them prioritizing the airstrikes now it's -- it's -- it's in the north with the exception of Mariupol it's largely in the north. It's -- it's Kyiv, it's still Kharkiv, it's still Chernihiv, and it's in the Donbas. So when we're talking about what -- what they're doing I the Donbas we know they're added now, private military contractors.

We know that they're prioritizing some of their airstrike activity there in ways that they weren't doing before. And we know that they're considering other ways of reinforcing. As well as what I said yesterday is we -- they, you know, they -- they -- we can see them make a concerted effort to try to occupy more territory in the Donbas. Yeah.

Q: Can you explain what the reason would be for them sending troops from the Wagner Group into the Donbas region?

MR. KIRBY: Sure but you have to tell me who you are and what outlet you represent.

Q: I'm sorry, (inaudible) my question. My names Liz (inaudible) and I'm with Fox News.


Q: Can you explain maybe the concerns that the U.S. would have about them sending those private troops to the Donbas region? And their reasons for doing it?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I mean, think a couple of things. They have used Wagner contractors in the Donbas over the last eight years. So this is an area where the Wagner group is experienced. So it's not a surprise that they would -- that they would try to -- try to look at using the private military contractors there.

Number two, we think it's a reflection of the very tough fighting that continues to go on there in the Donbas. And Mr. Putin's desire to reinforce his efforts there. You guys asked me yesterday, you know, show me how we think he's prioritizing, that's one of the ways why -- we think he's -- he's trying to prioritize the Donbas region. Yeah.

Q: So the department has released its budget and now we're in budget season, be going to the Hill justifying what you want to do with the annual budget. And I'm sure lawmakers will want to know what the department is doing vis-a-vis Russia.

And this new reality of Russia invading Ukraine and being an acute threat. What will be the department's response to Congress? How will it describe what it's doing to kind of counter this new reality with Russia?

MR. KIRBY: I think if you look at the budget itself, and the reason why we wanted to do a national defense strategy in concert with the budget was to -- to show that the budget is strategically aligned with what we're trying to do in this department.

And of course, China remains the pacing challenge, the number one concern for the department. There's no doubt about that. But as you said, we refer to Russia as an acute threat; you don't have to look anymore than what you've seen over the last month, to see the threat, the kinds of threats that Russia can pose to international security. And so if you take a look at the budget and the investments we're making for instance in research and development, in scientific and technology; $130 billion, the highest watermark ever for this department in terms of R&D investments. 

A lot of those capabilities, cyber, space, 5G, artificial intelligence, hypersonics; you look at all that stuff and yes, it will certainly help us against the pacing challenge of China but it absolutely will help us against what we consider the acute threat of Russia. Let me go to the phones here. Tara Copp.

Q: Hi, John. Thanks for this. So with the movement of the forces away from Kyiv, are you also seeing a movement of equipment and artillery? Or is it just personnel that's departing? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: No I mean when we, we're seeing units go so it's our assessment that they are also bringing much of their equipment with them. Again for reset, we believe for reset and repurposing for future operations inside Ukraine, but look I mean Tara, I can't count every vehicle, you know every ruck sack that these guys are moving with them. But it's our assessment that their intention is to reposition these units so that they can refit them for future operations. Oren Liebermann, CNN?

Q: A question specific to Mariupol. Given the destruction that you're seeing there, would you characterize that as the Russians carpet bombing the city or conducting a scorched earth campaign there? Or would you not use that sort of terminology in terms of what you're seeing?

MR. KIRBY: It's devastating what we're seeing there. I'll let experts decide how they want to characterize it or label it, but it is obviously devastating. You don't have to look any further than the imagery that your network is showing as well as so many other news outlets to see just how significant the damage the Russians are in Mariupol and the devastating effects that it's having there on what can only be described as the civilian infrastructure; residential buildings, hospitals, recreation parks, everything. I mean the place is just being decimated, from a structural perspective by the onslaught of Russian air strikes.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Caitlin, Stars and Stripes.

Q: Hey John, I'm just trying to breakdown some of the jargon I'm noticing in the budget and the NDS explainer. Can you just describe for us what's the difference between an acute threat and a pacing threat?

MR. KIRBY: Okay. I'll try this again. We call China "a pacing challenge" because in many of the military kinds of capabilities that we know we are going to need to respond to what is an increasingly aggressive China in the Indo-Pacific, specifically and the potential threats that those capabilities mean for us, that we're going to have to, we're going to have to stay ahead of those capabilities.

And again, you look at the budget you can see the kinds of capabilities that we're investing in for the future; to make sure that we are not just keeping a pace with China's military modernization, but that we are staying ahead of it. We are ahead of it now, we believe. We need to stay ahead of it.

And as for acute threat, what we're talking about here with Russia is this is a military that remains potent and if you want proof of being acute threat, a specific threat, a relevant, timely threat, if that's the way you want to describe "acute" that's the way we would certainly look at it; look at places like Mariupol. Look at the question that Oren just asked. You can see it for yourself that they are very much posing a threat right now, in this time, acutely on the European continent. And that's what we refer to when we talk about "an acute threat". Meghann?

Q: General Wolters -- that you kind of told lawmakers this morning that there needs to be some sort of repositioning of permanent rotational forces in Europe. And he said that he talked to lawmakers about it he said in the past couple weeks, the Pentagon – that’s a discussion in the Pentagon -- is that part of the posture review that was completed last year, can we expect in the next few months of this year any announcements about moving permanent basing around or having different kinds of rotational deployments in Europe?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made, but I think it's safe to assume that given what Russia has done over the last month and the ways in which the security environment on the European continent have changed, and I use that as past tense, not present tense; you can bet that senior leadership at the department are going to take a look at our European posture going forward. 

Now again I can't tell you, you know, when a decision's going to be made one way or the other or what that's going to look like, but the Secretary absolutely wants to keep an open mind about European posture going forward, clearly because of the acute threat of Russia and clearly because of the way the security environment in Europe has changed.

So could it mean more troops more permanently based in Europe? It could. But again, no decisions have been made right now.

Q: Sounds like this has been a discussion with EUCOM for a lot longer than these last couple of months but Russia, so --    

MR. KIRBY: Oh, it was part of the posture review, sure, I mean when we put the posture review together we absolutely spoke to General Wolters and our allies and partners as we sort of game that out. But of course, that was completely well before Mr. Putin decided to invade Ukraine.

So we're going to keep an open mind, Meghann. The security environment is different now. And however this war ends and we don't know when and we don't know what that's going to look like, I think we are working under the assumption that Europe's not going to be the same anymore. And so therefore we probably shouldn't have the same outlook to our posture in Europe.

Now again, what's the blend going to be between temporary and rotational deployments versus a permanent posture? We don't have that figured out right now. The other thing I'd say, because it's really an important point to make, whatever decisions we make, they're going to be in lockstep with the allies and partners and then we're going to do this in full consultation because some nations are simply going to be more eager for additional U.S. force presence than others and we have to respect that. 

Q: Right. So my question is, this has been going on, this discussion's been going on a lot longer than just the Ukraine conflict, so have you already begun some of those consultations and those negotiations with those countries keeping in mind that you've been having this discussion for a lot longer than just this year?

MR. KIRBY: Yes we had these discussions going on before the invasion, clearly. But in terms of post-invasion posture decisions, no. Now look, we've been to Brussels twice in the last couple of weeks. The Secretary has visited Poland and Germany and Slovakia and Bulgaria and in every one of those conversations when he meets with his counterparts there's a discussion about U.S. leadership in the region and what it means and what they want it to look like.

So I mean I'm not going to walk you away from the idea that informal discussions are happening; of course they are. You would expect that to be the case. I mean given what Mr. Putin has done. But in terms of hardnose negotiating, you know sitting down with pen and paper and mapping it out, what it's going to look like long-term, no, we're not at that point right now. Yeah.

Q: Assistant Secretary Wallander told a House Panel today that the DOD is working with Slovakia to identify the requirements for meeting Slovakia’s need in case they provide their S300s to Ukraine? Could you please detail the work and is that work a little bit as to what are you guys doing?

MR. KIRBY: The Secretary says as much when we were in Slovakia, Kasim. So that's absolutely right. We are doing that. I'm not going to get, I'm not going to detail from the podium consultations we're having with an individual nation state about capabilities that they might be willing to provide Ukraine and what the offset might look like, but we are absolutely having discussions with them about that.

Q: General Wolters responding to a question today acknowledged that the U.S. pulled out its destroyers out of Black Sea just before the Russia invasion and he added that the U.S. should return to the Black Sea soon as possible. What was accomplished of pulling these ships out of Black Sea then? And do you have a plan or is there discussions in the department to send back some ships to the Black Sea?

MR. KIRBY: I think look we move ships and in and out of the Black Sea routinely. That's not unusual. I mean we don't keep them permanently in the Black Sea. But we absolutely have moved them in and out as needed. And it was deemed a prudent decision to do it as we continue to see an invasion is more imminent, to make it very clear to everybody that the United States was not interested in forcing a conflict by some posture decision that we were making. So it was the prudent thing to do at the time and I don't have anything to announce with respect to if and when U.S. ships will go back into the Black Sea. We watch and monitor this every day and we'll make the best decisions based on what's in the best interests of our national security and that of our allies and partners as well. Over here, way in the back there. Kelly?

Q: Yeah, thanks. I know you can't go too much into this but how dangerous is it that Putin is not being informed by his advisors of what is happening on the ground? Are we in touch with the top Russian military leaders yet? I know they had the plan to engage this past week.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, no conversations to speak to yet. We maintain our willingness to have those discussions. But it's a two-way street. The Russians have to be willing to pick up the phone and thus far they have not been willing to do that. Obviously, it understandably would be an issue of concern if for not just our European allies and partners but certainly for Ukraine, if Mr. Putin is misinformed or uninformed about what's going on inside Ukraine. It's his military. It's his war. He chose it. And so the fact that he may not have all the context, that he may not fully understand the degree to which his forces are failing in Ukraine, that's a little discomforting, to be honest with you.

And it's certainly one outcome of that could be a less than faithful effort at negotiating some sort of settlement here. If he's not fully informed of how poorly he's doing, then how are his negotiators going to come up with an agreement that is enduring and certainly one that respects Ukrainian sovereignty. 

The other thing is I mean you don't know how a leader like that's going to react to getting news. So yeah, it's disconcerting. Felicia. 

Q: Hi John. Thanks for taking my question. Any notable observations or assessments since it came up yesterday on Ukrainian counterattacks? I'm wondering if you have -- or if there are effort to take cities back and I'm wondering if you have some sort of, I don't know topline assessment about how they're doing overall.

MR. KIRBY: I don't have anything today in terms of specifics. Just broadly speaking, Felicia, we've seen them counterattack and retake territory to the west and to the northwest of Kyiv. As we see some Russian troops reposition and move away, we have seen indications that the Ukrainians are moving forward, as you might expect them to do. 

Where it's really notable is in the South. I mean when we were talking early on, remember these are sort of three lines of axes that the Russians have used north, east and south, generally speaking and in the south they had made the most progress in the first couple of weeks. And now the Ukrainians are literally clawing back some of that territory, particularly just to the northwest of Crimea, so the Kherson area and the positioning of the Russians around Mykolaiv, which they now have lost a lot of footing there. So we've seen the Ukrainians very tough in trying to get back territory there in the south.

Now Mariupol, again I don't need to tell you this because you guys are all covering it, but that obviously there is a lot of heavy fighting going on right there. We think that there are some Russian forces that are very, very close to City Center; Ukrainians are fighting very, very hard. The town is just being shellacked with air strikes and bombardment, as we talked about earlier. Both sides fighting very, very hard over Mariupol. From a geographic perspective, clearly it's very important to both sides because of where it's located, right there at the southern sort of end of the Donbas Region. 

Q: Thanks. Three today, if that’s okay.

MR. KIRBY: You had three yesterday.

Q: I know. 

MR. KIRBY: I counted.

Q: First, thank you, a clarification. You had said that there have been more air strikes in the Donbas and increased activity there and you said that there were still air strikes in the Kyiv area and that they had pulled back; would you call it a decrease in activity in the Kyiv area? Are there still, is there significant reduction in air strikes? But how would that change? Or has it changed? Other than -- aside from the 20 percent that kind of pulled back?

MR. KIRBY: I don't you know we weren't counting missile strikes on Kyiv so I can't give you an honest answer in terms of like whether it was more today than yesterday. What I would just say is generally the city continues to be under threat of air strike and bombardment. We are continuing to see that. So even as the Russians reposition some of their troops and before that, before they started to reposition they were in the defensive crouch basically, they weren't advancing from the ground any more in the city but even with all that we continue to see that the city is very much under threat from air strikes.

Q: Okay, thank you for clarifying. Secondly, how many missiles has Russia launched into Ukraine at this point? 

MR. KIRBY: I couldn't give you an exact number, but it's as I said yesterday, it's definitely more than a thousand. 

Q: Okay and then finally I apologize if I missed this, but when you were talking about Wagner Group, do you know where they're coming from? General Townsend had told VOA earlier that there was recruiting going on in Africa. Can you tell us where they're coming from, specifically? Is it Syria? Or --  

MR. KIRBY: I couldn't give you -- I couldn't give you the roster and -- and, you know, where every single employee of the Wagner Group are coming from. All I can tell you is that we do think they are going to prioritize the Donbas area, that we have indications that they'll -- that they plan to put a thousand or so of their contractors in Donbas. Where they're all coming from, I don't know.

We have seen indications that the Wagner Group is recruiting in places like Syria and places like northern Africa, Libya, but how many are of that thousand or so or where they're -- I just -- I don't have that level of detail. The point is that it's just another example of how Mr. Putin is going to -- is going to throw more energy into trying to -- to occupy the Donbas. 

Now to what end, we're not exactly sure. Certainly, so far, he has not been successful in that either, but -- but we believe that they're -- that they -- they are going to prioritize that part of the country. 

Q: (Inaudible) recruiting in Libya (inaudible) --

MR. KIRBY: I said we've seen them say -- we've seen the indications that they want to recruit out of places like North Africa and -- and Syria, yes.

Q: Specifically Libya?

MR. KIRBY: I said Libya, yes. 

Q: To fight in Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. Mike?

Q: I have a question about the 20 percent. Refitting a mechanized unit is a significant logistics challenge requiring maintenance, munitions, POL. Are you seeing any examples of -- of -- that happening with, you know, the -- the support elements coming in to -- to refit or are you just assuming at this point that it will be refit?

MR. KIRBY: Too soon. Too soon. No. I -- as I said, we've only just...

Q: (Inaudible).

MR. KIRBY: ... yes, we're only just beginning -- beginning to see this repositioning. It's a minor percentage of the total force that they had to the north and northwest of -- of Kyiv. And we believe the intent is to -- is to, in many of these cases, to bring them into Belarus so they can be refit and resupplied, but -- but I -- you know, it's just now starting, Mike, so I don't really have anything more specific to -- to speak to.

And look, Mike, I mean we may never have that level of detail for you. I mean, it's -- you know, we do the best we can to tell you what we're seeing, but we -- we're not going to see everything. Yes?

Q: How close -- what, how close are -- are they going back from? Are you saying they're repositioning from American...

MR. KIRBY: Well, I mean -- look, I mean, again, they -- they were -- again, Mike, I mean we're only just beginning to see this. So we assessed in -- that the closest that they -- their advanced elements got to the city center of Kyiv was about 15 to 20 km, so it's the -- it's -- it's the forces that were arrayed around the Hostimal airfield, that we believe those were the ones that have begun -- their the first ones to begin this movement north. 

But again, I -- I -- I couldn't tell you where they are on the road right now or where exactly they're going to -- where they're going to end up. Tony ? 

Q: Can you give a status report of the latest tranche of Stingers, Javelins and switchblade drones that the president authorized? (Inaudible).

MR. KIRBY: We -- what I can tell you is that material is -- is getting into the region every single day. And including over the last 24 hours, we are in the first half a dozen shipments of what will probably be around 30 or so of this $800 million that the president signed out. So it's already moving into the region. 

I don't have an inventory list for you, Tony, about, you know, how many are on every flight, but we're doing the best we can to prioritize the kinds of material that we know the Ukrainians need the most. And so, obviously, that includes some of these anti-armor and anti-air defense systems. But I don't have a -- I don't have a shopping list for you today.

Q: Are those (inaudible) drones starting to be shipped?

MR. KIRBY: They have -- they have not shipped in yet, but we think that that will -- that that will change relatively soon.

Q: I need to ask you about this acute -- the use of the word acute. I know it's -- I don't want to be cute, but you mentioned a few times here, I need to ask you this. General VanHerck, the Northern Command Commander, said five days ago that Russia is a primary military threat to the homeland and they're focused on targeting the homeland as provided the model other competitors are beginning to follow. 

Then General Wolters last year, about a year ago this month, said Russia is the primary threat -- it's the existential threat against the United States. And I'm just asking you, acute sounds like a step down from existential and primary threat and almost a deliberate attempt to deemphasize Russia and overemphasize China. This is going to come up as an issue, so I'd like you to address it.

MR. KIRBY: No, it's a fair question. I mean, it's not about deemphasizing Russia. Nobody's deemphasizing Russia. We've said many times here, certainly you and I have talked about this many times. I mean, you -- nobody's taking the Russian threat lightly nor should we. 

Now yes, they've underperformed. They've made pretty big mistakes in Ukraine, planning and execution wise. Of course, they've also faced a much stiffer resistance than they anticipated, but nobody's shortchanging the -- the kinds of threats that they continue to pose. 

And you can see it for yourself, my goodness, just take a look at the video and the imagery coming out of Ukraine and you can see the damage that -- that this military is capable of -- of -- of exerting and causing. But the secretary has been nothing but completely candid from literally day one that the pacing challenge in his view for this department is China.

And the manner in which, the expense at which China continues to modernize their capabilities, continue to bully their neighbors, coerce other nations in the region and to continue to expand the militarization of -- of the Western Pacific, that cannot be ignored nor will it be by this department. 

I know everybody wants us to rack and stack. We've been very honest, China remains the pacing challenge. Russia we still assess as an acute threat. I understand the -- the interest in the -- in -- you know, in the adjectives here, but it would be imprudent for us not to try to characterize the threat that Russia poses and to try to deal with it. 

And again, look at the budget. I mean, my goodness, how many budgets have you reported on? Take a look at it and you can see that the kinds of capabilities that we're investing in are not just going to help us with the pacing challenge of China but they will also help us deal with the threat that Russia continues to pose.

Q: While you are mentioning that, the nuclear posture review cancels the sea launch nuclear cruise missile that the -- the Trump administration pushed. That doesn't sound like beefing up to deter against Russia, you're cutting a -- a nuclear weapon. What -- what's the rationale for that cut? 

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to talk about the specifics of the nuclear posture review. It remains a classified document, Tony, so I'm just not going to go there. But -- I'm not going to go there, except to say look at -- go look at the budget we just submitted and look at the billions of dollars that we committed, more than $30, I think, billion just to keep modernizing the Triad. 

So -- thank you. I -- I should've figured you'd have the exact figure more than me, but -- but -- nevertheless, more than $30 billion to modernize the Triad. Nobody's – nobody is sloughing off or -- or taking for granted the fact that we need a strong strategic nuclear deterrent and that we're willing to invest in keeping it strong. Yeah?

Q: (Inaudible). You mentioned China being the number one threat?

MR. KIRBY: I said China is the pacing challenge for this department.

Q: Can you talk about any conversations with Chinese counterparts in recent days here? And have you seen any signs or indications that -- of Chinese military assistance to Russia? Is that still a concern?

MR. KIRBY: We see no indications of Chinese military assistance to Russia. I don't have any conversations at the very -- or senior levels of the department to read out. It's -- like Russia. It's not like we don't have a military-to-military multiple communication channels to speak with the Chinese. It's not like -- it's not like there's a blackout there, but I don't have any conversations at the secretary's level to speak to today.

Alex Horton, Washington Post.

Q: Yes. Thanks, John. Yes. In testimony over the last couple days there was some talk about the intelligence picture on the wait up to the war, and Wolters, you know, suggested that there could have been, you know, gaps in intelligence both underestimating the Ukrainian fight and overestimating the Russian ability to win this thing quickly. Have you guys started your post mortem on that thing? I mean, it definitely has an end. Once the war started, you know, you can close the book on it. So I know it's ongoing, but it seems like you guys can start doing an assessment of how, you know, on one hand you got it very right about their intent to invade. On the other hand you got it very wrong and your assessment that, you know, Kyiv, would fall within days and the Ukrainian military would dissolve. Can you --

MR. KIRBY: I might make a couple of points here, Alex. This is not a war the United States is fighting, so I wouldn't expect that there'll be some formal after action review the way we are conducting one, for instance on the last year or so in Afghanistan. Obviously the intelligence community, the interagency will I'm sure informally at the appropriate time take a look at what we have learned by watching and seeing how Russia has underperformed and how quite frankly amazingly the Ukrainians have performed.

I mean, you know, obviously we all want to learn from things as we -- as we see them, and we're going to learn from our own -- our own behaviors here. Our efforts to help defend Ukraine or help Ukraine defend itself. We'll certainly at the appropriate time take a look at how we performed in that regard. We'll certainly at the right time take a look at how hard we worked to bolster NATO's Eastern Flank. And to Meghann's question, I'm sure there will be lessons we'll learn there about what the posture in Europe ought to look like going forward, but I think it's too early right now, Alex, to sit down and wring hands over specific intelligence assessments.

You're right. We did say for a long time that we had indications that Russia was going to invade, and while certainly the performance of the Ukrainians on the field of battle has been amazing and incredible and inspiring, it's not -- and I've said this before. It's not like their performance came as a shock to people here at the Pentagon. It wasn't by accident.

I mean, we are all focused -- and rightly so right now as they are in the middle of a fight on the security assistance and the materials, the weapons systems that they still need to have that fight, but let's not forget the training and the support that we have been giving the Ukrainians for the last eight years as they've been engaged in a hot war in the Donbas, and it's not just us. The Brits, the Canadians, and other nations in Europe who have also lent training support to the Ukrainians. 

So their success on the field of battle is not an accident. It's the result of a lot of hard work over the last eight years. Phil Stewart, Reuters.

Q: Well yes, but I'm just acknowledging that upfront. I mean, why didn't that change your calculus that Kyiv would fall very quickly?

MR. KIRBY: I won't get into specific intelligence assessments over Kyiv falling or not falling, Alex. I don't think we ever publicly acknowledged a certain range of dates or hours or weeks with respect to Ukraine. I understand that there are officials out there that are talking like that and did talk at the time, but there was never an official position by the department about how long Kyiv would hold out. Phil Stewart.

Q: Hi. Thanks. Two quick questions. One, has there been a date to reschedule the ICBM test, the Minuteman test? And secondly, there have been a lot of videos out there filmed by Ukraine-Russian POWs. Have there been any discussions between the Pentagon and the Ukrainian military about any concerns that the Pentagon might have about doing that? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Rescheduled. And on -- look, on prisoners of wars, I'm not going to get into individual discussions and conversations with Ukrainian leaders over that issue. I would just say that our expectations and the expectations of the international community is that all prisoners of war will be treated in accordance with international law and the Geneva Conventions.

John Ismay, New York Times.

Q: Hi there. Has the Pentagon determined what kind of weapon was used on the Mariupol Theatre, such as like an Iskander ballistic missile or cruise missile? And can you say which airfields Russian war planes, both their fast movers and their heavy bombers, have been operating from?

MR. KIRBY: John, I -- in all honesty I can't answer either of those questions. I don't think we have details on the theater attack in terms of what munitions were applied, and I couldn't give you a list of airfields here today. I would just say that the vast majority, and I mean, the vast majority of airstrikes that are being conducted in Ukraine at least from aircraft are taking off and landing in either Russian or Belarusian territory, and it's largely Russian. And we -- they -- they're returning to largely, you know, returning to base. Very, very few are actually being launched and recovered inside Ukraine.

Yes. I'll take one more and then we're going to have to call it a day. Go ahead, Goyle.

Q: Thanks, sir. Two questions. One, Ukraine was invaded by one of the most powerful nations on the Earth, and Ukraine is a very tiny nation. The (inaudible) government (inaudible). Is there anybody, any leader, or any country, or any prime minister, or president who can tell Mr. Putin to stop killing those innocent people because when there is a war only innocent people are the victims, not politicians, not regimes. And where do you put this war as far as Mr. Putin's invasion or Russia's invasion of Afghanistan and now Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: Well look. I mean, President Biden has on numerous occasions had the opportunity to send that message directly to Mr. Putin. We all have, but President Biden has had that, you know, certainly warn Mr. Putin against invading and made good on severe economic consequences for the result that he made that decision. Other European leaders, President Macron, for an example, has had recent conversations with Vladimir Putin about this. 

It's not like the international community has not -- with small receptions has not rallied to the side of Ukraine and other leaders have tried to impress upon Mr. Putin to end this war.

And I would just add we've called it a war of choice. It absolutely was. He had diplomatic options left to him on the table before he invaded and as he invaded. Those options are still there, he just has to pursue them in good faith. And again, if they're serious about de-escalation as they claim to be, then send those troops home rather than into Belarus to resupply. 

Did you have one more? 

Q: John, as far as the United Nations is concerned, there are almost 200 members of the United Nations around the globe, many of them rogue nations still in the U.N. What is the future of the United Nations and where the U.N. stands as far as the invasion of Ukraine by Russia? 

MR. KIRBY: You've seen the U.N. Security Council hold many sessions in just the last couple of weeks about the situation in Ukraine. In fact, I think they just did one the other day -- Monday, I believe, on the humanitarian catastrophe that Mr. Putin is causing inside Ukraine. 

The U.N. is engaged on this issue, as they should. I can't speak for every nation state inside the U.N., but again I think -- obviously not every nation has taken the same stance on Russia that the majority have, but the majority have, and the U.N. continues to stay engaged on this. 

Q: You think Russia and China should remain on the United Nation's Security Council?


MR. KIRBY: That's not a decision for the Department of Defense to make, but I appreciate the question. All right, thanks everybody. Got to call it there.