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Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY:  Hello, everybody. Six minutes. That's not too bad. This seems a little high. Yeah, there's the pencil mark for Kirby. That is -- what the heck, man? There we go. That's much better now I feel taller, and more in command. All right. Some -- bear with me here. We got quite a few things to top out today. And we'll get right to you after that.

So, I think this morning, I think we issued a read out and you should be aware, Secretary Austin, had a chance to talk with his Japanese counterpart, the Defense Minister Kishi and shared assessments on the DPRK's recent ballistic missile launches, and they also had a chance to consult on response measures. Today's call followed yesterday's phone call that the Secretary had with his South Korean counterpart. In both of these conversations. Each of the leaders condemned these launches underscored that the launches are a continued threat to regional and global security. And of course, stress that we're going to continue to work with them, our allies to address North Korea's provocative actions and work toward the complete denuclearization of the peninsula.

Now, as part of this fourth official visit to the Indo Pacific region, Secretary Austin will participate in the 19th Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore, hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Most of us know that as double-I, double-S. He'll also have the chance to meet with key Indo Pacific leaders to again advance some of our defense relationships in the region. And from there, Secretary will travel to Bangkok as the United States and Thailand make -- take important steps towards modernizing the U.S.-Thai alliance and expanding the depth and breadth of our military cooperation. Secretary Austin's trip will fall on the heels of the U.S.-ASEAN special summit that President Biden hosted in Washington just earlier this month. I think you all track that.

And President Biden's recent visit of course, just over the last few days to the Republic of Korea and Japan. And this series of high-level engagements certainly reflects the United States deep commitment to working alongside regional allies and partners to charter shared vision for a free and open Indo Pacific region. And as President Biden has certainly made clear ASEAN centrality remains at the heart of our vision there.

Moving on to Europe, the U.S. Sixth Fleet will kick off the U.S. Naval Forces Europe led annual Joint Multinational maritime focused Baltic Operations '22 or BALTOPS '22. That's an exercise executed by naval striking and support forces NATO, which is based there in Naples, Italy. The exercise will take place predominantly in and around Sweden from June 5 to June 17. And this exercise is in its 51st iteration provides a unique training opportunity that strengthens combined response capability is critical to preserving the freedom of navigation and security in the Baltic Sea region. Participating nations will exercise a myriad of capabilities that demonstrate the inherent flexibility of maritime forces including amphibious operations, gunnery, anti-submarine, air defense exercises, as well as mine clearance operations, explosive ordnance disposal and diving and salvage operations.

14 NATO nations, 2 partner nations, Finland and Sweden in more than 45 maritime units 75 aircraft and approximately 7000 personnel will participate. Unique to BALTOPS 22 is Sweden's role in hosting the exercise, which coincidentally occurs during Sweden's -- the Swedish Navy's 500th anniversary so we're grateful for their ability to lead and to host this year. Just to level set, this year's BALTOPS will include forces from Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom and of course the United States. So, big exercise lots to get done and I know they're looking forward to it.

The Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy is pleased to announce two directorship appointments to the regional centers affiliated with the National Defense University. Ms. Amanda J. Dory as the director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. She will succeed Ms. Kate Almquist Knopf, who served in that position from July of 2014 until December of 2021. Some of you know Amanda quite well. Ms. Dory is currently the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo Pacific security affairs. She has served in multiple leadership roles in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy, including the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs.

Also, Dr. Paul J. Angelo was selected as the director for the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies. He will be succeeding retired Army Lieutenant General Frederick S. Rudesheim, who served in the position from February of 2018 until May of 2022. In other words, this month. Dr. Angelo is a fellow for Latin American Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations where he researches migration, insecurity and strategic competition in the Western Hemisphere. The whole department would like to express our gratitude to Ms. Almquist Knopf and to General Rudesheim for their dedicated service to the nation. Both are recipients of the Secretary of Defense medal for exceptional public service. And of course, that's very well deserved.

And then finally, with Memorial Day coming up, Arlington National Cemetery is going to be honored to host the first Flowers of Remembrance Day this Saturday, May 28, from 9:00 until 4:00, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Flowers of Remembrance Day will pay homage to the first official Decoration Day now known as Memorial Day, which originally took place at the cemetery in 1868, as a way to honor the sacrifices of all those who fought and died in the Civil War. This first Decoration Day featured a procession from Arlington House to the tomb of the Civil War unknowns and further into the cemetery where people decorated the graves with flowers. This became an annual tradition and established Arlington as the site of the nation's official annual Decoration Day observance. Arlington National Cemetery historians will be able to offer history talks at 10:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. in the center of the memorial amphitheater, to share the history of Decoration Day an optional walking tour will follow the 10:00 a.m. talk only.

Flowers will be provided, or members of the public may bring their own any long stem flower to place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As to remind folks that visitors should not bring vases, reeds, or flowers with any packaging or plastic containers. The public is also encouraged to bring water and wear comfortable shoes for walking to the tomb. Plus, any of us have walked Arlington National Cemetery know that comfortable walking shoes are a must.

And with that we'll take questions it looks like Lita, you're up first.

Q:  Thanks, John. Two quick things and then a Ukraine question. First, can you say as of today, whether or not there are any U.S. military troops in Ukraine at all? And do you expect that to change? And just a quick one on the naming commission is -- does the Secretary have to wait until the final report is out in -- later this year, before he takes any action on any of the new base names? That's probably just yes or no. And then I have a third. Does the U.S. military anticipate any role at all in the effort to get more of the grain out of Ukraine? Thanks.

KIRBY:  OK, there's -- I am -- there's no way I'm going to remember all three of those. So, on troops in Ukraine, the president, the commander in chief has been clear there are not going to be U.S. troops fighting in Ukraine. And that is -- that is the case today. As you know, the Embassy has opened and there's a defense attaché, a colonel, as the defense attaché, and that -- that Colonel is in -- is operating in -- in with the embassy folks. And I'm not going to go beyond that in terms of talking about troops in Ukraine nothing has changed about the President's direction that U.S. troops will not be fighting in this war in Ukraine, that has not changed.

Now, whether or not -- and I know what this gets to is whether or not the United States will be in military will be providing assistance to our diplomats, we are in constant communication with the State Department about future security needs. There's been no change as we speak today to the State Department's view that -- that they can handle security requirements with diplomatic security personnel, but it's obviously not uncommon at all, for the United States military to participate in some security protocols at embassies around the world. And we're in an active discussion with the State Department about that. Now, I won't get ahead of that and clearly that will be a State Department decision to make. God, now I already forgot the other one. I'm writing these down.

The Secretary has the authorities to approve the recommendations of -- of the naming commission. But as I think you hope you gathered from his statement, that he wants to wait until the commission has done all their work, before he starts to get involved in making decisions about their recommendations, he very much appreciates the work that they have put into this the very thoughtful approach that they have taken to this particular problem set. And he looks forward as he said in a statement to getting their entire report before I think he starts to make any decisions.

And then there was another one, grain?

Q:  Yes, grain.

KIRBY:  And what was the question, Lita?

Q:  The question was, is there any thought toward using U.S. military in any way to help facilitate the movement of grain out of Ukraine?

KIRBY:  Now Lita, there are no plans to use the United States military or military resources or assets to assist in the -- in the movement of grain outside of Ukraine?

OK, what else? Tara?

Q:  Last year during COVID, troops helped with the -- with the movement of vaccines, they help distribute vaccines, they've helped with baby formula, they've helped secure the wall is there a role for U.S. troops to help protect American schoolchildren from the shooting like the one that happened in Uvalde this week?

KIRBY:  I mean, I certainly know of no efforts, requests by local governments or state governments to have the United States military involved in that. I would -- so, I know of no role, no procedural, no -- no pending requests for assistance in that regard. But I would echo, I would like to take the opportunity to echo what Secretary Austin said yesterday at the Air Force Academy in expressing, as he very eloquently did, the condolences of everybody in the Department of Defense for the people of Uvalde, particularly those families that are just going through an unbelievable -- an unbelievable time of mourning and sadness right now.

Q:  But just to kind of push on that a little the state governors didn't have to ask for the military to help with baby formula, right? So, why would it need to be a state governor request to...

KIRBY:  I didn't say it needed to be a state governor request. I said, I know of no role for the United States military with respect to protecting schools at a local level. And there's certainly been no request for that, Tara. I mean, this is an issue better decided by state and local governments, not by the United States military I know of no such demand signal for that -- that role. But again, we certainly mourn with the people of Uvalde today.


Q:  I would like to go back to Ukraine we are approaching the 100-day mark in Ukraine. I wanted to know if -- how you assess the risk of war fatigue in the public in the American public? How do you -- do you think they -- the support for the war in Ukraine is going to last as long as you want to?

KIRBY:  The last thing that I think I would ever want to do is speak on behalf of the American people and -- and their level of concern. That's -- that would be significantly inappropriate for me to do from this podium. What I can tell them through you is that we remain very, very focused on supporting the Ukrainian Armed Forces and their ability to defend themselves. The President was -- was grateful for the support that he got from Congress for this most recent supplemental request. We are working through now what the next package and packages of aid and assistance from this department will look like.

No decisions have been made no announcements on the next -- on the next aid package, but -- but we're certainly working our way through that. And it's been very clear to us, from the commander in chief himself, that we're going to take seriously our responsibilities to help Ukraine better defend itself. And so, we're going to be focused on that. And as we've said, gosh, many times we're going to do this as long as we can, and as fast as we can. And nothing has changed about that, Sylvie.

Yeah, Travis.

Q:  Thanks, John. So, you said that there will be no U.S. troops fighting in Ukraine. But you've also told us that there's at least one U.S. service member in Ukraine...

KIRBY:  Well, the question was, are there any forces in Ukraine and I mean, I'm not gonna -- obviously, there's a defense attaché, who is a military officer, so.

Q:  I know. And so -- so you're saying that the troops will not be fighting in Ukraine, but you said that there is at least one U.S. service member in Ukraine who is not fighting. So, are you ever reserving the right to have troops in Ukraine who are not involved in combat?

KIRBY:  That is not for me to -- to -- to say or even for the department to say that is going to -- if there is going to be any U.S. military security assistance to our diplomats, that's going to be between Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin and of course, a conversation with -- with the President as well as to whether or not it's appropriate for there to be any U.S. military assistance to the security element there at the embassy. We are actively talking to our State Department colleagues about that right now. No decisions have been made.

Q:  OK. And if I could just follow up on the naming commission stuff. One of the things that wasn't clear when the commission was describing the process is they were saying that this report will go to Congress and then Congress will provide it to the Secretary. What's your understanding of that, that Congress can change that report or give the Secretary whatever version of that report of those names that it wants to, or will the Secretary actually will receive that exact report that was produced by the Commission and make his decision based on that?

KIRBY:  I mean, look, there's a whole process here. So, while the announcement of the recommended names occurred, the department's implementation work will not commence until after the naming commission submits its congressionally mandated plan. As I said, the Secretary appreciates the work that they've done. We're not going to make any decisions or move forward until they've completed their work. We're not going to implement the Commission's plan until at least 90 days after the commission has briefed Congress and given Congress a written report on its work.

So, the report is due to Congress no later than the first of this year. The Commission will recommend procedures for renaming assets, bases, installation ships, and will release its plan for removing names as mandated in the 2021 NDAA. So, it would be inappropriate for me to speak to the plan before it is submitted. And again, I think for further specific information, I'd refer you to the commission.

Q:  And just to be more direct, I think though the concern was, is whether Congress can change the recommended names or not.

KIRBY:  I'm not going to get ahead of where we are in the process, Travis, the Secretary won't implement the plan until after they've completed their work and he's had a chance to digest it for himself and make determinations for himself how he wants to do this. He has the authority to name installations. But again, this is a congressionally mandated commission as well. So, we're going to work with Congress going forward. I just don't want to get ahead of where we are in the process.


Q:  So, on the call with the Minister of Defense Kishi, Secretary Austin spoke about the response measure relating to DPRK missiles; what would those entail, and would they be done unilaterally, bilaterally, or trilaterally with ROK allies?

KIRBY:  Well, look, we've already -- we've already conducted a bilateral exercise. I think we talked about this with Japan's Air Self-Defense Force and the Eighth U.S. Army as well as South Korean military personnel in just -- in just reaction to these -- to these recent launches the launch on -- on Tuesday. So, that was a trilateral* exercise. And I won't speculate about future response actions when we take them and if and when we can talk about them, we will. But we clearly are willing to do things bilaterally with either ally as well as trilaterally and we've already proven that and one of the things that Secretary has always been keen on is improving trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan and South Korea. And we also encourage Japan and South Korea bilaterally to explore options for mutual self-defense as well.


Q:  And so, the -- the three missiles that were fired, one of them was presumed to be an ICBM. You talked about the assessments that Secretary Austin shared, I'm curious if -- what is the DoD assessment on these three launches? And what is the DoD assessment on the DPRK's progress in their ICBM development?

KIRBY:  We'd go so far as to say multiple ballistic missile launches. We know that. We're still analyzing the data and the intelligence from that, and I just don't think I'm gonna go into more detail than that. But we're obviously sharing what we think we know and with what our Japanese and South Korean partners are also seeing, but we haven't -- we haven't come to any final conclusions. And again, I don't think I'd get into the intelligence analysis right now.

Yeah, Court.

Q:  You know, there was a time where we used to be able to within like 24 hours of the launch, we could -- we would have a sense of what it was -- the assessment was what they were. And this, I don't even know what day it is; it's Thursday now? We're like three days out from this one, so why is it that we -- I mean, the Japanese, the South Koreans, they give their assessment within hours, sometimes even less than that. So, why can't the USA whether it was accessed to be an ICBM, or if there's something that was -- that was different. I just don't understand. I mean, for years, we could always get that kind of information much more, but now we don't get it at all.

KIRBY:  I would just tell you we're still analyzing the intelligence on this; we're still talking to allies and partners. We just had the call with the Japanese minister of defense this morning. And we're just not prepared at this time to lay down what we think we know about these.

Q:  Do you -- does the U.S. dispute or disagree with what the Japanese -- because the Japanese have been pretty open about what they think. And the reason that this one it's kind of confusing is because there was initially there was report of two, and then it was three, and that Japanese and South Koreans weren't necessarily on the same page here. So, I mean, at this point, does the -- who does the U.S. agree with which assessment?

KIRBY:  Well, I would just say we -- we believe there were multiple ballistic missile launches.

Q:  Including an ICBM?

KIRBY:  Multiple ballistic missile launches.

Q:  Is there anything that was new or different about the -- there was some -- there were some reports of the -- the ICBM, you know, or whatever it was, one of the ballistic missiles, may have had the ability to change its trajectory in the air.

KIRBY:  Yeah.

Q:  Was there any -- any...

KIRBY:  I'm just not gonna give any more detail than that. Multiple ballistic -- try this again with English, multiple ballistic missile launches is as far as we're willing to go right now. But I do appreciate the questions and they're fair.

Yes, ma'am. You had a question? Or is that -- did Courtney steal your -- she always does that.

Q:  Sorry. Liz from Fox usually asks better questions than me, too.

KIRBY:  (inaudible).

Q:  Actually, I have more than one question.

KIRBY:  All right, let me get my pen. This is what happens when you approach 60. Go ahead.

Q:  So, first, can you confirm that Russia is withdrawing its forces from Khmeimim Airbase in Syria? And then I'll ask the second one later?

KIRBY:  No, keep going, I'm writing.

Q:  OK. So, if you can give us a sense of the department's position on the Turkish threat to launch a new military operation against Kurdish fighters in northeast Syria, and if you got in contact since Monday with Turkish about this. And actually, one more, if you have any information about that claims that Turkey detained the ISIS -- new ISIS leader Quraishi in Istanbul?

KIRBY:  Yeah. So, I'll go in reverse order. I can't confirm the reports about Al-Quraishi and what -- what we’ve seen in the press obviously, we've been looking at this all day, but we're just not in a position where we can actually confirm that press reporting. On Turkey, I think we're obviously very concerned about the Turks announcement that they intend to increase their military activity in northern Syria. And I think my State Department colleague, Ned Price, I think really put it much better than what I can. But what our concern is, obviously, would be safety of the civilian population the -- the impact on continued defeat ISIS operations, you know, because it could draw off potential SDF personnel to move away from the counter ISIS fight, which is obviously what we're focused on in northern Syria. And then, of course, just the potential for more humanitarian assistance needs. So, we've expressed as a government our concern over this.

And as for Russians pulling troops out of Syria, look, I -- I'll just tell you we know, right? We know that they continue to try to replenish their manpower in the Donbas. We know that they have raised the enlistment age now to 50 to allow for even older Russians now to join the military, if they -- if they can. We know that they've started to pull on some contract personnel from their reserves to try to bolster their efforts. And we have seen some spurious reports, nothing that we can confirm, that they're looking elsewhere for additional manpower to include pulling from potentially some of their overseas operations. But I can't confirm that specific report about Syria. But it's very clear that -- and much of this is in open-source reporting that the Russians are opening up the valves, if you will, to try to create a bigger influx of potential military personnel to be used in Ukraine.

They continue to take casualties every single day in this war. We know that they have lost not only soldiers, but they they've lost a lot of equipment and weapons. They are expending a significant number of their cruise missile and precision guided munitions inventory in this war. So, we know that they are looking across the board at ways to try to resupply and replenish themselves.

OK. Yeah.

Q:  Thank you. I want to ask you about the Shangri La dialogue. The Secretary said in your congressional hearing earlier this month that he's waiting to meet the Chinese counterpart on the sidelines of the complex. Has China agreed to meet in Singapore?

KIRBY:  I don't have any specific meetings to announce or to speak to today, Ryo. I mean, I think it's fair to say that -- well, two things, the Secretary is very much looking forward to going into Shangri La and to having a dialogue about all the challenges in the Indo Pacific to include the pacing challenge of China. And he also looks forward to meeting bilaterally with many of his counterparts. I just don't have a schedule for that to read out or to announce today.

Q:  Separate question. On the mandate, the Chinese and the (inaudible) conducted a joint patrol near Japan as the President participated in the quantity of that meeting in Tokyo do you see the patrol as provocative? Are you aware of any activities that were not consistent with international rule?

KIRBY:  Yeah, look, they conducted a joint military exercise on the 24th, which I guess was Tuesday. And it was largely a bomber exercise, they flew over the Sea of Japan and continued through the East China Sea in the Philippine Sea. I mean, we know a little bit about bomber exercises, and you don't just throw them together. This one, very likely had to have been planned well in advance, because that's what it takes to pull this off. So, it's clear that China has and continues to look for ways to prioritize their relationship with Russia versus prioritizing their relationships with -- with other countries in the Indo Pacific. And clearly, quite the contrary is happening, that they are alienating and isolating themselves from many other nations in the Asia Pacific, through their coercion and intimidation.

So, clearly shows that China's continuing its military cooperation with Russia, even as Russia now continues this to prosecute this -- this brutal and unprovoked war inside Ukraine. It also shows quite frankly that Russia is prioritizing their ties with China, in the east and South China Seas and not with other Indo Pacific nations, either. So, this is the -- we took note of it, certainly. But it's the kind of thing that we know from our own experience it's not the kind of thing you throw together at the last minute.

Let me get to somebody on the phone here I haven't done that. Jeff Seldin, VOA.

Q:  John, thanks very much for doing this. Wondering, can you expand at all on the types of conversations the Pentagon is having either with the Turks or with the SDF given Turkey's talk about expanding these buffer zones?

KIRBY:  Jeff, I'm sorry, but I did not get that question. Can you try it again? The audio is not great, just -- just a little slower?

Q:  Sorry, is this better?

KIRBY:  Just go a little slower. I mean, the other thing about approaching 60 is not just the eyesight, but the -- the hearing as well. Go ahead, try it.

Q:  No problem. Thank you. I was wondering if you could get into any more detail or discuss a little bit more, any of the conversations that may be going on right now between the U.S. and Turkey, or the U.S. and the SDF, given Turkey's talk about expanding the buffer zones into northern Syria?

KIRBY:  I don't have any specific conversations to read out and I guess, Wafaa, you asked about this as well. And I missed that. I apologize. I don't have any conversations or phone calls or anything that to read out. Obviously, if that happens, we'll certainly -- we'll certainly let you know, at least at the senior levels here at the department. But we are in obviously daily contact with our SDF partners in northern Syria as we continue to prosecute the fight against ISIS. And that is the only reason why U.S. forces are in Syria right now is to -- is to continue to go after ISIS, which remains, while reduced, a viable threat. And Turkey is a -- is a NATO ally, and a valued one at that.

So, I would refer you to the State Department if in fact, there was -- there's been any diplomatic discussions with Turkey. I know of no senior level communications here from the department with respect to Turkey's announcement that they want to conduct operations in northern Syria. Again, we -- we echo and support the comments of our State Department colleagues who have expressed our concerns as an administration over this proposed operation.

Let's see. Jeff Schogol.

Q:  Thank you. You may have answered this, but I just wanted to ask directly, has Turkey notified the U.S. government that it intends to launch an operation into northeast Syria?

KIRBY:  I have no knowledge of an official announcement or notification, Jeff, again, I'd refer you to my State Department colleagues for that. But look, they have -- they've said it publicly. And again, Ned Price over at the State Department already answered for the U.S. government a couple of days ago about this.

Let's see anybody on the room here, Tom.

Q:  Hey, thanks, John, good afternoon. In the past a year and a half -- actually, before -- before you all came into office, the U.S. military has been deployed on the Mexican border with the United States, as we all know, that operation continues. Is there any specific reason why Secretary Austin has not yet spoken to his Mexican counterparts? And if he has, I apologize. I didn't see any -- I didn't see any record of that.

KIRBY:  I don't -- I'd have to go look and see, I don't -- I'd have to go look and see what the record is. But we have General VanHerck at Northern Command has terrific relations with his counterparts in Mexico. And obviously, we certainly value the relationship that we have with them, but I don't have a record necessarily of a phone call.

Q:  Just curious because it is, you know, our southern neighbor, only two neighbors to the United States, Canada, and Mexico and Secretary Austin has spoken with other of his counterparts.

KIRBY:  I'm gonna have to check the record and see.

Q:  Thank you.

KIRBY:  Yeah. Oren?

Q:  Just a quick question for an update on -- on where shipments of weapons and equipment stand how much of the last 100 million package or the one before that have yet to go in? And what's the schedule on that before you'll need another -- another drawdown authority or another package for U.S...

KIRBY:  Yeah, we've been overlapping them, you don't have to wait for one package to be completed or all of them. In fact, we're still closing out the last three drawdown packages. They're done concurrently. I mean, we're not -- we're not doing them piecemeal one at a time. I don't have the data in front of me in terms of like how much of the last drawdown package has been delivered. I mean, it was just announced a week or so ago, the last $100 million that we had available to us that -- that increase the number of 155-millimeter rounds to 209,000, I think we're well over about 160,000 of those rounds are already in Ukraine.

It increased the number of howitzers to 108. And we know that, you know, more than 80 of those howitzers are not only in Ukraine, but they're in the fight in Ukraine. So, the stuff keeps going every single day, we keep coordinating it and moving it into the country. But I'd have to -- if you really want to sort of a more granular feel, I'd have to take the question and see if we can give you a little bit more direct in terms of where each -- what -- what's -- what the package is included, and how much we've gotten complete. If you don't mind, I'll take the question and have my guys put together a quick summary. I just don't have it in front of me.

Yeah, Luis.

Q:  So, earlier today, senior defense officials asked whether this was a stalemate. But I think the question is based off what's going on in the Donbas overall, on all of the battle fronts that you're seeing in southern, eastern, Northeastern Ukraine, is it possible now to label what's going on across that broad battlefield as a stalemate as opposed to just what's going on in the Donbas?

KIRBY:  I guess I should understand the fascination with labeling this thing. But I think we're just going to avoid doing that. It depends on where you're looking. If you were to take a bird's eye look at Ukraine, you will see areas where there hasn't been much of anything happening. For instance, the -- the fighting between Kherson and Mykolaiv continues the -- those Ukrainian and Russian troops are in contact every day and neither side has made much progress. The Ukrainians would say they've made -- it his progress by -- by holding back the Russians from any kind of advance on Mykolaiv that's not insignificant. Kharkiv in the north, the Ukrainians had have been and remain on the counter -- counter offensive literally pushing Russian troops closer to the border and -- and further to the east. So, they've actually pushed back Russians.

In the Donbas it's -- it gets a little bit more messy Luis, I mean, every day, there are skirmishes and fights over, sometimes very small hamlets and villages, sometimes bigger cities, where the Russians make gains and then they lose those gains in the next day or so. So, every day, there's literally ground that's trading hands. Right now, we would tell you that, again, this is the snapshot today. Tomorrow it may be something different, but today we assess that the Russians have made incremental gains over the last couple of days in the north of -- particularly the Northeast Donbas region. Near Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk -- they continue to make some very incremental progress moving to the west out of Donetsk, again in the Donbas region but the -- but the move for instance, that they, they've been trying to move on Slovyansk for instance, and Kramatorsk, where that missile strike happened a few weeks ago, and there just hasn't -- they haven't made much of any progress there.

There's a lot to that. It's a stiff Ukrainian resistance, a resistance that continues to be assisted and aided by shipments from the west of weapons and material. And their -- their very good command and control and organizational effort and the battlefield initiative, as well as problems the Russians have still had in overcoming their challenges, whether it's sustainment and logistics, command and control, unit cohesion, operational maneuver, integration of air to ground, they're trying to get better at that things -- those things but they haven't yet. So, it's -- I hate the word but it's an accurate word it's very dynamic. It's -- it's very dynamic on any given day. And that's why because it's so dynamic. And because depending on what your bird's eye view, you're going to see a different thing every day. I think we're just a little reticent to slap a bumper sticker stalemate on it. It's back and forth.

But look, two things are true. The Ukrainians continue to fight bravely, stiffly, very creatively. And there's no -- we've seen no diminution of their -- of their morale of their leadership ability and their desire and determination to defend every inch of their territory. And, as I've said earlier, I think to Sylvie's question, we're gonna continue to help them do that as much as we can, as fast as we can. And the other thing that's true is that the Russians have been fighting in this particular part of Ukraine now for eight years.

They also know the terrain and they have a significant amount of their assessed and available combat power still available to them. I mean, they amassed 100 and, you know, what, more than 130 battalion tactical groups, dozens and dozens of aircraft, hundreds of -- of tanks and heavy vehicles in the run up to this invasion, and they still have a lot of that left to them. So, they're still -- as we said, when this fighting in the Donbas began, it could be prolonged and that it could be very intimate fighting, and it has proven to be that.

Yeah, Kelly.

Q:  Thanks, John. Moscow was saying they want sanctions lifted before it allows grain shipments. Is Russia holding critical food supplies hostage here?

KIRBY:  I think you've seen the Ukrainians speak directly to this. Look, again, without labeling anything here, this is just another part of a brutal way of prosecuting a completely unprovoked war. Now they're using economic tools as weapons, they're weaponizing food. They're weaponizing economic assistance. I guess we shouldn't be surprised by that, since they've weaponized everything else, including lies and information, but they're weaponizing it. This war needs to end now. You heard the Secretary say that just the other day, and Mr. Putin could do the right thing today. They're weaponizing food. And we are obviously in discussion with -- the administration is in discussion with our international partners and allies about how best to address this.

Yeah, Goyal.

Q:  Thank you, sir. John, first of all, congratulations for your new position, I hope for the best. For the better. My question is that under the leadership of President Biden, Quad took place in Japan, U.S. Japan, India and Australia. And this was the first time after Russia invaded Ukraine and also the Australian Prime Minister was elected, newly elected prime minister. Were they in discussion as far as the military is concerned about the Chinese exercises and also in the area and threatening Taiwan, among other things? And what do you think about this Quad meeting during this time took place in Japan?

KIRBY:  There's a lot there. And I won't speak for the President clearly, but we believe the Quad -- the Quad arrangement has already proven very valuable in terms of helping strengthen our alliances and partnerships in the region. And there's -- as I think you've heard the President talk about there's -- there's lots of room to improve that kind of cooperation going forward. And as for tensions with Beijing, whether it's about Taiwan or the East China Sea or South China Sea and all that, we've been very clear here from this department, it remains the pacing challenge that this department faces. You heard the Secretary talk about that yesterday at the Air Force Academy, and we're laser focused on that it's a key component of our national defense strategy. Look at the budget we submitted and the amount of money we're investing in new research technology, science. and capabilities, all of it with a mind towards helping us deal with the pacing challenge of China. So, again, we're just gonna stay focused on this, Goyal.

Q:  And one more, finally. Is there a real threat by the Chinese to the Taiwan when President said that U.S. will defend Taiwan if there is an attack or anything?

KIRBY:  The President made clear that we still adhere to the One China policy. And that we also adhere to and -- and continue to act in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, which requires us to continue to help Taiwan defend itself. And we're going to -- we're going to continue to do that. But you also heard the President saying -- you heard Secretary Austin say that we don't want to see the status quo over the Taiwan Strait changed unilaterally, certainly not through military action. And there's no reason for that to -- to occur.

Q:  But -- just quickly, sorry. Like Russia and China are now two closest allies in the war against Ukraine. But now, you think China will take advantage of the attacking Taiwan because the China think that Russia will come to defend them?

KIRBY:  I can't speak for President Xi and what he may or may not do. I mean, he has made it clear that he at least wants militarily to have the capacity to take that kind of action near the end of this decade. But again, we're focused on making sure that we can structure true integrated deterrence in the Indo Pacific region that can be achieved through coordination and collaboration with our allies and partners, such as Japan, such as South Korea, and we don't want to see, there's no reason for us to see tensions across the strait come to blows or to any kind of conflict, there's no reason for that to occur. Nothing's changed about our adherence to the One China policy. But nothing has also changed about our commitment to help Taiwan defend itself.


Q:  So, China is seeking more partners in the region. Just today the foreign ministers (inaudible) they're offering things like scholarships for workers, ways to combat climate change these are small islands in the Pacific. So, what's the U.S. doing to counter that to make new partners in the Pacific?

KIRBY:  First of all, one of the things, one of our asymmetric advantages is our network of alliances and partners in the region, which is vast. And we're investing a lot of time and energy and have, certainly since President Biden came into office -- in reinvigorating and revitalizing those alliances and partnerships. The first trip that the Secretary took was to -- to Tokyo, and to Seoul and into India, to make it clear that we're actually putting our money where our mouth is, when it comes to investing in these partnerships. And certainly, the President's trip just recently completed, I think, rounds that out quite well. It's our alliances, our network of partnerships, that China envies a lot, because they don't have that. They might be trying to make these bilateral transactional deals with -- with places like the Solomon Islands, and we've already talked about our concerns with respect to that.

But those are transactions. And they're not real partnerships. They are, in many cases, they -- they coerce and intimidate other nations to try to act in ways that are more beneficial to Chinese interests than they are to their own, or to the regions, but there are transactional. And -- and our view is what -- what we bring is true leadership and -- and collaboration and coordination, and a sense of mutual respect for the kinds of capabilities that -- that other nations bring -- bring to the effort in the Indo Pacific. I mean, look, you've heard the Secretary talk about integrated deterrence all the time.

And too often when he talks about it, people just think, well, he's just talking about jointness. He's just talking about better networks between the Army and the Navy, or better coordination between, you know, the Air Force and ground units. There's a part of that that's true. And if you look at the budget, you'll see we're investing in new capabilities. But there's a key part of integrated deterrence that gets left out and that's folding in the contributions and the capabilities of our allies and partners, because in some ways they can do things we can't, or they can do things better than we can and the Secretary wants them folded into that.

You're not hearing that from the Chinese. You're not hearing that when they have these conversations with people like in the Solomons (sic) Island. It's not about what we -- what we can do together. It's like it's a very transactional relationship that is usually very short sighted.

Q:  So, at the end of the day they're either with China or with the U.S. Is the...

KIRBY:  And we're not making people choose.

Q:  Is the U.S. concerned that potential allies could be tempted to be on China's side?

KIRBY:  We're very comfortable with our strong and revitalized and getting deeper network of alliances and partnerships. And I would again, remind, I've said this a million times, but I'm going to keep doing it, you know, five of our seven treaty alliances are in that part of the world. I mean, that's -- that's a significant statement of how seriously the United States takes security in the Indo Pacific region. No, we're not worried about allies and partners looking away from the relationships, not only that they have with us, but with our other allies and partners. And again, we're always looking for ways -- we talked about this with -- about -- with Japan and South Korea, looking for ways to have our allies improve their relationships with one another, too.

Q:  But, John, let me follow up briefly on that. None of the 10 nation islands that are involved in what China's calling the Common Development Vision, are in any of these treaties that you mentioned, they're not in any of our defense treaties...

KIRBY:  There's a lot of countries in the Indo Pacific that aren't treaty allies. That doesn't mean we don't have partnerships with them, Tom.

Q:  I understand that. But I was just -- the point being that this enables China to leapfrog over the first and second island defenses into essentially Australia and New Zealand's backyard, which we do have treaties with. How is that balancing out with the pacing challenge of China? Will this be part of the incorporation when you deal with China?

KIRBY:  We -- we have from the beginning, factored into why we described China as a pacing challenge. We factored into that very early on. This isn't the first time that China has tried to secure some sort of bilateral transaction with another nation in the Indo Pacific or elsewhere around the world. So, that's -- that's baked into our calculus in terms of how we're going to deal with integrated deterrence and the pacing challenge of this China is the fact that they're going to try to twist arms, to coerce, to intimidate, to entice, and to transact relationships with other countries or other people in the Indo Pacific for their own benefit.

OK, gonna have to call it there. Thank you.

* [Eds. Note: The U.S. conducted a bilateral exercise with Japan and a separate bilateral exercise with South Korea. It was not a trilateral exercise.]