Pentagon Chief Austin Says Conflict With Russia 'Not Inevitable', 'Still Time for Diplomacy'
17:36 GMT 28.01.2022 (Updated: 19:11 GMT 28.01.2022)
Speaking to Russian media on Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasized that Russia does not want war with the United States. He warned, however, that Moscow "won't allow the West to grossly ignore our interests, either."
Conflict with Russia is "not inevitable," Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin has announced.
"Conflict is not inevitable, there is time and space for diplomacy," Austin said, speaking at a briefing in Washington on Friday. "The United States in lockstep with our allies and partners has offered Russia a path away from crisis and toward greater security, and the Department of Defence will continue to support those diplomatic efforts," he added.
The Pentagon chief emphasized that US troops had not yet departed for Ukraine, and suggested that Washington remains committed to providing Kiev with various forms of "security assistance" at this stage, including more military aid over the past year than "at any previous time."
"There is a small contingent of US and NATO advisers and trainers currently in Ukraine. The United States has zero offensive combat weapons systems, nor any permanent forces nor bases in Ukraine. Our role is limited in that we help train, advise and assist with tactics, techniques and procedures," Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley, who joined Austin during the briefing, assured.
The Pentagon chief claimed that Russia has now amassed the military capability to invade Ukraine.
"While we don't believe that president Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine, he clearly now has that capability, and there are multiple options available to him including the seizure of cities and significant territories, but also coercive acts or provocative political acts like the recognition of breakaway territories," Austin said.
Austin suggested that "Mr. Putin" still has time to "do the right thing," and that "there's no reason that this situation has to devolve into conflict. He can choose to deescalate. He can order his troops away. He can choose dialogue and diplomacy. Whatever he decides, the United States will stand with our allies and partners."
Austin did not elaborate on where Putin should "order his troops" to, given that they are already operating inside Russian territory.
US Welcomes Russia's Anti-War Statements
Earlier Friday, an unnamed senior administration official told media that the United States 'welcomes' Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's statement that Russia doesn't want war, but needs "to see it backed up by swift action."
"I would say on the Russian foreign minister's comments from this morning, I would say we welcome his comments that Russia does not want war and we would welcome a reply from the Russian government to the principles we have laid out for them, but this needs to be backed up with action. While we welcome the message, we need to see it backed up by swift action," the anonymous official said Friday.
The upcoming United Nations Security Council meeting on Ukraine on Monday will be "an opportunity for Russia to explain what it is doing," the official added.
It will be a "clear opportunity" for Moscow to reveal whether they "see a path for diplomacy or are interested in pursuing conflict," the official said.
"We'll also be prepared to call out disinformation and diversionary tactics Russia may use including their claims that Ukraine is provoking conflict and [that] NATO is to blame for these tensions," the official said.
Earlier Friday, Russian deputy permanent representative to the UN Dmitri Polyansky blasted Washington's call for a Security Council meeting on Ukraine as a "shameful" "PR stunt."
"I can't recall another occasion when a Security Council member proposed to discuss its own baseless allegations and assumptions as a threat to [the] international order from someone else. Hopefully fellow UNSC members will not support this clear PR stunt shameful for the reputation of the UN Security Council," Polyansky tweeted.
On Thursday, US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced
that Washington was calling for "an open meeting of the Security Council to discuss a matter of crucial importance to international peace and security" related to "Russia's threatening behaviour against Ukraine and the buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine's borders and in Belarus."
In addition to the "troop buildup," Thomas-Greenfield accused Moscow of "engaging in other destabilizing acts aimed at Ukraine, posing a clear threat to international peace and security and the UN Charter."
The ambassador from Norway, which presently holds the rotating presidency at the Security Council, confirmed Friday that the meeting on Ukraine would take place.
Ukraine War Fears and Russia's Security Proposals
Foreign Minister Lavrov sat down with
the heads of four major Russian radio stations earlier Friday to discuss pressing international issues - chief among them the continued escalation of tensions between Moscow and the West over Ukraine. He stressed that tensions would not come to war if it was in Russia's power to decide, but warned that Moscow wouldn't allow the US and its allies to "grossly ignore our interests, either."
Lavrov argued that Russia's security proposals - which were delivered to the US and NATO in mid-December and on which Moscow received formal written responses on Wednesday, were not unreasonable - but a desire by the Russian side to "be treated honestly" and fairly and to have its security concerns taken into account.
Under the security proposals, Russia and NATO would be required to refrain from deploying troops, missile systems, aircraft and warships in areas where they could be seen as a threat to the other side, and the Western bloc would have to halt its eastward expansion plans and efforts to incorporate Ukraine, Georgia and other former Soviet republics.
Moscow's proposals come after decades of continuous NATO expansion toward Russia's borders, despite a commitment by US officials in 1990 that the alliance would not move "one inch east" of a reunified Germany. Every former member of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact alliance, three former Soviet republics and four republics of the former Yugoslavia have been incorporated into NATO since its eastward expansion began in 1999.
The contents of the US and NATO responses have not been revealed, but US officials and alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg have said publicly that the bloc's 'open door' policy would not be subject to negotiations.
Washington and its allies have spent months claiming that Russia has amassed "100,000 troops" on Ukraine's borders in preparations for invasion. Moscow has denied these claims, and accused the West of using the "invasion threat" as a pretext to shore up its military presence in Eastern Europe.
In a unusual development unseen since the pro-Western coup in Kiev in 2014, even Ukraine's government has recently begun criticizing Western officials and media
for their Russia fearmongering, with high ranking politicians and security officials stressing they see no evidence of an "imminent" Russian threat and estimating that Moscow would need two, three or even four times more troops to attack.