Although NATO members are reviewing upcoming military exercises in the region to see where they can augment their contributions of assets and troops, U.S. and U.K. officials say they have all but ruled out a military response over Russian aggression in Ukraine.
“We’ve made a clear decision that the correct response is primarily diplomatic, economic and in the field of energy policy,” United Kingdom Secretary of State for Defense Philip Hammond told defense reporters at a morning briefing in Washington.
“The Russia economy is an Achilles heel. Capital is fleeing the Russian system in response to the events going on. Russia is vulnerable to decisions by the West to invest in greater energy independence [for Europe] from Russia,” Hammond said.
Hammond also said Western officials are hoping Putin’s building of troops at Ukraine borders are in fact a sign he is preparing to deescalate, and warned against an aggressive military response from the West.
“We know the Russian military doctrine advocates escalating in order to deescalate,” Hammond said.
“That’s what they do. So we have to focus on the deescalatory phase now which we should not write off the possibility that this escalation that we are seeing is not simply the playing out of a classic Russian military doctrine,” Hammond said.
But, he admitted, his guess about Putin's next move was as good as anyone else's.
“I don’t think any of us know, and I’d be prepared to bet that few, if anybody in Russia, knows what Putin’s next move is,” Hammond said.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reassured Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last week via phone that Russian troops amassing on the southern and eastern border of Ukraine are for exercises only, and that they have no “intention” of going into Ukraine or undertaking any “aggressive” actions.
Hagel said during a joint Pentagon press conference with Hammond later on Wednesday that he is taking Shoigu at his word, but acknowledged that Russian troops continue to mass along the borders.
However, Hammond called Shoigu's comments "moot."
“All the evidence suggests that the Russian agenda is being very much run by President Putin personally," Hammond said at the press conference.
"And other Russian players, including Minister Shoigu, may express views, but it's a moot point, and we cannot know, we do not know to what extent all of those people are really inside the inner circle, in which President Putin is planning this exercise,” he said.