Pentagon spokesman John Kirby got uncharacteristically emotional and visibly choked up Friday discussing the deaths of innocent Ukrainians — as Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said a new mass grave was discovered near Kyiv.
The usually unflappable flack faltered when asked if Russian President Vladimir Putin should be considered a rational leader, three months into his ill-advised invasion of Ukraine.
“It’s hard to look at what he’s doing in Ukraine, what his forces are doing in Ukraine, and think that any ethical, moral individual could justify that,” Kirby said.
“It’s difficult to look at the …” Kirby said, stopping for a moment as he grew visibly emotional.
“Sorry,” he said, clearing his throat, his voice wavering. “It’s difficult to look at some of the images and imagine that any well-thinking, serious mature leader would do that. So I can’t talk to his psychology, but I think we can all speak to his depravity.
“I didn’t mean to get emotional, I apologize for that. I don’t want to make this about me,” he added.
Asked whether his statements were due to any new American assessment of the Russian strongman, Kirby responded, “It’s difficult to look at it, and it’s hard to square [Putin’s] — let’s just call it what it is, his BS — that this is about Nazism and Ukraine, and it’s about protecting Russians in Ukraine, and it’s about defending Russian national interests — when none of [these issues], none of them were threatened by Ukraine,” he said.
“It’s hard to square that rhetoric by what he’s actually doing inside Ukraine to innocent people — shot in the back of their head, hands tied behind their backs,” Kirby continued. “Pregnant women being killed, Hospitals being bombed. It’s just unconscionable.
“I’m just a spokesman,” he said, “I’m not qualified to make an assessment one way or another, and I do apologize for injecting my personal perspective here.”
Kirby’s comments came as Zelensky said an additional 900 dead civilians had been found in a mass grave in the area surrounding Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv.
“They now again found the grave of 900 people in the Kyiv region,” Zelensky said in an interview with Polish media, according to Ukrainian outlet UNIAN. “How many people died in total, no one knows.
“There will be consequences, there will be an investigation,” he promised. “We need to find all the people, we don’t know how many there are. … Our investigating and law-enforcement agencies will condemn all of them, but international recognition is important for us.”
Zelensky also said there were people in Ukraine who will “look for them all,” meaning the perpetrators of such atrocities.
“And this is not a threat. I speak as a father, as a man. I know that we have many such people,” Zelensky said. “Therefore, someone will wait for the international court, and someone will wait for the night.”
More than 1,200 civilians are believed to have been killed by Russian forces occupying towns in the Kyiv area alone before their retreat late last month. Mass graves have also been reported outside of the ruined port of Mariupol in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.