Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Sunday that while the U.S. still hopes to avoid any conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin could possibly invade his neighboring country at any point now, and that there are a number of methods at his disposal to do it.
In a conversation with “Fox News Sunday,” Kirby’s outlook of the immediate future of the region was a grim one, despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zalenskyy claiming that the U.S. was overstating the direness of the situation. Backing up his position, Kirby pointed to Russian troops amassed on the Russia-Ukraine border and in Belarus, in addition to Russian activity in the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
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“Putin has a lot of options available to him if he wants to further invade Ukraine, and he can execute some of those options imminently,” Kirby said.
When pressed on what exactly he meant by “imminently,” Kirby stated that “imminent means it could happen, really, honestly, at any time.” He then clarified that what exactly “it” is “depends on what Vladimir Putin might want to do.” Kirby recalled how Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday that Putin has “a lot of capability available” to conduct large-scale or small-scale actions.
Still, Kirby said, not all hope is lost.
“It doesn’t have to come to conflict. We still believe there’s room and space for diplomacy, and we’d like to see that be the solution here,” he said.
When asked if the U.S. can or should be more specific with threats of sanctions against Russia, such as naming banks that would be affected, Kirby said the U.S. has been “very clear about the economic consequences that can come his way and the way of the Russian people should he further incur and invade inside Ukraine.”
At the same time, Kirby indicated that the U.S. was in no rush to impose sanctions because it would remove an arrow from their quiver.
“One of the things about sanctions is once you trip that, then the deterrent effect is lost,” Kirby said.
Perhaps looking to increase the possible deterrent effect of the threat of sanctions, Kirby said the U.S. is looking at “sanctions and economic consequences the likes of which we have not looked at before or even considered even as far back as 2014.”
The Pentagon press secretary then added that economic harm is not the only thing that Putin should be worried about, as it is not the only avenue the U.S. is looking at.
“One of the last things they want is a strong and bolstered NATO on their western flank and if he does another invasion inside Ukraine that’s exactly what they’re going to get,” Kirby said. “You’re going to see the United States and our NATO allies bolster our capabilities on the eastern flank of the alliance.”