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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. A couple of things at the top. I think you all saw the secretary's statement expressing our gratitude to the government of Slovakia for their willingness to transfer an S-300 air defense missile system to Ukraine. In that statement, he also talked about our ability, willingness, and upcoming provision of a temporary deployment of a Patriot system into Slovakia so that their air defense can be preserved. It's part and parcel of the larger effort that we've been doing now for quite some time to bolster NATO's eastern flank and improve our deterrence and defense capabilities there. 

This is a temporary deployment of a Patriot system, while we continue to consult and talk to the Slovakian government about more longer-term solutions. I don't have those solutions to speak to today or what that might look like. I can't give you an exact timeframe for how long this temporary deployment will occur. We'll be working this in real-time and iteratively with the government of Slovakia, but we're grateful for their willingness to help out Ukraine with this critical need, particularly as the war in Ukraine now enters a new timeframe here, a new phase if you will with a stronger focus by the Russians on the Donbas. I know that you all have been covering the missile strike that occurred Kramatorsk. Sorry, I probably messed that up, but the train station there in the Donbas. 

We find unconvincing Russian claims that they weren't involved, particularly when the ministry actually announced it. And then, when they saw reports of civilian casualties decide to unannounce it. So, our assessment is that this was a Russian strike and that they used the short-range ballistic missile to conduct it. And you've seen the reports for yourselves. Many of your colleagues have been reporting it from on the ground that there are civilian casualties there. It is, again, of a piece of Russian brutality in the prosecution of this war, and their carelessness for trying to avoid civilian harm. 

On personnel notes, we are very happy to hear and got the news last night that the Senate unanimously confirmed two DOD officials; Bill LaPlante as the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment and Erik Raven to be the Undersecretary of the Navy. And we're very excited. These are two very big positions, very key positions here at the department. And we're excited to have them be joining the team here in the coming days. There's a lot going on, a lot of threats and challenges to deal with, and both these gentlemen will be key to that effort. 

Moving on to some other news. On the 1st of April, U.S. sailors, Coast Guardsmen, and Marines embarked aboard the USS Hershel Woody Williams, with support from Interpol. And they assisted then in the Cabo Verde maritime forces with the interdiction of a Brazilian flagged fishing vessel, seizing approximately 6000 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated value of more than $350 million. Local authorities took seven individuals into custody during that counter-drug operation. Another good example of working with our allies and our partners all around the world to improve security and stability.

Then on a programming note, on Monday morning, the secretary will welcome here to the Pentagon the Indian minister of defense, Rajnath Singh, for an enhanced cordon ceremony and a bilateral meeting. That, of course, will be -- you'll be able to cover that. Then later in the afternoon, the secretary and Minister Singh will join Secretary of State Blinken and the Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar for the fourth U.S.-India 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue. And that'll occur on Monday. This year's 2+2 will span the full breadth of the partnership between the United States and India, including defense, science, technology, cooperation, climate, public health, and people-to-people ties. Since its inception in 2018, the 2+2 Ministerial has allowed the United States and India to continue to work towards building an advanced comprehensive defense partnership that we think is poised very well to meet the challenges of the 21st century. 

So, with that, Bob?

Q: Thank you, John. 

In Ukraine, as the Russians narrow the focus of their operations to the Donbas and the south, as you describe, do you anticipate that this will change in any significant way the Ukrainians' needs, the type of needs they'll have for weaponry, other assistance from the United States, and other partners? And also, will it make it significantly more difficult to get it into them? Into Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: I do not -- we do not assess that this higher focus by the Russians on the south and the east, by itself, geographically, is going to affect in any appreciable way, the continued transshipment of security assistance on the ground into Ukraine that the United States is helping to coordinate. And as for whether it will change the requirements, I think largely that's going to be up to the Ukrainians. As I think you all know, the secretary spoke with Minister Reznikoff just yesterday, late, late yesterday afternoon. Good conversation, as they all are. The minister was grateful for the security assistance, particularly the recent announcement of $100 million dollars worth of javelins, which we did very much in keeping with conversations with them about this renewed fighting in a much more confined geographic area. So, we are tailoring our security assistance to meet their needs on the ground, but it's their needs we're trying to meet. We're not trying to, you know, foist stuff upon them that we don't think that they can use. 

So, I guess that's a long answer to a very brief question. It's too soon to know if there's gonna have to be any adjustments. We'll work that out in real-time with Mr. Reznikoff and the Ukrainian Armed Forces. And clearly, if it's something we can do, and we can do it quickly, we will absolutely do that. Right now, I don't think we're anticipating any major muscle movement changes in terms of the security assistance required for this new push by the Russians in the Donbas. 

I will tell you, and I think I've said this before, but I mean, one of the things that Ukrainians continue to say is one of their most valuable commodities is small arms ammunition. And -- and we and other nations continue to provide literally millions of rounds. It doesn't get the headlines, I understand that it's not as dramatic as anti-tank missiles or Stinger anti-air missiles, but it's a vital need that they use literally every day, and that continues to flow.


Q: Thank you, John. 

Yesterday, the secretary spoke about updated guidance about sharing intelligence with the Ukrainians on the zones controlled by the separatist pro-Russian population. So, does it mean that you didn't give them any information, any intelligence on these zones until now? And does it mean that you are giving them this intelligence now to help them reclaim these zones?

MR. KIRBY: It did not mean that we weren't giving them useful intelligence and information in the Donbas and in the eastern part of the country. We have continued to provide them with useful intelligence and information to help them defend themselves. What the secretary was referring to was as the conditions on the ground have changed and as this focus now has happened -- has been more pronounced in the east, we needed to make sure that the guidance to our own intelligence apparatus was keeping pace with that.

Q: And what -- does it mean that you are helping them now? That the objective now is to help them to retake these zones? 

MR. KIRBY: Our objective is and has been to help them defend themselves. And that includes giving them tools, whether that be weapons and systems and ammunition or information to be able to do that as best as they possibly can. 

Yeah, Tom?

Q: Hi, John. Thanks. 

A follow-on what Sylvie just asked, and then a separate question, please. You know, me by now that I like to pick apart your words, and...

MR. KIRBY: I enjoy it. It's... 

Q: OK. We'll see if...

MR. KIRBY: I appreciate it. 

Q: We'll see if this rises to it then. You twice said in response to Sylvie that you've given the United States is giving the Ukrainians information to defend themselves. I want to make sure by the understanding of the word "defend." In other words, if the Ukrainians -- and you did -- you know, I know you don't like to go on hypotheticals...

MR. KIRBY: But you're going to try to get me to go...

Q: I'm going to try it anyway. The Ukrainians have engaged in offensive actions, not just defensive actions...

MR. KIRBY: Yes, they have. 

Q: ... in Ukraine. Would sharing intel -- if the Ukrainians are planning an offensive action, does that fall under an area where you provide information to help them?

MR. KIRBY: We are -- look, Tom, I don't want to -- and I'm not trying to parse words here. When we say we want to help the Ukrainians defend themselves, we're talking about the aggregate effort here; we're not talking about a tactical, whether I'm in a defensive position or I'm on a counterattack. We aren't -- we're not getting into that level of specificity here. We are trying to give them useful information and intelligence that allows them to defend themselves to push back to resist to fight against; you call it wherever you want, this Russian invasion. And if they were to use some of that information to conduct a counterattack, then so be it. 

They are defending -- the larger defense is of their country. They have been invaded now. Actually, they've been invaded, quite frankly, for eight years, but a massive invasion that began on the 24th of February and they're resisting that, and we are doing what we can. I'm not going to get into too much detail here; I think you can understand that. But we're doing what we can to give them the tools, and some of that includes useful information that they can use to contribute to that act of defense of their country.

Q: That clarifies it. 

Now, my other question, sorry.

MR. KIRBY: I'm delighted.

Q: I know that earlier this year, actually, on January 24th of this year, you said in response to another question by me that it's, quote, "not helpful to look at history." Although I know you taught history in the academy...

MR. KIRBY: That seems like a brutal retelling of my quote but go ahead.

Q: That's -- well, anyway, as General Milley said yesterday, the action is going to be shifting to the Donbas region, which is a different terrain than much of Ukraine, and it was the scene during World War Two of huge tank battles and armored battles. From a strategic point of view, bullets are great; and a lot of javelins are on the way. But does this give the Russians now an advantage in the sense that they do have more armor than Ukrainians? And this is a terrain made for armored fighting?

MR. KIRBY: So, this is a more confined geographic area. I am not a topographical expert. I'm certainly not an expert in land warfare. And yes, while I taught history, it was naval history. So, I want to stay inside my lanes here. 

What I can -- and I don't want to be, and I don't think we should be predictive about what the outcome is going to be. But there's -- I think what the chairman was really getting at, and he was absolutely right to do this, was to provide a sense of the potential here for the conflict to increase in intensity and to be prolonged. And I think that's really the larger point he was trying to make. Because now the Russians are going to be concentrating their available combat power, and they still have the vast majority of their combat power still available to them, Tom. They're going to be concentrating that now in a more confined, smaller geographic area. 

So, they -- you know, earlier on in this invasion, they were working on three massively separate lines of access: south, east, northeast, north, northwest, right? They divided the massive force, but they divided it on three big lines of access, and now we're going to see that they're going to concentrate on smaller, fewer lines of access and a smaller geographic area. So, still, a lot of combat power to be applied in a smaller part of the country. Again, I'm not an expert on the geography here, but just looking at it on a map, you can see that they will be able to bring to bear a lot more power in a lot more concentrated fashion. 

That said, and this is not unimportant, the Ukrainians have also been fighting hard in Donbas for the last eight years. The Ukrainians are certainly familiar with the terrain, the topography, and -- and the cities and towns and the roads and the railways. And I mean, this is their home. And as we have seen in the last -- well, last few weeks, but certainly last several days, as the Russians have concentrated more effort there. The Ukrainians are fighting back just as hard and will be working just as hard to continue to defend themselves there. And again, our support is of a piece of this as we continue to talk with them about what they need for this closer fight, if you will, we're going to continue to try to support them in that. 

Did that answer your question?

Q: Yes, thank you. 

MR. KIRBY: Yeah.

Q: John, do you think the Russians are going to lose this war in Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: We want the Ukrainians to win this war. And we want to see Ukraine not have to fight for its own sovereignty, as it has been for eight years; we keep forgetting that. I think President Zelensky has been rock solid clear on what his outcome is here. A whole Ukraine, fully respected as a sovereign nation-state, we want that for him too. And so we want to help; we want to see them win. And that's why we are committing so much energy and security assistance to that country. And we'll continue to do that.

Q: Do you will see the Ukrainians win? Does that mean you want to see the Russians lose? 

MR. KIRBY: We would -- we want to see Mr. Putin and the Russian army lose this invasion, lose this fight inside Ukraine. It is Ukrainian territory, Ukrainian sovereignty, its Ukrainian cities, and lives that are being destroyed. And obviously, we want to see that end. And we want to see Ukraine whole again. 

Q: Will the U.S. support Ukrainian forces if they go on the offensive in Crimea and the Russian-backed separatists' regions in eastern Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into future operations here. What I would tell you is we're going to continue to support Ukraine in their efforts to defend their sovereignty and their people as much as we can, as fast as we can, Lucas. And I'm not going to get into hypothetical operations that they haven't conducted yet. 


Q: I have two questions, if I may. The first is on a profile today on the Commander in Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces leading the fight against the Russian. I was curious if you had a comment on his leadership or message to him. And second, Russian officials are threatening Finland if it goes ahead and joins NATO. Do you take those threats seriously? And would the U.S. come to Finland's defense?

MR. KIRBY: So, by the profile of the commander, do you mean President Zelensky?

Q: No, his commander in chief. Or the commander of his armed forces in Ukraine...

MR. KIRBY: I have not the -- I have not seen the profile, Kelly. So, let me take a look at the profile before I try to characterize it. I would just tell you that we have good connectivity with Ukrainian armed forces at the very senior levels. General Milley speaks very frequently with his counterpart; as you know, you guys see the readouts. You know how often Secretary Austin speaks with Minister Reznikoff. And, of course, President Biden in his regular contact with President Zelensky. 

It is remarkable how well they are leading their forces in the field and how good their command and control still is today; well organized, well equipped, certainly well trained over the last eight years, and you're seeing all that come to bear. So, I haven't seen a profile. So, I can't really comment on that. But we have great confidence in Ukrainian military leadership and the incredible work they're doing leading their troops in the field. And again, you've seen it; it's not just Ukrainian troops, Ukrainian citizens taking up arms and defending their streets and their cities. 

On your other question, again, I don't want to get ahead of where we are in a process here. A decision to join the NATO alliance is between the Alliance and that nation. And I'm certainly -- the United States is not going to interpose ourselves into that decision-making process that's really for them to speak to. That said, and I think today's movement in the announcement that we're going to be providing a Patriot battery inside Slovakia tells you how seriously we take our Article 5 commitments inside NATO and the Alliance. And as you've heard President Biden say, we're going to defend every inch of NATO territory if it's required. 

It's an ironclad commitment. The United States believes that, and we'll continue to look for ways to -- especially on the eastern flank to bolster that. 

Q: Just a follow-up on Sylvie's question on information sharing. Secretary Austin yesterday said that you guys are clarifying the guidance for your force. What was he meaning actually when he was saying "clarifying?" 

MR. KIRBY: The -- as the situation changes on the ground; information needs change, information requirements change, information guidance changes, and I think that's what the secretary is referring to.

Q: And then another question. Sorry. We have seen reports that the base of United -- well, U.S. forces are stationed in Syria, came under rocket attacks, and two U.S. service members were wounded reportedly. Do you have anything on that?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, actually, I do here. Hang on. So, I think you guys saw CENTCOM put out a release that there was indirect fire. Two rounds received at Green Village in eastern Syria. They announced yesterday, we still assess that, at this time, four U.S. service members are continuing to be evaluated for traumatic brain injury symptoms. The number's still four; it could change as we have seen in the past. But that's where we are right now. 

The indirect fire struck two support buildings. We're still investigating this; I don't have attribution for you. I don't have more detail on damage. OK?


Q: Just one more. You don't have any attribution but do you any sense whether this was something that was carried out by some sort of a militia group? It's just...

MR. KIRBY: I mean, it is certainly a tactic that has been used by these militia groups; militia groups that are supported by Iran, it's right out of their playbook. I think our working assumption would be that that's the case here. But we want to do the forensics and do it properly. 

Do what do I have a sheet from -- for the calls or nobody? I didn't get one. So, we're not -- nobody? OK. 

Q: Just stay with me then…


MR. KIRBY: That was my -- that was my poor attempt to move off of you. But failed. 


Q: One more on Ukraine. Is there a -- just given that there's even more and more momentum, it seems, for Finland and Sweden to potentially join NATO, is the Pentagon already planning for sending some sort of U.S. military presence into those countries? Whether it's like systems or anything like that? Is there any kind of very early planning for reinforcing them as part of this ongoing shoring up of NATO?

MR. KIRBY: Well, we've been doing that, I mean, Court'...

Q: But specifically for some of a longer-term presence to Finland and to Sweden, specifically, if they... 

MR. KIRBY: I know of no such plans for countries outside of NATO. No. 

Q: But once they -- I'm sorry, once they join NATO. Like, is there early planning going on for if and when they actually do become members of NATO?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not aware of such planning. I mean, that's many horses beyond where the cart is right now. Again, I don't want to get ahead of a decision-making process between a sovereign nation-state and the Alliance. So, there's no such -- there's no act of planning for any kind of U.S. force presence in those countries. And, again, we would need to, you know, be in a process of them being NATO members, and to have that conversation. We're just not there.

Q: ... someone once told me the Pentagon was a planning organization, but maybe that was?

MR. KIRBY: We do. We plan for a lot of things, but we don't plan for everything. 

Q: OK. 

MR. KIRBY: There you go. Yeah, I'm gonna trademark that. 

OK. Janne? 

Q: Thank you, John. The U.S. is projecting assets deployed during the U.S. and South Korea joint military exercises to be resumed next week. Do you see this as a sufficient deterrent to North Korea and send the message to North Korea?

MR. KIRBY: I mean, look, all our training events are meant to improve our readiness. It's not about message sending. It's about readiness. And that's our commitment on the peninsula. That's our commitment to our South Korean allies.

Q: You know, Kim Jong-un's sister mentioned this time they're not shooting the South Korea, but they're not -- they will be shooting the -- the United States. She gave it to some kind of a signal to the United States. How do you respond?

MR. KIRBY: I haven't seen those comments. We're well aware of the North Koreans, their efforts to advance their nuclear ambitions as well as to advance their ballistic missile capabilities. We have reacted to that as just recently as a couple of weeks ago, you saw that we're boosting our ISR commitment in the Yellow Sea region. So, I mean, look, we don't need to hear threats and threatening comments from North Korean leaders to understand that the actual threat that Pyongyang represents to the peninsula and to the region. And that's why we're continuing to adjust our posture as needed, to adjust our intelligence gathering posture as needed, and certainly to adjust our training and readiness with our South Korean allies. 


Q: Oh, thank you. I want to ask you about China. The Chinese President Xi said to his Philippine counterpart earlier today that regional security cannot be achieved by strengthening military alliances. Do you think this is an attempt to divide the United States from a U.S. ally while the Biden administration is focusing on (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY: Well, without speaking to that particular comment, we have seen the Chinese repeatedly try to divide the United States from our allies. We've seen their coercive and aggressive tactics to bully neighbors, including some of our allies, to come around to their way of thinking about their national security, what they believe their national security interests are in the region. Five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Pacific, Indo-Pacific region; we take each one of them seriously. And we have dozens more allies -- I'm sorry, dozens more partners in the region that we continue to talk with. And I think it's fairly obvious when you see the Chinese behave this way, they're concerned about our network of alliances and partnerships. 

As you've heard Secretary Austin say that's a real strategic advantage that the United States has in the region, are these alliances and these partnerships. And the Chinese have nothing like that. They don't have a lot of friends; they don't have a lot of people they can draw upon for that kind of support. When the -- and when you hear the secretary talk about things like integrated deterrence, he's talking a lot about U.S. capabilities, but he's also talking about how we combine our capabilities in an integrated fashion with those of our allies and partners. 

Again, China has nothing to compare to that and cannot rely on that same kind of a network.

Q: A quick follow up, Japan will hold the first 2+2 meeting with the Philippines tomorrow. So, what role do you expect Japan to play to maintain the rules-based order in the South China Sea?

MR. KIRBY: I won't get ahead of a 2+2 between those two sovereign nation-states. We certainly respect both of them, as allies, and they both are, of ours. But I'll let them speak for their agenda and what they're trying to get out of this discussion. I'm sure it'll be fruitful, I'm sure it'll be productive, I'm sure it'll be constructive to improving mutual security needs in the Indo Pacific.


Q: John, NATO says that up to 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed fighting in Ukraine. Is there any evidence or indications that the Russians are reinforcing those losses?

MR. KIRBY: I can't confirm the number. And you know, we've stayed away from providing estimates on the numbers; we do know that they have taken casualties, both wounded in and killed. What I can tell you, Lucas, sort of a two-part answer here, one, as we have seen Russian forces leave the north and move into Belarus and into Russia, we're beginning to see indications that they are, in fact, working on ways of refitting and resupplying these units, including discussions about how to replace lost troops. Now, some of these units are almost completely devastated. And it's unclear whether they will ever be reformed or whether there'll be combined with other units that are less depleted in manpower, equipment, vehicles. 

So, they're working their way through all of that right now. It remains to be seen how fast they'll be able to do it and with what, but we have seen indications that they're looking at their manning shortages and some of these units and how they're going to -- how they're going to try to fix it.

Q: Do you know how many Russian soldiers they're looking to call up or send in? 

MR. KIRBY: We have seen some reports that they are looking at mobilizing reservists, tens of thousands, perhaps, but, again, I think that remains to be -- remains to be seen. 

Q: Just a follow-up to Ryo's question. Is the secretary disappointed that the U.S. Navy is not planning to build a lot more ships to keep up with China? China's shipbuilding program is on a linear trajectory, and the U.S. Navy's shipbuilding trajectory is very flat. Does that concern...

MR. KIRBY: I mean, I don't know that I can improve upon the secretary's own words on this yesterday, but he clearly got an opportunity to speak to shipbuilding yesterday at the hearing in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee and then again on Tuesday with the House Armed Services Committee. I would just tell you that the truncated version here is the secretary is very comfortable with the shipbuilding requests that we're making for 2023, which includes nine new battle force ships. And he's much more concerned about capability and the proper mix of modern capabilities in the naval force than he is just about numbers; numbers have a quality all their own; clearly, he understands that. But his concern is making sure that as we build more ships and bring ships into the fleet, that they're the right mix of capabilities. The most advanced that we can put to sea.

Q: Does he think of the freedom class, littoral combat ships, was a complete waste? You're about to scrap all these warships that were built just a few years ago, and now the navy is getting rid of them.

MR. KIRBY: No. I mean, no. You've heard him talk about the -- the littoral combat ship. And in fact, you've heard him talk about this in the hearing. I mean, they served a purpose. And some of them still do serve a purpose and will serve a purpose going forward over the course of the fiscal year defense plan. But when you look at -- look at the national defense strategy, and you look at the budget, which supports that strategy, and that strategy is focused on the pacing challenge of China and the acute threat of Russia. What we are working with the navy on and support the navy's efforts to develop new classes of ships; ships with more capability than the LCS has for the kinds of fights that we think we might be in in the future. 

Q: ... should the navy been building those kinds of warships years ago and not these littoral... 

MR. KIRBY: I don't think we're going to re-litigate Navy shipbuilding plans from 10-20 years ago, Lucas. 

OK, gotta call it a day. 

Q: One quick follow-up, sorry. 

MR. KIRBY: OK, I guess I'm not calling it a day. 

Q: Sorry. 

When you responded to Kelly's questions, you accidentally overlooked part of her question where she asked if you thought Russia's -- what your feeling is about Russia's threat to Finland. And given you know, how threatened Ukraine (inaudible) and it's threatened Finland, and if it makes moves to NATO, it could attack it. So, I know you overlooked that by accident, but I was wondering if you could respond to that part of her question?

MR. KIRBY: I don't -- I didn't mean to overlook anything, Kelly; I wasn't trying to do that. 

Look, I'm just not going to get into hypotheticals here, Tom. Our focus...

Q: ... the threat, though. I mean, are Russian threats should be taken seriously. You said that many times on the podium. And I'm wondering if that applies to Finland -- or if at the Finland? 

MR. KIRBY: Well, but that's where you get into the hypothetical, Tom. I'm not saying that we don't take the Russian threat seriously. Of course, we do. But I'm not going to speculate or hypothesize about another threat to another nation, certainly a non-NATO Nation. I'm just not going to go there right now.


Q: Oddly, my question is on the same general comment. If I... 

MR. KIRBY: That is odd. 

Q: What? 

MR. KIRBY: No, go ahead. 

Q: If I recall with some precision, your answer, it was that the U.S. plans -- the Pentagon plans but doesn't plan for everything. And you seem to quite clearly rule out that you had any plans to assist Finland or Sweden against threats. So, let me not make it hypothetical. Do you mean to actually rule out that the Defense Department has -- you said you have no active plans. I do believe those were your words. 

Are you ruling out that you have -- are you saying the Defense Department has no active plans to assist Finland and Sweden if either of those countries called you up this afternoon and said they need help? Do you have no plans? Do you have nothing on this, John? 

MR. KIRBY: Barbara, come on now. That would require -- Barb, please. That would require that -- there's been no such request from Finland or Sweden. And obviously -- and this gets -- even in natural disasters -- if a country calls and asks for the United States' support. Certainly, we'll take that under consideration. 

If there's something that the commander in chief believes that the United States military can do to assist, then that's a conversation we'll have. But we are spending a lot of time today talking about a hypothetical that hasn't presented itself. These are two sovereign nations. And they have to make decisions for themselves about what alliances they want to join or not. They are not part of NATO. 

And so, do we have an active defense plan for either nation right now? No, we don't. But that doesn't mean that should there be some kinetic threat that those nations go to the international community and want support that we wouldn't take it under advisement? Of course, we would. But I mean, my goodness, I mean, we're getting into way, way ahead here in terms of where the situation is. 

The fight now is in Ukraine. Ukraine is under threat. They have been invaded, and our focus rightly so is on Ukraine and making sure that they can continue to defend themselves. 


Q: I have a question about yesterday again. Several senators, including Democratic senators, expressed frustration at what they called the fear of escalation. And they wanted the U.S. to do more to help Ukraine. Does the change on the ground with the -- the retreat of the Russians, does it make the position of the U.S. more difficult to keep, especially on the moral point?

MR. KIRBY: Not sure I understand the question.

Q: This -- this balance that the U.S. is trying to maintain helping, but not intervening directly? Is it more difficult now?

MR. KIRBY: There's nothing easy about anything with respect to Ukraine, not for the Ukrainians, certainly, not for NATO, not for individual nations, like the United States that are trying to support Ukraine. Nothing's easy about this. And we are working incredibly hard at an unprecedented scale, to help another nation defend itself. I know we get up here, and we spout these numbers, and maybe sometimes they just kind of go into the ether because they -- because we do it all the time -- 100 million, 300 million, 200 million, 350 million, 800 million. Over the course of this administration now, two and a half-billion dollars, which is almost as much as Ukraine's defense budget. 

And we've done it in near-record -- actually, in record time. We think about the speed with which this stuff is getting over there. So, we're doing as much as we can, as fast as we can, and at the same time, doing as much as we can to bolster NATO's eastern flank. We went from about 80,000 troops in Europe in mid-February to now over 100,000. And now you see us just another repositioning inside Europe of a Patriot battery into Slovakia. 

No other nation could do that from a logistics perspective. No other nation could do that from a supply perspective. So, we just fundamentally bristle at the notion that we're not doing enough and we're not doing enough faster. I mean, it's unprecedented. There's no historic comparison to what we're doing now to anything we've done in the past. 

At the same time, Sylvie, we are mindful that Russia’s a nuclear power and that we don't have perfect visibility into Mr. Putin's thinking. And so, it would be irresponsible. I mean, Secretary Austin took this office with one charge, and that is to defend this nation. Part of defending that nation, this nation, is escalation management. And if he wasn't doing that, if he wasn't thinking about the potential for escalation and where that might go, then he shouldn't be in the job. 

He takes that responsibility extremely seriously because the stakes are very high. So, no apologies for thinking about that as we continue to support Ukraine. And certainly no apologies for the speed with which and the scale at which we have continued to do that. And I think you're going to see it continue going on in the future based on our constant conversations with Ukraine. 

OK, thanks, everybody. Have a great weekend. We'll see you Monday.