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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Afternoon, everybody. OK. I think earlier you saw today that the secretary had a phone call with the Spanish minister of defense -- thank you -- Margarita Robles to discuss security assistance for Ukraine. He thanked the minister for Spanish contributions to NATO's eastern flank and Spanish security assistance that has been provided to Ukraine. He also noted that allied support is making a difference in terms of the battlefield progress for the Ukrainians and who continue to fight courageously to defend the country. And, of course, the leaders agreed to stay in touch and we'll have a fuller readout later. 

I also want to note scheduling-wise, the secretary will be welcoming his Polish counterpart here at the building tomorrow for a bilateral meeting, of course, focused on Ukraine. And then again on Thursday with his Czech counterpart here in the building for another bilat discussion, again, focused very much so, not only on our relationships with these individual countries but, of course, what is going on in Ukraine. And obviously we'll provide you readout information of those. 

OK. With that, we'll go to questions. Bob. 

Q: Thank you, John. I just wonder if you can give any update on the status of the plans for training in Europe or Ukrainians on the howitzers and radars and some of the other items from this latest package. And also I know you're just getting started on that latest package, but is there room -- in Secretary Austin's mind, is there room to expand even further the kinds of assistance that can be given to Ukraine that would be suitable for this new offensive that the Russians are conducting in the Donbas? 

MR. KIRBY: So, a couple of thoughts there. I don't have any updates for you on the -- on the training, on the howitzer training. But there is a -- there is a plan in place and we're beginning to execute that -- that plan to get that the training done. Again, it will be for a fairly limited amount of -- of Ukrainian trainers that will then go in and -- and train their colleagues. It will be outside the country. But right now we're just not in a position where we can sort of detail a lot of this. But there -- but the plan is in place and we expect to be able to get that training accomplished very, very soon, in a matter of -- of -- of days.

And again, I -- I think we'll be able to have more -- more to talk about a little bit later in the week on that. And as for what's in the -- the drawdown package I think, you know, you saw we detailed all the items that are going into that. And that -- and we're -- and we're focused right now on sourcing those items.

On the Howitzers specifically, I think that you'll see them move very, very soon. I don't have any shipments to speak to today but I think that you'll see them move very, very soon as well as the -- the ammunition that goes with them.

And as I -- I think I said yesterday, you know, we've -- we've definitely sourced the 18, we know where they're coming from. It's really just a matter now of -- of getting them packaged up and getting them on the way. They'll be coming from the United States, and, again, I think it's -- it's really very, very soon, matter of -- matter of days here.

And same for the ammunition, we believe we'll be able to pull virtually all of that out of pre-positioned stocks that are already in Europe, so it won't take very long to get the artillery rounds where they need to -- where they need to go. And as for the other systems, I don't have any specific training scenarios to speak to with respect to the -- the two radars, the two portable radar -- radar systems that we are providing Ukraine.

Again, we don't believe that in those cases that there's -- there's going to be any -- anywhere near an onerous training process for that. These are counter artillery radar, and a portable air defense radar system, the Sentinel, which you tow behind a vehicle.

It's -- it's not equipment that the Ukrainians intrinsically know how to use but we don't believe it's going to take very long to get them -- the proper familiarization. I just don't have any plans on that to talk about.

Q: My other questions was about whether you're considering a wider array of weaponry or other kinds of support beyond this?

MR. KIRBY: For this pack -- for this package that we're working on now, we're working on the systems we already announced that are part of that. And to answer, I think to answer your question, they are exactly the kinds of systems the Ukrainians have been asking for and they are tailored and designed -- the things that we're giving them tailored and designed for the fight that we know they're in now in the Donbas and -- and will be in coming days and weeks.

So I mean, artillery -- the -- the radar systems, the coastal defense unmanned systems that we're talking about. As well as, again, continued deliveries of small arms and ammunition. Which I know doesn't get the attention of everybody but it is still a vital, vital contribution in terms of the security assistance packages we've been providing.

Since the invasion, we have helped deliver, not just from our stocks but from stocks of other nations, more than 50 million rounds of small arms ammunition of various calibers -- 50 million. And that's the kind of stuff that the Ukrainians are literally using every single day since this invasion began.

So all of that will also be factored into these -- this package going forward.

Q: One last thing. What I was trying to get at was the Ukrainians are also asking for other things beyond that? I mean, I'm talking about tanks, aircraft. And I know you've talked about this before but are -- are you reconsidering any of those type of things?

MR. KIRBY: It's not about reconsidering, Bob, I mean, they -- they have -- they have received tanks from other nations. I mean, the kinds of tanks that they know how to use are not the tanks that we have in our -- in our inventory. But other nations have provided some -- some tanks.

Some nations have provided spare parts so that they can get their inoperable tanks operable again. And I would say the same on -- on aircraft. I mean, they have received support on -- for -- for -- to -- to get some of their fixed-wing aircraft, you know, more operable again. So I mean, look, the proof’s in the pudding there.

I mean, they right now have available to them more fixed-wing fighter aircraft than they did two weeks ago. And that's not by accident, that's because other nations who have experience with those kinds of aircraft have been able to help them get -- get more aircraft up -- up and running.

So the short answer to I guess the question that I three times failed to answer, but the short answer is -- is yes, we're working with the Ukrainians every day on -- on helping them with those other systems. And if it's a system that we can procure for them or get to them, we're -- we're doing that.

And certainly, if it's one that -- that we can pull down from our own stocks that's largely what drawdown authority’s all about. But in the case where it's not that, we are working with allies and partners who do have access to whether it is spare parts or whole systems to be able to -- to be able to get that into Ukraine for their use.

Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah. Carla.

Q: Thank you. First of all, when -- if the U.S. were to designate Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism how would that affect the Pentagon's communications with the Russian military? Like would there still be a line of communication available? Can you go into that? I know that the U.S. has not yet designated but if they did...

MR. KIRBY: So I'm wondering why -- why the question because there's -- there's not an active discussion about doing that.

Q: There isn't? I thought that the U.S. was taking a look at it though?

MR. KIRBY: I -- I know nothing out of the DOD that says we're -- we're talking about doing that.

Q: But the State Department had said...

MR. KIRBY: Well, I -- I can't speak for the State Department. But I'm not -- I -- I don't know of any effort here at DOD to -- to do that. So what effect that might have I'm not going to speculate.

Q: OK. And then if you would, can you give us an update on the Pentagon's assistance on collecting evidence for war crime accusations? How's that going?

MR. KIRBY: We are -- we are part of a larger interagency effort that is helping to provide documentation and -- and -- and evidence to -- to -- to support what we have long believed. Our -- our credible claims of war crimes by Russian forces but it's not just the DOD, the -- the whole administration, at least the agencies that have the wherewithal to provide evidence whether that's imagery or -- or other data that -- that can help support war crimes investigations, we're contributing to that. Yes.

Q: Hi, John. On the Howitzers, is there a sense that they -- the Ukrainians will quickly need additional artillery rounds and that the U.S. is going to send 40,000 but if they have a sustained fight, you could go through those 40,000 pretty quickly. How open is the door to quickly getting more artillery rounds?

MR. KIRBY: I think, you know, we've said many times it's about supporting Ukraine as much as we can as fast as we can. And while I don't have any future shipments to speak to today, I think you can assume that should there be additional need in the future for more 155 artillery rounds, the United States will be right at the front of the line doing what we can to help -- help get them there.

Q: And then on the -- the visits recently, Spain today, Poland...

MR. KIRBY: Spain was a phone call.

Q: ...okay Spain was a phone call, and then Poland tomorrow and Czechoslovakia. How much of the conversation now is about the future? And maybe having an increased U.S. troop presence in Europe because of the threat or is it very much still presently focused on Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah. I think these discussions that the secretary's having and you've -- we've read them all out to you, you -- you can see how much and how deeply he's engaged with bilateral conversations with a whole range of allies and partners -- is focused on Ukraine, and what's going on right now, and what can all do as allies and partners to help support Ukraine's critical defense needs.

That's the focus right now. They're not having deep discussion about long-term European footprint and what that would look like. We are having initial discussions here in the building about long-term posture. It would be foolish for us not to given that we know the security environment in Europe has changed. 

But in terms of the detailed negotiations with other countries about where that footprint might be rotational versus permanent or what the size might be, we're just not there yet.

Q: Without bringing up any requests, are they broaching the topic at all with the secretary?

MR. KIRBY: I won't get into more detail in these conversations than what we're putting out in the readouts. But I don't want to leave you with the notion that -- that -- that deep negotiations and discussions about footprint is a predominant part of these discussions.

Does it come up coincidentally sometimes when he's talking, depends on the nation and their -- and their willingness to host U.S. forces, sure it does. But it's -- it's not -- they're not diving deep into that and -- and looking at the map and deciding where we're going to put troops and how long they're going to stay. That's just not part of the conversation right now.

Q: Some of the original units that were deployed in like February, March, to respond to Ukraine have been extended. Is the conversation now about extending those further or maybe bringing in rotating in a new group of troops and would that be more from active duty, or are you thinking about calling up Reservists or National Guardsmen to fill that?

MR. KIRBY: I don't know of plans to call up for Reservists or National Guard for these sorts of commitments. I don't have any additional decisions to talk to today in terms of extensions or redeployments.

It is something that the secretary routinely revisits with General Wolters. There's been some, obviously, decision to -- to not terminate deployments in the case of the 82nd, in the case of the Harry S. Truman.

But -- but, you know, if and when we have overt decision making to speak to we'll certainly do that. But there's been no change in that -- in that rotational footprint right now. Yes, Barb.

Q: A senior defense official earlier this morning talked about the notion that the Department did not see anything imminent, I think that was the officials words, in terms of the concerns about Russia's nuclear weapons.

Could you clarify a little bit more what this official was talking about? In other words, do you -- do you still have any concerns about Putin's threats about nuclear weapons or is it off the table? And in your mind, in the Departments mind is the secretary continuing to get briefed on the status of Russia's nuclear weapons? 

How much of a focus is this for him as he continues to get briefings over all of the situation?

MR. KIRBY: The Secretary is routinely kept abreast of -- of threats in the nuclear realm and that includes a regular interchange with the U.S. Strategic Command commander, Admiral Richard. It is something that we monitor virtually every day, particularly in light of -- of the escalatory rhetoric that Mr. Putin voiced at the early days of this -- of this war.

I would just tell you without getting into too much classified information, that again, we monitor this every day. We have seen no reason to change our strategic deterrent posture and we're comfortable, remain comfortable that we have the ability, if required, to defend the Homeland, our allies and our partners with the current strategic deterrent posture that we have in place.

But it is not something that we ever take for granted, even before Mr. Putin decided to invade Ukraine, it's the kind of thing that we're constantly monitoring. I mean that is a -- you know it's a --

Q: Would you say that the Secretary is monitoring that the Russia situation has perhaps, I don't know, stepped up, increased since the invasion after Putin's rhetoric?

MR. KIRBY: I think clearly we took note of what Mr. Putin said in the early days of this invasion. I think it's also important to add that there hasn't been a lot more of that rhetoric following that initial salvo in the early days. But -- but yes, look, in light of what's going in Ukraine, and certainly in light of the early rhetoric, we are actively monitoring every single day.

And even today -- and even today the secretary remains comfortable that we have an appropriate strategic deterrent posture in place and there's no need to make any changes to it.

Q:  A quick follow-up on a different subject going back to Bob's very first question, I think. You said that you have a training plan for the artillery and that you were beginning to execute it, so can we conclude from that the training has begun?

MR. KIRBY: No, you cannot.

Q: Why not?

MR. KIRBY: Because it hasn't.

Q: The training has not begun?


Q: OK, thank you.

MR. KIRBY: But I think we'll be making progress here in very short order. Tom?

Q: Thanks, John. Good afternoon. Two questions please. On the unmanned coastal defense weapons that are being sent over, without getting into any security details, are there mechanisms to prevent them from -- if they're captured by the Russians -- by the Russians being able to reverse engineer them? That's my first question.

MR. KIRBY: I don't even know how I could answer that question. I mean we're -- we're -- we're going to give these capabilities to the Ukrainians so that they can use them to help defend their coast.

That's our focus, that's our attention right now. I'm not going to talk about a hypothetical capture by the Russians and what that would do or what that would mean.

Q: OK. I'm -- well, correct me, might be something that happens, a hypothetical in war time you --

MR. KIRBY: I know, Tom, but we could -- we could hypothesize all day about things that haven't happened and might happen and I'm just -- I just don't want to -- I don't think that's a good use of our time.

Q: OK. How about this one, my second question. In the inventory that we're sending over, how many systems like the Howitzers or artillery are close enough for the Ukrainians to train on and how many things do we have like you just mentioned, like the tanks, our tanks are not even near what they could do. Would you say most of the stuff we send over the Ukrainians can use without training or how would it --


Q: Yes, OK.

MR. KIRBY: Yes. I mean and that's been the case over now more than $3 billion worth of -- of material and assistance, the vast -- vast majority has required no additional training by Ukrainians.

I mean let's just take a look here. Right. We did a little bit of training on the Switchblade because that's not a UAV they know how to use. It's also not a very difficult one to use. We're going to get some training for a small number of Ukrainians on the Howitzers and the 155 artillery because they don't use that caliber and they don't -- they don't have in their stocks American Howitzers. 

But as I said the other day, artillery pieces are not all that radically different from one another and we don't think it's going to take very long for them to -- to go through the training on that. We're looking at to the degree to which we need to familiarize them with these radar systems, these portable radar systems that -- that we're going to flow over.

We don't have all that nailed down yet but we're looking at that. We also don't think that's going to require a whole heck of a lot of time. And we have already done some training with the Ukrainians that were here in the states before who got the Switchblade training also got training on -- on these coastal defense systems. 

So they are ready to receive those. We're doing the best we can to focus on, A, the kinds of capabilities we know they need and that they say they want and are using, B, secondary to that, to try to get them systems that they don't need a lot of start-up time for, that they can put in the field almost immediately.

And short of that, where we can't meet one or two to be able to provide some level of familiarization and/or training as required. But the -- but as I've said many times, we know that the -- that the -- time is not our friend and the clock is a bit of an enemy here too.
So I think we can be forgiven for wanting to make sure that we get stuff to them that they can use quickly and effectively in the field. And if there is a training component that we can -- that it can be as short as possible so that they're not distracted by the fight they're in in terms of training and education. 


Q: Thank you, John. In Ukraine, everyone's attention, everyone tells about the situation in Mariupol and the plans right now, and about Ukrainian military and possibly civilians blocked there. So, could you share your understanding of the situation there? And secondly...

MR. KIRBY: In Mariupol? 

Q: The Russia -- the strategy Russia might use there. 

MR. KIRBY: You're talking about Mariupol? 

Q: Yes, sir. 

MR. KIRBY: Look, you know, I'm careful not to detail battlefield tactic here because we're not on the ground, and so our visibility is quite frankly, somewhat limited. Our assessment is that Mariupol still remains contested, that the Russians have not taken it, that the Ukrainians are still fighting for it, that there has been a lot of devastation in Mariupol caused by the airstrike and the artillery strikes that the Russians continue to reign down on the city. 

The Ukrainians obviously want to keep Mariupol, and for good reason, it's their city. And they're fighting bravely for it. I'm not going to speculate about how much longer it will hold out, and frankly we're not willing to accept what some critics say is the inevitability of it falling. They didn't take Kyiv either, they didn't take Chernihiv, and the Ukrainians continue to fight over Mariupol.  

Now look, why the Russians want it -- again, I'm not inside the strategists' heads there in Moscow. But if you just look at geography you can see the importance of Mariupol to what the Russians themselves have said is a goal, which is a land bridge to Crimea from the Donbas down to Crimea as well as the ability to close off -- to pinch off Ukrainian forces in the Donbas. 

They've already said they're going to focus their efforts on the Donbas specifically, this is an area of the country that they have been fighting over for eight years, and the Russians have said themselves they're going to prioritize that. If that is your geographic goal, then there is a logic that follows that Mariupol could be important to that because it lies at the southern end of that part of Ukraine. 

OK, David. 

Q: Just before we came in here the wires were moving the stories that the president had just told reporters he was going to be sending more artillery. So I want to give you a chance to tell us more about that. But I also want to ask you, why is this being done in slices? If you knew when you did the 18 howitzers that wasn't going to be enough, why wait another week if, as you say, time is working against you? 

MR. KIRBY: Because time is working against us, David. I mean, so first of all a couple of things. One, everything we're sending is a result of iterative conversations that we're having with the Ukrainians, literally in real time about what they need and what we can provide. 

And we do the best we can with each package to tailor it to the need at the time, and now the need has changed, because now the war has changed, because now the Russians have prioritized the Donbas area and that's a whole different level of fighting, a whole different type of fighting. 

And last Wednesday was when the president announced $800 million to include 18 howitzers. And we never said at the time, David, and I'm not saying today -- and you heard the president himself today – that that's the end all, be all sum total of everything we're going to do. 

We have said, and we've acknowledged that fighting in the Donbas is going to require an effort for both sides on long-range fires, which means for both sides artillery. We've noticed that the Russians had moved in artillery support into Donbas, and it follows that the Ukrainians would want artillery support. 

I don't have any future packages or shipments to speak to today. You know that I'm not going to get ahead of that. But as I answered to Tara it is certainly within the realm of the possible that the Ukrainians will want additional artillery systems and additional artillery rounds, and we will have those conversations with them, and we will -- if that's the need, we'll do everything we can to meet it. 

Q: So last week the Ukrainians told United States we only need 18 howitzers...


Q: ...only needed 40,000 rounds...

MR. KIRBY: No, no. They said they needed artillery support, and just like in every other package, we take a look at what capabilities they're asking for. What do we have immediately in the inventory that we can get there quickly? And what we came up with in this package was 18 howitzers and 40,000 rounds, but it doesn't mean it's the sum total. 

And to your question about why we're slicing this, I find that interesting because if we were to -- let's just say that we follow the alternative logic and at the very beginning of the invasion we just said here's everything -- everything in the shoebox let's just send it over there. Well, what if everything in the shoebox doesn't fit the fight that they're in. 

So you tailor each package based on the fight that they're in and what's going on at the time. You also have to tailor your packages, David, on what they can absorb on their end. I mean, it's -- they understand they have absorption issues too that they have to deal with. 

So you don't want to flow everything you've got -- the whole kitchen sink in there and then have them have nowhere to put them, nowhere to store them temporarily, nowhere to move them to and nowhere to put them in the fight. So you have to do this smartly, and this means doing it in chunks and phases based on what their needs are in the moment. It would be irresponsible for us not to do it that way. 


Q: Hello, John. I have two questions. A European official said this morning that they could be up to 20,000 foreign fighters, and Wagner employees fighting for Russia in Ukraine. Is it a number you find plausible? 

MR. KIRBY: I have not seen that number. We know that the Russians have tried to recruit foreign fighters, particularly out of Syria. And the Wagner group we know also has been interested in pulling people from elsewhere like from North Africa. 

The Russians themselves said they were going to recruit 16,000 Syrians. We don't know whether they actually achieved that goal, or how close they got to it and how many foreign fighters there might be in Ukraine, we just don't have a good count. 

Q: And you said earlier that the Ukrainians have now more fighter aircraft than they had two weeks ago. Can you give us...

MR. KIRBY: More operable fighter aircraft than they had two weeks ago. 

Q: So can you give us an idea of – did they receive more? And an idea of how many? Dozens? 

MR. KIRBY: I would just say without getting into what other nations are providing that they have received additional platforms and parts to be able to increase their fleet size -- their aircraft fleet size, I think I'd leave it at that. 

Platforms and parts. 

Q: What is a platform?

MR. KIRBY: Platform is an airplane in this case. They have received additional aircraft and aircraft parts to help them, you know, get more aircraft in the air. Yes. 

Q: Thanks, John. I wanted to follow-up on U.S. security aid to Ukraine. I think you said the total was like $3 billion now. And the expectation would be that Congress is going to replenish those funds. Can you say where that it is? Like how much has been reimbursed so far? How much you're still looking to get back? And like do you have any specific timeline -

MR. KIRBY: I don't unfortunately. Not today. I'll try to take the question for you and get back to you on that. 


Q: Thank you. I just want to follow-up on a couple of earlier questions. David had asked you earlier about some comments the President made earlier today about more artillery --


Q: -- going to Ukraine, if you could provide some details about that? And then on the additional platforms --

MR. KIRBY: I thought I did. I thought my answer was pretty comprehensive, no?

Q: Really.

Q: I thought you didn’t either…

MR. KIRBY: You didn't think I did either?

Q: Provide details?

MR. KIRBY: Yes. 

Q: On the next package? 


Q: No.

MR. KIRBY: I told you I'm not going to do that. I specifically said I'm not going to get ahead of future announcements. Now look…

Q: It’s been announced, so is it a future announcement?

MR. KIRBY: Look we're constantly looking at what we can do to help the Ukrainians. I don't have any additional announcements to make today on any further drawdown packages. But I certainly would not rule out the possibility of additional drawdown package authorities being granted to the DoD to pull from our inventories. 

And it would -- I certainly wouldn't, as I said to Tara, if the Ukrainians desire more artillery support then we're going to do what we can to flow additional artillery support. But I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that haven't been announced. So I'd leave it at that.

Q: And can you clarify when you when you talked about additional platforms and parts were any of those provided or transported by the United States?

MR. KIRBY: No. I mean we -- I would say we certainly have helped with the -- with the transshipment of some additional spare parts that have helped with their aircraft needs. But we have not transported whole aircraft. Yes.

Q: Can you talk to us a little bit about any updates that you have visibility into the use of chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine? There have been some reports of just recently the last few days about the use of Sarin in Bilka perhaps. Evidence on the ground of ampoules and things like that.

MR. KIRBY: No. We don't have any indications that chemical or biological weapons have been used in Ukraine. 

Q: And what's the state of the PPE that was being sent over to them, the personal protective equipment, to help them in case of any sort of attack like that?

MR. KIRBY: It's part of -- it's part of this $800 million package that we are still working on, guys. I mean it only got announced on the 13th, the first shipment went in two days later. There are multiple shipments going. I'm not going to get into an inventory list on every given day of every article. But their personal protective equipment will be part of that $800 million. 

Yes, let me go to the phones here. I haven't gotten anybody. Idrees?

Q: Thanks, John. Over the past couple of days Russia and their Defense Ministry has made a couple of statements about them targeting western and U.S. weapons. Just wanted to check in. Have you seen any western or U.S. weapons hit in Ukraine by Russia? Or even targeted?

MR. KIRBY: Seen any -- we have no indications that any western equipment or shipments have been -- have been hit or deterred by the Russians. The strikes in Lviv, again we don't know exactly what the Russian targeting logic is here. We just can't get inside their heads on every airstrike that they are conducting. 

But it is possible that the strikes they conducted in Lviv were meant to try to affect inventory levels of material and weapons that the Ukrainians may have had. But I've got no confirmation to that. I'm not -- I don't -- I can't say for sure that that was what they were targeting. And we have no indication that any weapons or systems that we were sending in or other countries were sending in were hit or disrupted.


Q: You actually kind of answered it at the end there. But so you're saying that it's possible that the strikes in Lviv may -

MR. KIRBY: It's possible that that's what they were trying to do. But it is -- it's an open question whether it was successful, we have no indication that there's been any impact. 

Q: Is there any concern, I mean it's pretty remarkable at this point that they haven't actually been able to stop or deter any of these weapon shipments that we’ve heard about especially if they've been accelerating and there's a half dozen or whatever that are getting in a day or more. Is there -- is there a concern that that might be more of a goal for them in the days going forward and is there anything that's being done -

MR. KIRBY: It has been -- it has been a concern for us since the moment we started helping flow material into Ukraine. And that is why we don't talk about the routes. We don’t talk even about the locations in the theaters where the shipments are arriving. And it's why we're being very judicious about how material is getting into Ukraine. Because it's been a concern since the very, very beginning. 

Yes. Barb, did you have a question?

Q: Yes, thank you so much. I would like to go back to David's question. You seem to lay out, with your reasoning, very much a case that in fact security assistance is being done phased, is being done in slices, is being done peaceful, -- 
MR. KIRBY: I don't -- I --

Q: If I could just finish. You lay out -- thank you, I appreciate it. You lay out a very comprehensive case of U.S. strategy for doing it that way in order to make it -- in the view of the U.S. the most efficient for the Ukrainians to be able to take advantage of the sequential shipments. But President Zelensky, since the very beginning, has -- I just want to close the loop. 

President Zelensky, since the very beginning, has basically begged the world for as much in weaponry as fast, and I know you say you're doing it as fast as you can, but as fast as it can be gotten to Ukraine's fighters. So the Russian strategies, you knew -- everybody knew that they were going to go into Donbas, that was not a secret. I'm just wondering if you're looking at this and from this point forward perhaps looking at a different way of doing this other than in these slices or phases?


Q: Is there another way to do it?

MR. KIRBY: Let me push back on this verb of slicing it. I mean because I don't -- I don't think that's an accurate way of putting it. It's not about slicing. It is about packaging this and it's about doing it in a way that accurately and most effectively meets the needs of the Ukrainians in the moment and on the ground and in the fight that they're in. And that fight has changed. 

You said it was fairly obvious to everybody that they were going to focus on the Donbas. Well, Barb, you -- maybe you have better intelligence than we do. It wasn't obvious to everybody that that was what they were going to eventually going to. If you remember back on the 27th of February they were attacking Ukraine along three main lines of access. And one of them, and the one that everybody here was all worried about and around the world was worried about was Kyiv.

And there was all this discussion about how fast Kyiv was going to fall and when -- when were the Russians going to take it and how inevitable it was that Kyiv was going to fall and it didn't. And you know, one of the reasons it didn't was because we flowed in a lot of javelins. And we -- and other countries flowed in other capabilities to help them stop the Russian advance. 

And also, they failed because they didn't properly plan for logistics and sustainment; they didn't -- they made mistakes of their own. And so, the systems that we gave them, we and other nations gave them, helped them in the battle for Kyiv, and helped force the Russians to stop their advance. That was the focus for the moment, and it -- and it was rightly the focus for the moment. OK, now, it's the middle of April, the Russians have had to recalibrate. They've had to change their strategy. 

They've said it publicly themselves; you're seeing it on the ground; they're focusing on the Donbas. That is a different terrain. That is a different fight. It requires different capabilities for both sides. And so, in our iterative conversations with the Ukrainians, they have said, now that we're focusing on the Donbas, now that we know that's where the fight is coming, we really need -- fill in the blank, right. And artillery was one of those fills in the blanks. 

And so that's why we're focusing on this. And -- and -- and that's the right way to do this because the war does change over time. And it would be foolish for us to just throw the kitchen sink at them and then not have any flexibility as the war changes to make changes in the moment. Now, I understand President Zelensky wants as much as he can as fast as he can, too. I mean, his country is under siege; it's under attack; I perfectly understand that. 

But we've got to make sure that we're helping him in the most effective way. And we believe we are, and we'll see what the, you know, what future packages look like. But I guarantee you whatever they look like; they're -- they're going to be tailored based on the Ukrainian's needs in the moment and what their -- what they most require. 

Q: Do you feel that Ukraine can continue to wait while the Pentagon and -- and the suppliers that you work with around the world can contemplate these moments as they emerge? I'm just asking if there's a different way that you might be thinking about doing this...

MR. KIRBY: Well, we're always wanting to improve. I mean, I'm not -- nobody's going to stand up here and say we do everything perfectly every single time. And if there's a way to get more stuff there faster, we'll stay open to that. Absolutely. Nobody -- nobody's boasting here, nobody's patting ourselves on the back. 

But, let me just stress again the incredible speed and scale with which material is getting over there in recent memory, and recent history is truly unprecedented. And that is not an exaggeration. From the time, as I said, the President authorized this latest 800 million on the 13th of April, 48 hours later, on the 15th, the first plane was taking off with stuff in that package. And we're still completing prior packages of things that are still getting in there. So, every single day, at these transshipment sites in Europe, there's somewhere on the -- on the neighborhood of 8 to 10 flights coming in, and they're not all U.S. flights, and they're not all coming from America, but 8 to 10 flights. 

And every single day, Barb, that material is getting put on pallets and put -- and put on a ground delivery transportation means and getting into Ukraine via a various amount of routes. We are... 

Q: I don’t want to dominate this, but a week ago, you knew the Donbas was the target. You might not have known... 

MR. KIRBY: And a week ago, we were talking to the Ukrainians about what they would need as that fight was -- was -- was following up.

Q: Did they lay out – well -- you're gonna say that you won't answer this, but... 

MR. KIRBY: Go ahead, try me. 

Q: Yeah. I will. Have they laid out to you -- even if you don't want to say what it is, have they laid out to you the next phase of what they think they need? And are you hearing that they are satisfied with a phased approach; if not sliced, it is phased?

Q: I would tell you that we are having constant discussions with the Ukrainians. I don't want -- I mean, I don't want to leave you or anybody else with the impression that -- that -- that it is, as David described, sliced, like a piece of cake, like, OK, this is what you're gonna get. And then we don't talk to him again until the next piece of cake is needed. We're talking to them all the time. So, even after we arranged for this $800 million security package -- in fact, even as that discussion was going on, and those decisions were being made, and the -- and the sourcing was being done, we were having discussions with Ukrainians about future needs, and what that might look like. 

And those discussions have happened since the 13th of April. And we'll see where it goes. I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that haven't been announced yet. But it is a constant conversation that we're having with them. It's not -- it's not just slice one and be done and wait for the next one and -- and you know, we hang up the phone and don't talk to each other for a few days until there's another acute need, that's not how this is going. It's a constant conversation. 


Q: Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Go ahead. 

Q: Thank you so much. My question is also about the U.S. security assistance to Ukraine. So, as you mentioned there are these additional requests from Ukraine for additional weapons so how could the U.S. manage and balance between the security needs for Ukraine and the risk of escalation in light of Russia's threats to destroy western weapons?

MR. KIRBY: I don't know if I completely understand the question. But if you're asking me how we're... 

Q: ... between the risk of escalation and... 

MR. KIRBY: Risk of escalation. Yeah, look, I've talked about this before. I mean, our main focus is on helping Ukraine defend itself. And that means talking to them about what their needs are. And if it's a need, we can meet, or we know somebody else can meet, we'll do that. 

The Secretary is literally on the phone every day talking to allies and partners, including this day. And will include tomorrow, and Thursday, and Friday, to talk to allies and partners about these needs. And if it's a need we can't meet, or we can't meet soon enough, then maybe an ally or a partner can. And he's having those active discussions literally every single day. And look, of course, as the Secretary of Defense, he has to think about escalation management; that's his job. 

It would be irresponsible for him not to when you're talking about a guy like Mr. Putin with his reputation and the fact that he has nuclear capabilities and -- and also has a significant amount of combat capability still available to him in Ukraine. It would be foolhardy. And in fact, it would be, again, I say, irresponsible if we weren't also thinking about escalation management. So, that's a -- that's a balance that the Secretary has to strike every day. But the focus is and will remain on helping Ukraine defend itself.


Q: John, on the Russian resupply efforts, there was a discussion yesterday that Western sanctions were hampering precision-guided munitions. President Zelensky mentioned that it was broader than maybe even helicopters and other technical equipment. What is your sense, beyond Western sanctions, of the Russian military's ability to resupply itself as it gears up for this next phase? 

MR. KIRBY: Beyond the sanctions? 

Q: Mm-hmm. 

MR. KIRBY: Well... 

Q: Including sanctions as well. I mean, you know, generally its ability to -- to resupply itself. 

MR. KIRBY: Yeah. Mr. Putin still has a lot of his inventory available to him. Some of it's been depleted, some of it's been destroyed, some of it's been captured. But he still has a lot of combat capability available to him. And I think it's important for us to just remember that. I couldn't tell you I don't know specifically what concerns they might have in Russia about supply chain issues and their own defense industrial base and how well it can replenish the inventory that he's gone through. 

But one would have to assume that -- that they're thinking about that because even though they have a lot left to them, they've gone through a lot. And it's our -- it's our belief that -- that some of the sanctions levied against Russia will have a downstream effect on their ability to procure certain items and components to help them with their -- with their -- with their inventory and their stocks; precision-guided munitions is a good example of that. But I -- I don't want to overstate that right now. Mr. Putin still has quite a bit of combat capability and inventory available to him.

Q: And a couple of months ago, ahead of the initial invasion, there was an awful lot of talk about the consequences of the weather and freezing. And as this phase in the Donbas begins to ramp up, what's your sense of what Russia's capability could be given that, you know, we're well past the ground freezing there, and the inability even with the ground frozen for them to maneuver outside of roadways? 

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I think it's -- the weather's always a factor in war. And the spring weather it -- it, as we know, it's been a factor for, frankly, for both sides. Even if just -- even -- even just this week. The -- the ground as it makes it harder for them to operate off of paved roads and highways. It doesn't make it impossible because they do have track vehicles, but -- but it does make it more -- more difficult. 

Again, I think, taking 10 steps back and just remembering. I know I say this all the time, but I think it's important to keep foot stomping it. This is an area of Ukraine that they have literally been fighting over now for eight years. Both sides know the terrain; they know where the roads are, they know where they're not. They -- they know the population centers. 

And -- and -- and both sides are -- are doing what they can to achieve their own goals in the Donbas. But this is not a part of Ukraine that's alien to them the way the north part of Ukraine and around Chernihiv and Kyiv was in terms of operational maneuver. This is a part of Ukraine that they -- that they understand well. 


MR. KIRBY: A non-Ukraine? 


MR. KIRBY: Let me just get through. I got a couple more on the phone, and then I'll come back to you. 

Q: Thank you. 

MR. KIRBY: Kellie from NewsNation? 

Q: Hey, John, thanks for taking my question. Some of my other ones were asked already, so I will -- I have one on a separate topic that I wanted to ask you about just in terms of any more specifics on the deaths of the sailors assigned to the USS George Washington, any connection on those deaths?

MR. KIRBY: I would refer you to the Navy, Kellie. My understanding from speaking to Navy officials this morning is that -- I mean, obviously, they're still investigating these deaths. I don't believe that they are aware of any indications that they are -- are related. But that -- that's what they believe right now. And I want to, you know, I think we need to give them time to properly investigate these deaths. 

And I would just add that all of us here at the Department of Defense, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families for those -- those sailors who -- who are now no longer in the ranks. I mean, that's -- these are now going to be families getting the worst possible news and dealing with unspeakable grief. And I just think it's important that they know that the Department of Defense, the Secretary, we're going to -- we'll give them all the support that they -- that they deserve.

Heather from USNI? 

Q: Thank you so much. I was wondering if there's any update on the Moskva in terms of the number of crew that might have survived or a number of those who might have perished in the sinking?

MR. KIRBY: I don't. And I -- and I don't think, Heather, that we'll -- we'll ever know perfectly how many sailors perished aboard the ship and how many survived. I mean, just in general, we -- we do not believe that -- that every member of the crew survived. But how they perished, how many perished, we just don't know. 


Q: Thanks, John. After focusing on the South China Sea, China now is increasing its activity in the East China Sea. And the Japanese have, for the last three, four days, have expressed great concern about the Yonaguni Islands, which are very close to Taiwan, where the U.S. used to have a military presence. Is it possible -- would -- would that be possible for the U.S. to reconsider? I know, it's speculation, but I mean, they were there once before, but given the state of the Japanese Constitution, which limits their military ability to consider reinforcing the Japanese avast?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any decisions like that to speak to Tom. I mean, obviously, Japan is a treaty ally; we take our responsibilities for their self-defense very, very seriously. But I'm not aware of any discussions or conversations here at the Department of changing the -- the posture with respect to the East China Sea. 

Q: Thank you. 

MR. KIRBY: Yep. 

OK, I got to go. I'll take one more. Go ahead.

Q: Oh, just jumping on Tom's bandwagon here. There -- there have been discussions in Europe ongoing now about concerns of China's increasing influence. Where on the spectrum of intensity and time sensitivity do you see that kind of worry?

MR. KIRBY: I think we've long been concerned about China's growing influence around the world to include Europe. And I would, you know, note that it's not just the United States, but -- but our NATO allies are likewise concerned. At the defense ministerial earlier this year, not the last one, but the -- back in the -- back in the fall, for the -- for the first time, NATO Defense Ministers put concerns about China in the communique at the end of the defense ministerial. So, it's a concern that many nations have about growing Chinese influence that -- that is inimical to many of their own national security goals and objectives. And it's not just there; it's in Africa, it's in South America. I mean, the -- the Chinese continue to try to bully and intimidate their way into pursuing their own selfish national security interests at the expense of populations all around the world. 

Q: And do you see them using the focus now on Ukraine justly so? Do you see this as they're taking advantage of an opportunity here to sort of intensify their activities or? 

MR. KIRBY: I don't -- I don't know that they're -- necessarily you can pin this kind of behavior just on -- on what's going on in Ukraine or that they somehow view that the rest of the world is distracted by Ukraine. I mean, this has been a consistent play by the Chinese for the last several years. 

OK, thanks, everybody.