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Austin: “there is still time and space for diplomacy” with Russia on Ukraine

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Tensions between the United States and Russia over Ukraine appeared to ease on both sides Friday, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin saying “conflict is not inevitable” and “there is still time and space for diplomacy.” Speaking at the Pentagon with Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley, Austin also noted that the buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s border has reached the point where President Vladimir Putin now has a complete range of military options. The video above includes clips from the Friday Pentagon news conference.

“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 coersive acts or provocative political acts like the recognition of breakaway territories.” Austin said. “Mr. Putin can do the right thing as well. There’s no reason that this situation has to devolve into conflict. He can choose to de-escalate. He can order his troops away. He can choose dialog and diplomacy.”

The comments by Austin and Milley on the tension with Russia were their first extensive public statements about Ukraine this year. Matters regarding Ukraine had mostly been handled by the White House and State Department so far. Milley and Austin have consulted regularly in recent weeks with their counterparts in allied countries and in Ukraine.

Their comments also came hours after Russia’s top diplomat eased fears of a full-blown war, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying “we don’t want” one and “there won’t be” one. However, he also added “we won’t let our interests be rudely trampled on and ignored.”

Those interests include halting further NATO expansion, stopping the deployment of alliance weapons near Russian borders, and rolling back its forces from Eastern Europe. The U.S. and NATO formally rejected those demands this week. On Thursday, President Joe Biden warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy there is a “distinct possibility” Russia could take military action against Ukraine next month. Russia has repeatedly denied having any such plans.

Lloyd Austin, U.S. Defense Secretary: “Conflict is not inevitable. There is still time and space for diplomacy.”

“And Mr. Putin can do the right thing as well. There’s no reason that this situation has to devolve into conflict. He can choose to de-escalate. He can order his troops away. He can choose dialog and diplomacy. Whatever he decides, the United States will stand with our allies and partners.”

“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 coersive acts or provocative political acts like the recognition of breakaway territories. Indeed, we’re seeing Russian state media spouting off now about alleged activities in eastern Ukraine. Now this is straight out of the Russian playbook and they’re not fooling us. We remain focused on Russian disinformation, including the potential creation of pretext for further invasion or strikes on Donbas and any Russian attack or further incursion into into Ukraine would not only ignite conflict, it would also violate the bedrock principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination.”

Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: “We strongly encourage Russia to stand down and to pursue a resolution through diplomacy. Armed force should always be the last resort. Success here is through dialog.”

“War is not inevitable. As the secretary said, the right answer here is a diplomatic solution.”

Tensions between the United States and Russia over Ukraine appeared to ease on both sides Friday, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin saying “conflict is not inevitable” and “there is still time and space for diplomacy.” Speaking at the Pentagon with Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley, Austin also noted that the buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s border has reached the point where President Vladimir Putin now has a complete range of military options. The video above includes clips from the Friday Pentagon news conference.

“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 coersive acts or provocative political acts like the recognition of breakaway territories.” Austin said. “Mr. Putin can do the right thing as well. There’s no reason that this situation has to devolve into conflict. He can choose to de-escalate. He can order his troops away. He can choose dialog and diplomacy.”

The comments by Austin and Milley on the tension with Russia were their first extensive public statements about Ukraine this year. Matters regarding Ukraine had mostly been handled by the White House and State Department so far. Milley and Austin have consulted regularly in recent weeks with their counterparts in allied countries and in Ukraine.

Their comments also came hours after Russia’s top diplomat eased fears of a full-blown war, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov saying “we don’t want” one and “there won’t be” one. However, he also added “we won’t let our interests be rudely trampled on and ignored.”

Those interests include halting further NATO expansion, stopping the deployment of alliance weapons near Russian borders, and rolling back its forces from Eastern Europe. The U.S. and NATO formally rejected those demands this week. On Thursday, President Joe Biden warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy there is a “distinct possibility” Russia could take military action against Ukraine next month. Russia has repeatedly denied having any such plans.

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