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“We would not characterize what we are seeing as de-escalating,” were the words used by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby when responding to numerous reporter inquiries related to the Russian build-up along the Ukraine border.
Kirby explained this in clear terms, saying that the Pentagon stands by its assessment that Russia currently operates as many as 100,000 troops along the border region. He further elaborated upon this comment by saying the escalation was worsening through a host of Russian activities clearly intended to improve his forces readiness to attack at any time.
"We have been long saying that in addition to the combat capability that Putin continues to add, he has also increased his logistics and sustainment, aviation support and medical support.
We have seen him provide that sort of capability such as field hospitals, doctors and other things you would need to do to take care of troops in the field,” Kirby told reporters, in response to one question about whether Russia was moving “blood” to the border region to prepare for injured forces. When asked about estimates regarding the potential timing of an invasion, Kirby stressed that the Russian force has enough massed capability such that it could attack at any moment.
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“Does that mean an invasion is imminent? We look at a mosaic of information and we believe he has enough capability to move now if he wants to. He could move imminently at any time,” Kirby explained.
Ukraine & NATO
What might the US and NATO do to prepare for such a contingency? Kirby was clear that deliberations were ongoing regarding potential force posture or multi-national deterrence initiatives and strategies. Beyond the 8,500 US forces already put on alert to support NATO if called upon, the Pentagon is now deploying 3,000 troops to Eastern Europe to help protect NATO allies. According to a report from CBS news, Kirby said the troops were not being sent to fight in Ukraine but rather to support Eastern European allies bordering Ukraine. Kirby also said the moves were not permanent, according to the CBS report.
One variable possibly impacting the timing of a possible Ukraine invasion relates to the prospect of Ukraine joining the NATO alliance, something Putin has been quite vocal about wanting to prevent. When pressed on whether there were negotiations to bring Ukraine into NATO in the near future, Kirby was clear not to specify or elaborate apart from saying “Ukraine left on its own is on a trajectory to join NATO.”
"It should be up to Ukraine who they negotiate with. Mr Putin does not get to have a veto on that. There has been work done internationally to help Ukraine address reform needs and defense reforms. not going to speculate on the future of NATO expansion. That decision can only be made between the alliance and Ukraine is not for another nation to dictate terms to. This is a piece out of the Russian playbook, putting information out to deceive or create excuses to commit an unjustifiable act," Kirby said.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.