The Pentagon’s chief spokesman acknowledged Thursday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine “could be imminent,” but bristled at the suggestion that US military aid was taking too long to arrive in the Eastern European nation.
During his regular briefing, Defense Department press secretary John Kirby was asked by Fox News reporter Jennifer Griffin why the US was not filling Ukraine’s request for “what they’ve really asked for, which is air defense systems, anti-aircraft missiles, the kind of thing that could take on the Russian air force, not just tanks and ammunition on the ground.”
Kirby responded by noting that the US has sent three shipments of military aid to Ukraine so far and added that “there are more coming.”
“I think you can understand why we would want to be careful about advertising publicly the kinds of capabilities that were given to Ukraine, given the size and the scale and the capabilities that are arrayed against them on the other side of their border,” he said.
“It just seems like this is the 11th hour,” Griffin followed up. “What is taking so long?”
“There’s no 11th hour here, Jen,” Kirby answered. “We’ve been providing, in the last year alone, we have provided many millions of dollars of worth of capabilities to Ukraine, $60 million just over the course of the spring. And then in December, President Biden authorized another $200 million. And that’s on top of work that two previous administrations had been doing to help bolster the self-defense capabilities of the Ukrainian Armed Forces. So there’s no 11th hour here at all.”
“I take issue with the idea that this is sort of an 11th hour, Hail Mary pass,” he reiterated at the conclusion of his response.
“I don’t know how you can take issue with ‘the 11th hour’ when senior leaders here and the president have called a Russian invasion ‘imminent,’” Griffin answered back.
“That fact that it is possible that it’s imminent doesn’t mean that we just woke up to the fact that they had been building forces,” Kirby responded. “We’ve been talking about this now for a couple of months, what we’ve been seeing on the ground. And there have been lots of conversations with us and our NATO allies as well as our our Ukrainian counterparts … it’s not like any of this came as some sort of shock.”
Kirby added that the US believes there is still “time and space for diplomacy, but thus far it has not achieved the kind of results that the international community would like to see. All of that, combined, has led us to want to contribute more capabilities to Ukrainian armed forces and be ready to contribute more capabilities to our NATO allies.”
At the State Department, spokesman Ned Price also defended the administration’s use of the word “imminent” to describe potential Russian military action against criticism that it might be causing undue panic in Ukraine or baiting the Kremlin.
“I do not think us voicing our concerns regarding what Moscow may well have in store is bringing us any closer to conflicts,” Price said. “The only thing that is bringing us closer to conflict are moves in the measures that we have seen from the Russian Federation.”
Also Thursday, Kirby confirmed that soldiers from the Army’s 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne divisions are among the 8,500 troops placed on “heightened alert” for possible deployment to Eastern Europe because of Russia’s force buildup along Ukraine’s border.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the units to be ready to head to Europe within five days to bolster the 40,000-strong NATO Response Force if the group is activated.
Kirby also said that soldiers with the 18th Airborne Corps have been activated, as have units in the 4th Infantry Division and other units across the US, but declined to furnish an “exhaustive” list.
Kirby said the units will ensure that “the United States would be in a position to rapidly deploy additional brigade combat teams, logistics, medical, aviation, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, transportation and additional capabilities into Europe” should an invasion take place.