Defense

Pentagon chief holds high-level meeting on situation in Ukraine, Russia

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin held a meeting Monday morning with "key departmental leaders" to discuss Moscow's military buildup at the Ukrainian border, according to the Pentagon's top spokesman.

Austin met with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, U.S. European Command head Gen. Tod Wolters and others "to discuss the situation in Ukraine and of course, western Russia," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters.

"I won't get into intelligence assessments, but [Austin] is staying very keenly and closely informed by senior military and policy leaders here at the department about what we continue to see, and what we continue to see is added [military] capability that [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin continues to add ... in the western part of his country and around Ukraine," Kirby said.

Russia's military has amassed some 90,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, causing tensions worldwide and sparking fears that Moscow may be preparing to invade the country.

Those tensions have reached a fever pitch after U.S. intelligence discovered that Moscow is planning a military offensive against Ukraine that could take place as soon as next year. 

That plan involves 175,000 Kremlin troops, according to an intelligence document obtained by The Washington Post

Russia, meanwhile, has repeatedly denied it is planning an attack on Ukraine but has reportedly warned Western nations against crossing its "red lines" and NATO to stop expanding into the east. 

President Biden and Putin are set to discuss the issue during a video call on Tuesday. 

Asked about possible plans for U.S. military intervention or a pending weapons package to Ukraine should Russia carry out an offensive, Kirby declined to comment, citing the upcoming phone call between Biden and Putin. 

"I think we need to let that conversation happen," he said. 

Kirby also pointed to comments Austin made on Saturday at the Reagan National Defense forum in California, where he asserted that "there's a lot of space here for diplomacy and leadership to work" to de-escalate the situation. 

"There's no reason for this to come to blows. There's no reason for this to become a conflict. As the secretary said, there's still space for diplomacy and leadership," Kirby said. 

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