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Transcript

Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

May 20, 2022
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: Hello, everybody. Happy Friday. Technically I'm only 10 minutes late because I moved the brief time to 2:00. The -- the Meyers disapproval. Evident as always. Welcome back. 

OK, so, a couple of things at the top here if I can get this to work. All right, so far, so good. I think you know that this morning, the Secretary met with the Colombian Minister of National Defense Diego Molano and reaffirmed the importance of the strong defense relationship between our two countries. He congratulated Colombia on its recent designation by President Biden as a major non-NATO ally and praised Colombia's progress as a NATO global partner. The leaders discussed their shared interest in deepening cooperation on a range of strategic issues. Secretary Austin expressed his appreciation for Colombia's many contributions to regional and international security based on that strong defense partnership. 

Switching to other business. Later this afternoon, the Secretary will have a chance to speak again with the Ukrainian Minister of Defense, Alexei Reznikoff, to discuss Ukraine's military requirements in advance of the U.S. hosted -- the first iteration and the second meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group that will be held on Monday. It's going to be held virtually. The Secretary will participate from -- from the Pentagon. The Secretary also had a chance to highlight for Minister Reznikoff the President's authorization yesterday of that additional $100 million in security assistance to provide Ukraine's armed forces with additional capabilities as they continue the fight in the eastern part of the country. 

The contact group meeting will include over 40 countries. We'll have a more comprehensive list for you on -- on Monday. We're still working all that out, but more than 40 countries, which will be coming together as they did in Ramstein a month ago to provide security assistance to Ukraine and to discuss the future of what that could look like. And again, the Secretary is proud to be hosting this and -- and we'll have more information on that Monday morning. 

Also, this morning the Secretary had a chance to speak with the French Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, over the phone. He bid farewell to his colleague, Minister Parly, who is leaving her position now after five years in the role. They've had a very, very good relationship in the last 18 months. He thanked Minister Parly for the close cooperation, the collegiality, and friendship, during their time as counterparts and, of course, for all the work that our two militaries between the United States and France do together routinely throughout the world. 

Moving to some upcoming travel, the deputy secretary, Dr. Hicks, will depart for an overseas trip on Sunday to meet with senior military and government leaders in Norway, the United Kingdom as well as the U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command leaders in Germany. Throughout her travel, Deputy Secretary Hicks will work to deepen relationships and reinforce the importance of allies and partners to counter strategic competitors like Russia and China while also countering the threats of transnational terrorism that emanate from the African continent. So, busy trip for the deputy; we look forward to seeing her accomplish those objectives. 

And with that, we'll take questions. I think Lita, you're up. 

QUESTION: Thanks, John. Two really quick things, and then I have a one broader question on Ukraine. But has there been any resolution to the flights of the formula? Is that definitely going to be contract aircraft? And my second very short one is just wanting to check back again whether or not the U.S. has seen any evidence of any laser weapons used by Russia in Ukraine? And then I have a follow-up. 

MR. KIRBY: On the lasers, no, we -- we don't have any indication of the use of lasers as -- these -- weaponized lasers in Ukraine nothing to confirm on that. On the Operation Fly Formula, we are, as I think you saw, we put a statement out last night; we're doing the sourcing work -- on the sourcing right now to -- to arrange for the first flight to get -- to get formula from Zurich, Switzerland, to the United States. It will be going to Plainfield, Indiana, this first flight. So, we're working with the sourcing on that. I don't have a specific update for you in terms of exactly what carrier it's going to be. And you know, exactly what -- what time and date. But obviously, this isn't -- this isn't classified information. And as soon as we have it properly sourced and all the details worked out, we'll get that to you. I would add that we're working this very, very hard -- have since last night, and I don't think it's going to be very long before (A) there's a sourcing solution, and (B), you know that flight is actually in the air.

QUESTION: My follow-up. Just on Ukraine as a whole. Shoigu has said, I think today that the liberation of Lugansk is nearing completion. Do you have sort of a broad sense about how much of Ukraine Russia now controls and what that says about the state of the war right now? 

MR. KIRBY: I don't have a percentage estimate of geography. And I'm not sure that it would be much of a helpful metric anyway, Lita, because literally, the territory is changing hands every single day. For instance, two weeks ago, if you'd asked me about Lugansk -- not Lugansk, Kharkiv, while we never assessed that the Russians held Kharkiv, they were surrounding and circling Kharkiv. There was only a small corridor toward the -- to the southeast of the city that the -- the Ukrainians could continue to supply themselves through. And now they have literally pushed the Russians well away from Kharkiv all the way up to near the border with -- with Belarus and with Russia, and -- and then even to the east, well into the northern Donbas region, they have pushed the Russians out in the Donbas region. 

Almost every day, there are hamlets, towns, and villages that are -- that are -- that are changing hands. The Russians are still well behind where we believe they wanted to be when they started this revitalized effort in the eastern part of the country. And -- and while they have made, and we have been very honest about this, they have made some incremental progress in the Donbas. It is incremental, it is slow, it's uneven, and the Ukrainians continue to push back. So, it's a long answer to what was a simple question. I don't have a percentage of land held for you. And again, I don't know that we would consider that a useful metric given how dynamic the fighting actually is in the east.

OK, Travis. 

QUESTION: Thanks. Just to follow up on the baby formula. So, the President has invoked the Defense Production Act, and TRANSCOM is working on getting these flights to bring the formula over. Is the military involved in any other way in this kind of baby formula crisis, of for now is that the extent of it?

MR. KIRBY: Right now, the extent of it is using DOD, really Transportation Command’s contracting vehicles to find commercial aircraft to fly this formula. And as I said yesterday, that's -- that's a cheaper and usually more efficient way to do it. Because we have contract, we fly contract air every day; much of the security assistance that goes to Ukraine goes on contract air, quite frankly, not -- not gray tails. I do want to stipulate I said it yesterday, but I want to make sure I make it clear again; today, it is possible that through Operation Fly Formula, that we would determine that the most efficient way to do it would be on a gray tail, a U.S. military aircraft. And so, we are working the sourcing right now for this first flight. 

And I don't have a sourcing solution for you right now. But I don't want to leave you with the impression that it's definitely one or the other. U.S. transportation command knows how to do this. In fact, they know how to do it better than anybody in the world. And they understand the tasking; they'll find the right sourcing solution. And then, as soon as we have that, I will absolutely make that transparent to everybody. We'll -- we'll walk you through it.

QUESTION: Thanks. If I could just follow up on a separate issue, your Secretary met yesterday with this suicide prevention committee. Is there any update from that? Is there anything that -- any impressions that he had, or is there a better timeline for their work? 

MR. KIRBY: He was grateful for the opportunity to meet with him. This was their first week, sort of as a group. So, it was really a chance for him to simply thank them for their service because this is a public service that they're rendering the department and, frankly, the country, and he wanted to thank them for -- for their willingness to serve on this committee and to devote their valuable time and incredible expertise to the effort. There's no changes to their -- their schedule. I think we've already walked you through what that's going to be. 

They're going to be working well into 2020 -- well, they'll have to report out in early 2023, final report due to him at the end of this year. They've got some scheduled installation visits I think we've made public that; that's -- that's all on track that's going to go. So, I have no changes to the schedule to read out to you. But he's -- he's very grateful. And I think really, for any -- most -- the biggest purpose for him wanting to talk to them was to -- was to thank them and make sure that they heard directly from him, not that they needed to, but that they heard directly from him, how seriously he's taking this issue of suicide prevention and -- and treatment. And -- and, you know, with respect to mental health, I mean, it is clearly an issue we've got to get better at, and we still have these issues of stigma in the military, you know, that the can-do attitude that we have, which is so commendable, also can lead to making people feel like they're not -- not able to, or will be -- or will somehow be held to account or punished for -- for seeking mental health. 

And we want to -- we want to get our arms around that and reduce that stigma. So, a good discussion. The Secretary was very grateful to have it very grateful for their service. And again, we'll -- we'll keep you posted as things go -- go forward. 

Yeah, Court? 

QUESTION: On the baby formula thing, I just wanna be clear. When you say that there's no sourcing solution, that -- so you -- it's still not determined whether it's going to be a civilian or military aircraft... 

MR. KIRBY: We're still working that out. 

QUESTION: OK. How -- is there -- will the military, once it's...

MR. KIRBY: But I don't think it's going to take very long. 

QUESTION: OK. Is there even like a date set for when it's supposed to leave and/or arrive in Indiana? 

MR. KIRBY: I would refer you to Transportation Command; I don't have that level of granularity. My understanding is that it's not going to take long. I mean, we're talking days at most.

QUESTION: And then is the military going to have any role in the distribution once it arrives here?

MR. KIRBY: That's not part of -- that's not part of the mandate right now. And I assume you mean like trucking it to the -- no, that's not part of the mandate, the mandate right now is to work with transportation command to fly it from Europe to the United States. Then it's going to have to go through -- and I'm not -- like I want be careful here because it's outside our lane. But I understand, you know, HHS and FDA have a role here in terms of, you know, making sure that -- that everything is safe and ready for distribution and how that -- how that gets on the store shelves. That's not a task that the Department of Defense has been -- been given. 

QUESTION: So -- so DOD won't have a role in the quality control of it and/or the distribution as far as you know? 

MR. KIRBY: No. 

QUESTION: And then finally, are you -- is there anything else on the flight that you're expecting other than formula? Is there any other kind of -- I don't know...

MR. KIRBY: Well, the flight hasn't been sourced yet, so I don't know. My guess would be, and I should never be guessing from the podium, but my guess would be that that's it. It's just going to be to get formula, and that's all there is. 

QUESTION: So, and then also, speaking of guessing from the podium, I guess is this the podium you're going to continue to guess from, or should we expect you to be guessing from another podium in the near future?

MR. KIRBY: I am very proud to be here, and that's what my focus is on. 

QUESTION: That was far from an answer, so. Would you say that you're going to be in this job in like a couple of weeks? Are you moving to the White House? What's the deal?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any -- I mean, look, I've seen the stories out there; I don't have any personnel announcements to make. Certainly, none about me. We all serve at the pleasure of the President; I will tell you that I am just so proud to be able to come back into public service and to be back here with you guys. And I'm focused on that.

Tara?

QUESTION: So, if you had to guess, do you think you will be at this podium or maybe another podium?

MR. KIRBY: I think the only guess I'm going to make today is the guess that I made to Courtney, which I probably shouldn't have done in the first place. I'm assuming it's just going to be formula on that plane. But I don't have anything personnel-wise to talk about today. 

QUESTION: Following up, though, on a different topic. On the Ukraine contact group. Can you talk a little bit about, like, what will this next discussion be? Is it more formalized on what kind of funds they might send to Ukraine? Or is it more weapons or?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I mean, I think the -- the main focus is going to be, as it was in the first meeting, I think we're going to want to reorient all the leaders on the -- on a battlefield update, what's going on, on the ground, and Minister Reznikoff will be a key contributor to that discussion, as you might expect and then there'll be a discussion upfront, and certainly they're going to want to hear from Minister Reznikoff about the capabilities they continue to need. And then there'll be a discussion about that among the partners about -- sorry, partners is not a good -- members of the Contact Group about how they can best fill those capabilities. So, you know, we've been very open in just the last 24 hours about additional capabilities that we're sending we look forward to hearing what other countries might be willing to provide as well. So, it'll be, I think, dual-purpose, battlefield update, get a direct sense from the Ukrainians what their capabilities are, that they need. And then a discussion with the -- with the members about how we can best fulfill that, obviously, we're not going to speak for other nations, if in fact, they have announcements to make they'll -- they'll be able to make that on their own. 

QUESTION: How many members are there, and has it grown since the last meeting? 

MR. KIRBY: We know over 40. RSVPs are still coming in. So, I'm going to be a little bit careful here on the numbers, but we'll have a more robust, more accurate list for you on Monday morning. But we're still talking to people, even today, and I suspect over the course of the weekend. 

QUESTION: John, can I just follow on... 

MR. KIRBY: Sure, Jim.

QUESTION: So, this is -- this is a living growing group, this contact group? 

MR. KIRBY: That's right. 

QUESTION: You expect -- I guess you had 30 some odd the last time; you're up to 40... 

MR. KIRBY: We had more than 40 last time as well. 

QUESTION: OK. 

MR. KIRBY: And again, I don't want to get ahead of where we are, but there's some -- there are some countries that have shown an interest in participating that -- that weren't in the first -- in the first meeting. So, we'll -- we'll have an update Monday morning.

But there's not a cap on it. We would love to have as many people; many, many countries participate as possible. And what was really noteworthy about the group in its first iteration was you had countries from the Middle East, you had countries from the Indo Pacific, it wasn't just Europe. And it certainly wasn't just NATO. There was a true global community there of countries that were interested in what was going on in Ukraine. 

And more than that, as the Secretary said very eloquently, you wouldn't have been there if you didn't care about Ukraine and care about helping Ukraine, and every country has to decide for themselves how they do that. But it was very clear that the -- that every member came with ideas and ways that they can contribute. So, we're looking forward to a good discussion. This one will be -- this one will be virtual. And then what the Secretary said he wants to do is have one every month. And so, we'll -- we'll see what it looks like in June and July. 

Barb? 

QUESTION: Can I ask you about North Korea, with the President traveling in the region and Jake Sullivan openly now publicly discussing the intelligence that the U.S. has that North Korea could be headed towards an ICBM or even an underground nuclear test. So, with that on the table, by Jake Sullivan, what is the assessment here about the risk posed by another North Korean ICBM test, a possible underground nuclear test? And he said that you had contingencies. Can you talk a little bit about the potential, the risk to the region of another test, and what you might be able to do about it? 

MR. KIRBY: Every time the regime in Pyongyang tests, whether it's a nuclear test or a missile test, every time they test, they learn. Sometimes the tests are less successful than others. But each one is a learning experience, which means with each test, they are trying to advance their program and their capabilities. And that's worrisome because those capabilities pose a threat, a very real threat to the security and stability on the peninsula, let alone the region and even beyond the region. So, we obviously take this very, very seriously. 

You also heard Mr. Sullivan say more than once that we maintain an open invitation to Pyongyang to sit down with no preconditions, mind you, to sit down and talk about how we get to a denuclearized Peninsula and a denuclearized North Korea, and there has been no indication and quite -- quite the contrary, not only no indication that they're willing, but -- but every indication so far that they want to continue to develop this program. These provocations, again, are clearly destabilizing to the region; the ballistic missile tests, they are violations of the existing UN Security Council resolutions. And so, you also heard Mr. Sullivan say we're going to continue to consult with allies and partners to make sure that -- that absent any kind of diplomatic progress, we -- because we have treaty requirements, certainly with South Korea and also with Japan -- that we, the United States can maintain our readiness to defend ourselves and our interests if need be.

QUESTION: You mentioned risk beyond the region from testing. Can you give us any current view about how close you believe North Korea may be to a missile that could successfully fly beyond the immediate region that could reach, successfully reach intercontinental range? And can you let that happen?

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get into specific intelligence assessments of the -- North Korea's missile capabilities. Barb, I think you can understand why we wouldn't do that. We're obviously watching this very, very closely. And as I said, with every test they learn, what we need to make sure of is that we are properly postured and that we have the right capabilities in the region to defend ourselves to defend our interests, and defend our allies and partners. Five of our seven treaty alliances are in the Pacific region. And I think that people forget that we have real commitments there. And that's one of the reasons the President is going to meet with two of our staunchest allies right there in the Indo Pacific. 

QUESTION: If I could just ask one last time, can the United States let North -- can the U.S. military let North Korea have a missile of intercontinental range? 

MR. KIRBY: What the U.S. military has to be able to do is defend our interests and our allies and partners in the region. And I think I'll leave it at that. 

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you confirm the reports that the U.S. and allies' -- that indication that North Korea is now fueling -- fueling an the ICBM?

MR. KIRBY: I don't have any specific information on that. I would point you back to what Mr. Sullivan said just yesterday that we do have indications that they are potentially preparing for either another launch or perhaps even a nuclear test. I won't go beyond what the national security adviser said publicly in terms of what the indications are.

QUESTION: OK, and one more question is there have been aircraft carriers in and out of the Yokosuka harbor in Japan. So, are they kind of temporarily moving the deployment of aircraft carrier in response to the President's visit to the region or the North Korean move?

MR. KIRBY: I would refer you to the Navy to talk to their ship schedules. I don't have visibility on when the -- when the aircraft carriers or ships in -- in the Pacific fleet are coming in and out. I would just remind that we routinely operate at sea in international waters in accordance with international law, whether that's training or whether it's steaming exercises or -- or freedom of navigation operations. We are constantly putting to sea and -- and exercising our capabilities. And that's not unusual. That's not atypical. And I would walk you away from connecting any of that activity which is ongoing to the President's visit.

QUESTION: One last question is what do you expect to the, you know, the presidential meeting with South Korean President Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida... 

MR. KIRBY: You're asking the wrong podium here. Yeah, I'm gonna refer you to my White House colleagues on that. That's not for me to -- that's not my place. Not my place.

Lara. 

QUESTION: On -- just on Ukraine, can you give us a status update on the maritime situation? There's been a lot of reporting today about Russia's blockade in the Black Sea threatening food supplies, and a Ukrainian official tweeted this morning that the U.S. is preparing a plan to destroy the Black -- the Black Sea.

MR. KIRBY: Say that one, that last one again.

QUESTION: A Ukrainian official tweeted this morning that the U.S. is preparing a plan to destroy the Black Sea foot.

MR. KIRBY: OK, I can tell you definitively that that's not true. Just looking here, no changes that we observed in the maritime posture in the -- in the Black Sea. The Russians still obviously have vessels there. Most of them surface vessels but -- but submarines as well. They continue to, although they are not as close to the coast as they were a few weeks ago. They continue to be able to, from a maritime perspective, blockade major Ukrainian ports like Odesa, so there's still nothing getting in economically. But I don't have any other updates for you in the maritime domain.

QUESTION: Are we going to be sending them anti-ship missiles?

MR. KIRBY: We are -- we are talking to the Ukrainians every day, as you know in fact, today's another one of those days when the Secretary is going to talk to Minister Reznikoff about -- we talked to them about their needs and our capabilities. And when we have decisions, we come right out here and we issue a press release and we tell you about that. So, I'm not going to get ahead of decisions that haven't been made. We're doing the best we can to meet their -- their capabilities in as near real-time as we can. And we keep trying to make those capabilities match what's going on on the ground. And what's going on on the ground right now is a very artillery heavy, long-range fire heavy fighting in the Donbas. 

Yeah, in the back there.

QUESTION: Going back to the Pacific questions. President Biden's not meeting with President Xi. Well, when he's over there, China's holding military drills for four days exactly over this weekend. Does that -- how does that affect U.S. relations with China at a military level? 

MR. KIRBY: The Secretary -- the -- again, I want to be careful here, it's the President's trip. I mean, I'm not in a position to speak for the White House on this. But clearly, the President wants to show our deep commitment to two very staunch treaty allies, Japan and South Korea on this trip. And so, he's prioritized those stops. And they're important stops. In fact, the Secretary's first overseas trip was to South Korea and to Japan. So -- so we're grateful for that. 

Obviously, China and the coercive activities, the -- the -- the illegitimate maritime claims that they're making and the pressure they're putting on allies and partners, will -- will be a backdrop to his visit, and visits and to his discussions. There's no doubt about that. We're not sure it says anything about China's military in particular, what it says is how much we prioritize alliances and partnerships in the Pacific region, in the Indo Pacific region, and how we're trying to make sure that those alliances and partnerships remain viable and relevant to the myriad of threats that exist in the region. We just talked a few minutes ago about another one coming from North Korea. 

The other thing that the -- that we've been interested in for a long time, is not just U.S. bilateral relations with these two treaty allies, but with trilateral, multilateral cooperation between the United States and -- and our allies in the Indo Pacific, including encouraging nations like Japan and South Korea to continue to look for ways to work closer together as well. So, it's a terrific opportunity for the President to show how much we're prioritizing those two relationships, those two alliances, but also to encourage more multilateral cooperation going forward all with an eye, of course, to China's coercion and intimidation in the region. 

Yeah, Nancy.

QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on some comments you made yesterday about the Secretary's visit with his Israeli counterpart. You mentioned that Shireen Abu Akleh death came up during those conversations. Given that this is an American citizen who was killed by -- potentially by an allied partner using American munitions, can you give us any more details on what precisely was said to the Secretary making requests on behalf of the U.S. government regarding her death?

MR. KIRBY: Nancy, I'm not gonna go into more detail today than I did yesterday the issues -- the issue came up and as I said yesterday, the Secretary welcomed the fact that the Israeli government has indicated that they will conduct an investigation on this and you've heard my colleagues at the State Department talk about our expectations for the thoroughness and transparency of that investigation. But the issue came up. That's as far as I can go. 

Yeah. 

QUESTION: Just one quick follow up. Did the Secretary offer any like -- any military assets or anything to help with the investigation or any kind of...

MR. KIRBY: There's been no request for U.S. military support to the investigation. 

QUESTION: Did he offer any? 

MR. KIRBY: I'm not gonna go any further than what I've done. There -- there was -- there's -- there's no indication that there's going to be a need for U.S. military participation in this. 

OK. Nobody else in the room. Jeff Seldin, VOA.

QUESTION: John, thanks very much for doing this. Couple of -- few questions. Given the very public, very transparent and ongoing military support by the U.S. for Ukraine, is there still any concern that providing the Ukrainian military with certain weapons systems is going to cause Russia to escalate? And if so, is there any sense of how far Russia realistically would go if it decided to escalate? And then also two quick ones, any update on Russia's current nuclear posture and the U.S. posture in response and anything new on Russia's use of mercenary forces, or efforts to recruit foreign fighters? Thanks. 

MR. KIRBY: I probably we will forget, as I get into this, half of those questions. So, we may have to come back there, Jeff. No update or changes to our strategic nuclear deterrent posture, and the Secretary remains comfortable that we can defend the homeland, our allies and our partners. And we're monitoring this very, very closely. I have no update on the use of foreign fighters by the Russians. We know that they have -- have tried to enlist and recruit foreign fighters, but we don't know how successful they've been. They have more than 100 battalion tactical groups in Ukraine right now. And we do know, like groups like the Wagner Group, are still in the Donbas region. And that is a group, a private military contractor, if you will, that we know relies on foreign employees, if you will, but I couldn't tell you what the makeup looks like. I knew I was gonna forget the first question.

QUESTION: It was given the U.S. public support for Ukraine, is there still concern that providing the Ukrainians with specific weapon systems could cause an escalation?

MR. KIRBY: We -- we have been thinking about escalation management since the very beginning more than 80 days ago, when this invasion kicked off, and we've talked about it many, many times here in the briefing room. Nobody wants to see this war go on another day. Certainly, nobody wants to see it escalate beyond the incredibly brutal violence that has already visited upon the Ukrainian people. But we also, as we -- because we don't want to see that we don't think escalation would be good for -- certainly not good for the people of Ukraine, not good for the region, not good for our interests, and certainly not good for the Russian people. So, we're constantly monitoring the threat environment with escalation management, clearly in mind it would be irresponsible if we didn't do that. 

But as we work these packages, these weapons and systems that were sent to Ukraine, I mean, we're doing it mostly with an eye towards what does Ukraine need in the fight that they're in right now? And the -- and the consistent answer that we get back is they need long range fires, because the terrain in the Donbas region, that kind of fighting that they're doing is heavily reliant on that we've seen that play out now in just the last couple of weeks. And so, our focus is on making sure that we can advantage Ukraine on the battlefield and therefore hopefully advantage them when it comes to -- to an ultimate peace there in Ukraine and that's -- again, that's what the focus is. But yes, clearly, look, we -- we -- nobody wants to see this war escalate and -- and, you know, we can do both. We can -- we can -- we can watch for signs of escalation, as at the same time providing Ukraine with the capabilities that they need to defend themselves. 

Yeah, Luis. 

QUESTION: We haven't heard this in quite a while. But the effort to get Soviet made era weapons to Ukrainians, there was so much focus on S-300s and so much focus on tanks and planes. I know that the U.S. was distancing itself from being the intermediary and all that. But I mean, is the U.S. still working around the world to get that kind of weaponry? You know, we just haven't heard anything on it.

MR. KIRBY: I don't know that we ever distanced ourselves from being the intermediary. Well, the MiG-29 thing, but that was a different deal. I mean, we have been working closely with allies and partners who have these other systems that the Ukrainians need to help get them there. Right now, Luis, because of what's going on in the Donbas, I think one of the reasons you're not hearing a lot about it, is because the Donbas is a long-range fires artillery fight. And so, one of the things that we have been talking to allies and partners about are -- are their artillery systems, some of which are more familiar to the Ukrainians, some of them are not as familiar, like, our own M-777s but -- but we are still -- we're still talking to allies and partners about those kinds of capabilities. 

The -- the reason you're not hearing about like tanks and airplanes is -- is because that's -- I'm not saying they're not being used, don't get me wrong, it's just that the main need that the Ukrainians continue to stress is for long-range fires. And so, we've been working on and helping them get, you know, systems that help them with long range fires. But that's still happening. And -- and tomorrow -- tomorrow? Monday's contact group is another good example of a forum now that we've created, we've convened that will allow us to continue to dip into a process to get Ukraine -- or at least to make other nations available and knowledgeable about what Ukraine needs, as the fight on -- is ongoing. And that's why the Secretary wants to do these every month. So, that there's a, you know, you're dipping your toe into the stream now every month, across the global community. People can hear directly from Ukraine about what they need, and we can adjust fires as we go on.

QUESTION: So, another thing that's been -- we've heard about is that you need this stuff right now on the battlefield, and you need to carry out short term training so that they can rush back to the battlefield. As this contact evolves, month to month to month into something more long term, can this administration now consider requests from the Ukrainians for equipment that may require long term training such as potentially these aircraft, the F-16s, or -- that they are requesting? 

MR. KIRBY: We're not there yet. And I don't think we're shutting anything off, we're not taking anything off the table, we have been focused on trying to get them systems that they can use as quickly as possible. And the original, as you know, early on, we were really trying to get them exactly the kinds of systems that they trained on which were all ex-Soviet systems. And they're in a fight. And they're losing some of these systems in combat. And so, there was a greater need to replenish. 

And after a while, the ability to replenish out of what exists in Europe of old Soviet stocks is just starting to dwindle. And not just because there's not that much of it left, but because a lot of countries need it for their own defense. So, that led us to look at some American made systems. And so, as we talked about before, we wanted to try to get them the systems that meant the most to them in the fight, but that also wasn't going to require an onerous amount of training or upkeep and supply chain. Now, could that change over time? It's going to depend on where the fight goes, and what the needs are. 

But we haven't closed anything off. We haven't, you know, put an X through something and said, "well, that's never gonna go," we're -- we're working with them in real-time. And you've seen us already change our approach, you know, from small arms and ammunition and UASes and javelins and stingers. We're not talking much about javelin and stingers anymore, but we are sure talking about M-777s. I've learned more about howitzers now in the last couple of weeks than I ever thought I’d know thanks to Mike Glenn. And so, it could very well evolve going forward. We'll just have to see. 

Yeah. Idrees. 

QUESTION: Hey, John. Two quick questions just going on Shireen's killing. When you said it came up when Austin talked to his Israeli counterpart, when you say it was discussed, is that like it came up for a minute, or was there actually like a discussion about it, which lasted for several minutes? Just like, you know, is it just something that came up in passing or was it actually an agenda item? And secondly, could you give us an update on Mariupol and sort of where things stand? Do you still believe the Ukrainians are in control of the city?

MR. KIRBY: Idrees, the Secretary brought up the issue, and they discussed it, and he welcomed the Israeli government's willingness to investigate. And I'm not going to go beyond that. On Mariupol, you've heard the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense themselves talk about the combat mission ending there. And I can't -- I wouldn't go any further or -- or dispute the Ukrainian government's assessment of Mariupol they have said that -- they have publicly said that their combat mission has ended there. 

Sylvie, and then I'm going to have to go, guys. 

QUESTION: Hello, John. I would like to go back to the Ukraine contact group you said that this -- you are going to discuss, they're going to discuss what the -- what the future could look like. So, I wanted to know if it means that there is an effort to achieve a consensus on what victory for Ukraine would mean. And I have a follow up.

MR. KIRBY: Sylvie, the contact group is not about setting diplomatic conditions for the end of the war. The contact group is an extension of the consultative meeting that we had in Ramstein last month. And it is designed to bring together a community of nations who have a shared interest in Ukraine's ability to defend itself and to explore opportunities and capabilities that can be provided to them to that end that's the goal of the contact group, not to -- not to get involved in the geopolitical end states here. Obviously, every nation involved wants to see this war end today as it should. But that's not the focus of the contact group. 

What's your follow up? 

QUESTION: The head of the Ukrainian intelligence said that success for Ukraine would be pushing back the -- all the Russians from all the country to the pre-2014 borders. Is it something that the U.S. agree with?

MR. KIRBY: We agree that Ukraine should determine for itself what victory is going to look like. And that Ukraine should determine for itself what it means to win this war. What we're focused on is making sure that we give them the tools and capabilities to better defend themselves and to be successful on the battlefield. That's not for the United States to -- to make a determination of. 

Yeah, in the back there.

QUESTION: I'm wondering if you can confirm. Back in the Black Sea region, are the Russians using civilian cargo vessels to resupply their forces there? And would that be a violation, if so, of the...

MR. KIRBY: I've seen no indication that they're using civilian cargo vessels. In fact, what -- what we've seen clearly is their use of LSTs, basically small amphibious landing ships to do resupply. That's what we've predominantly seen. I've seen no indication that they're using cargo vessels. 

QUESTION: No indications of the vessels that were purchased as civilian vessels?

MR. KIRBY: I haven't seen -- I haven't seen anything in the information that I get that would be able to confirm that. 

OK, thanks, everybody. Happy Friday to you. We'll see you next week.

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