May 2, 2022
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby
PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: So, as you can see, standing with me are amazing Pentagon tour guides from ceremonial units that are representing five branches of the military, including the Coast Guard. Since being closed to the general public, since March of 2020, I'm pleased to announce that on the 10th of May, the Pentagon will reopen tours on a limited basis.
It's going great today. Now, they've been preparing, as I think you know, and you may have seen them all throughout the hallway, preparing for quite some time here to showcase the more than 30 exhibits that provide the history and the accomplishments of the U.S. armed forces and the Department of Defense. So, the tours are going to be conducted on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. And anybody looking up -- looking to do it, we ask you to schedule your tour through defense.gov. There's a request-a-tour link. You just go right there.
These are our finest young men and women. I know you guys are all familiar with them, but they truly are, they represent the very best of the best of each service. It takes a lot to become a member of the ceremonial guard. And then they go from that to becoming a pentagon tour guide. I know how excited they are about getting back to work and getting back at it. And I know how proud they're all going to continue to make us. So, I really appreciate it. Thanks very much.
All right, with that, we'll take questions. Lita, I think you're first.
Q: So, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about the apparent movement of Russian troops out of Mariupol. Do you assess at this point that there's no Ukrainian forces that are left, or they're still fragmented? And does Russia appear to have significant control over the city such that they feel they can remove their troops and still maintain control over it? Or is there -- is this an opportunity for Ukraine to press flat there.
MR. KIRBY: Well, there's an awful lot there. And with the caveat that we don't have perfect visibility on Russian units and what they're doing and where they're going. I would just make a couple of big points. One, we do assess that the Russians continue to pound Mariupol from the air. So, Mariupol -- the fighting in Mariupol is not done. Not -- certainly not from what we can see, because they continue to talk about it. We have seen some indications that they are moving some of their ground forces away from Mariupol.
The general consensus here is that that's an effort to begin to move north into the Donbas. I can't tell you what that means. What the Russians believe that that means for their occupation of Mariupol or where they think they are, but we have seen some movement of Russian forces away from Mariupol and more towards the north, but that we believe is of a piece of their efforts to try to encircle Ukrainian armed forces that are in the Donbas. Did that get at everything?
Q: Yes, it will. Do you have any assessment as to how much of a force Ukraine still has there? And any assessment of the ongoing effort to get civilians out?
MR. KIRBY: I don't have a good hard number of how many Ukrainian forces are still in Mariupol. I would certainly refer to the Ukrainian Armed Forces to speak to that. We know that there have been some evacuations of some civilians. We obviously urge the Russians to continue to work with the Red Cross and Ukrainian government to allow those who want to leave to leave and to do it safely without harassment. But I couldn't tell you exactly what the scope of the Ukrainian resistance is still in Mariupol. Again, they're still bombing the city. So, I think that certainly is at least one indicator that they believe that the battle for Mariupol has not been won and it's not over.
Q: Yeah, a couple of things.
MR. KIRBY: Who are you?
Q: Sorry, say again?
MR. KIRBY: Who are you?
Q: Pete Martin. You ask this every time. Pete Martin, from Bloomberg. Tony's colleague.
MR. KIRBY: Well, see, you're now here.
Q: So, first off, I wondered if you have any updates on potential security guarantees to Sweden and Finland or, you know, any update on negotiations with those two countries as they look essentially towards NATO membership?
MR. KIRBY: Well, I'll say a couple of things. I mean, as we've said before, we support NATO's open-door policy. That's one. Two, whatever discussions about NATO membership are going to occur, they're going to occur between those two governments in the alliance, and certainly, that's for those parties to discuss and what that looks like. We would never get ahead of that here in the United States, certainly not at the Defense Department. And as for security guarantees, I mean, again, that's well ahead of where discussions even are right now. We work routinely with both nations. We have excellent defense partnerships with both Sweden and Finland. And we're confident that should things move along in that direction, that those strong military-to-military relationships with would probably permit, you know, a broader, deeper discussion about their defense needs.
Q: I just wanted to know -- separately, do have any signs of any Chinese assistance to Russia and Ukraine? Is that still the same status as before?
MR. KIRBY: We see no indications.
Q: John, Taiwan's defense ministry said on Monday it's considering alternative weapons options after the U.S. informed it that the delivery of an artillery system, one of these self-propelled howitzers, would be delayed because of a crowded production line. Is Taiwan not getting its weapon systems because the howitzers are going to Ukraine? Or is there a problem with supply chain issues related to Ukraine?
MR. KIRBY: In terms of the howitzers going to Ukraine, I mean, that is moving and moving quite well. As a matter of fact, a significant majority of the 90 that we have already committed are actually in Ukraine. And so, that continues to flow quite nicely. As for the Taiwan situation, I would refer you to the State Department. That's really more their bailiwick than it is the U.S. Department of Defense. Remember, what we're doing for Ukraine, Jen, is largely, almost wholly presidential drawdown authority.
So, it's authorization from the President to pull from our own stocks. That is a different method of providing military articles than what is being provided through to Taiwan. And that's all being done through the State Department.
Q: And just there's been a report that Vladimir Putin has cancer is going to undergo surgery and may hand over control of the government to a former FSB General. Do you have any intelligence suggesting that that's accurate?
MR. KIRBY: I have seen nothing that could help us corroborate that. No. Afraid not.
Q: Mr. Kirby, can you tell us anything about Russian General Gerasimov's visit to Ukraine? What was he doing there? And did he come in harm's way? Was he injured in an attack?
MR. KIRBY: I can't confirm General Gerasimov's travel. I think I'd refer you to the Russian Ministry of Defense to speak to where he goes and when he goes and why he goes. We're not able to speak to that with any specificity. And I have no updates on his physical medical condition to give you.
Q: Is he there now?
MR. KIRBY: I think I'll let the Russian Ministry of Defense speak for their generals and where they are. I don't have anything that I can corroborate or confirm with respect to General Gerasimov and whether he went to Ukraine or not. Can't confirm that.
Q: So, do you have any updates to the claims the Ukrainians have made and -- on the drones taking out the ships? And are those claims you can...
MR. KIRBY: Can't confirm those reports. I mean, I've seen the same video that you guys have seen, I think online. And we're not in a position to confirm that.
Q: OK. And then in anticipation of the President's trip tomorrow. Do you have any updates on the number of contracts the Pentagon has issued to industry to help replenish some of the stuff that's been provided to the Ukrainians? And is the Pentagon still kind of happy with the way industry has responded to...
MR. KIRBY: No new contracts to speak to, but as you know, there's a threshold for how -- what level of contracts we actually public announce. But no contracts to announce or speak to today. The only thing I would add is under the USAI, the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, you know, we have talked to industry about the Puma UASes, but I don't have any additional ones to speak to.
MR. KIRBY: Court?
Q: Senator Blumenthal said, in front of a Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that the USA sent about one-third of its Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, one-third of the supply, and replenishing those stocks would require 32 months. Can you confirm if that's correct? And are there any other of those kinds of like resupply of some of these other things like the -- the M-777s that you can talk to how long it takes and where the U.S. stockpile is?
MR. KIRBY: You're gonna have to let me take some of that, Court. I'm not an expert on how long it may takes to make a howitzer. I'd just say a couple of things. Number one, we're not going to talk about what our own inventory is of anything. And I think you can understand why we wouldn't do that. We don't think it's particularly helpful to lay out what our inventory level is for anyone particular system or set of munitions.
Number two, with every drawdown package, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, as well as the department, makes an assessment as to the impact on our readiness. And it's not about just how many of these you have on the shelf; it's what your readiness is for the capability. So, it's not about counting, say, Javelins and being able to say, well, if you reach a certain level, then all your readiness is gone. Javelin is an anti-armor capability. So, we judge it all as a conglomerate of what's our ability to meet this particular mission set. Realizing that a Javelin isn't the only capability you have against armor.
So, with every drawdown package, we make an assessment about the impact on our readiness. And what I can tell you is that thus far, we have not seen any negative impact on our ability to defend this nation across a range of military capabilities. But that is not something we take lightly. It's not just a glib, cliche way of trying to get out of your question. It is a legitimate thing that we look at with each and every drawdown package.
Q: Is there anything that's written in like legislation or anything that says, you know, every specific capability like anti-armor or anti-air has to maintain this percentage of its stockpile? The U.S. can't go past that. The Pentagon can't make a decision to go past that. Is...
MR. KIRBY: I'm not aware of any legislation that requires a percentage -- no, I'm not aware of any. Now, again, it's because technology keeps changing, and the capabilities get better and more refined with each passing year. So, there would be a limited utility in assigning a certain percentage that has to be on hand at any given time. But that could change depending on the munition we're talking about. I mean, not every piece of armament is of the same operational, strategic value as another. So, again, it's a holistic view here about readiness.
And all I can assure you is, and certainly, we can assure the American people that we are more than capable of continuing to defend the homeland, and we look at this with every single package. And we're doing the best we can to make sure that Ukraine has the capabilities it needs in the moment, right now with the fighting in the Donbas in the south to better defend their sovereignty. And as you saw, the secretary and deputy secretary met with the defense contracting CEOs just a couple of weeks ago to talk about production lines. When we were in Ramstein, the secretary dedicated a whole session of that afternoon to talking about the defense industrial base. Not just in the United States, but all those nations are because so many other nations are contributing systems and weapons to Ukraine. And of course, you know, we'll continue to do that going forward. So.
Let me take a couple from the phones here. Idrees?
Q: Hey, John. Now, that we're two more -- two months -- more than two months into -- into -- into the war. Could you talk about when the last time the secretary tried to reach out to his Russian counterpart? And I assume he hasn't been successful. What happens when he reaches out is the Protocol Office reaches out to the Russian side? They don't respond, or they pick up the phone, and then they say, no, thank you? Can you sort of talk us through that?
MR. KIRBY: Normally, you reach out through the policy channels. And you also use the defense attache, the defense attache at the embassy no matter what the country is in question that senior military officer is a representation of the Secretary of Defense inside all of our embassies. And so, they are usually, after working it through policy in terms of the efficacy of doing a call, usually we rely heavily on the defense attache. I don't have a date to give you, Idrees, when the last attempt was. It's been quite some time, certainly, many weeks, since we've attempted another communication with Minister Shoigu. And there has not been much interest shown by the Russians in having that conversation.
Mike Brest, Washington Examiner?
Q: Thanks for taking my question. With Russia's victory ... from today, does the Pentagon believe Russia will make a stronger push to get a definitive victory between now and then?
MR. KIRBY: I can't speak for the Russian plans here, Mike. I think that is a question better put to the Ministry of Defense. And I think when you're asking them, I'd also urge you to find out when it is Mr. Putin is going to do the right thing and end the war because he can end the war right now. If he so chooses. But as for what their plans are regarding Victory Day; I think I'd let you speak to them. What I can tell you is that the Ukrainians continue to fight back, to resist to do so ably and nimbly, quite effectively. We haven't seen the Russians make a whole lot of progress in the Donbas area or, quite frankly, in the south. And that's a result of the skill and the bravery and, quite frankly, the kinds of capabilities that the United States and so many other countries are providing the Ukrainians in their self-defense.
But as for what their plans are for later this month, I think that's something that they should speak to. What we would urge them to plan to do is to meet with Mr. Zelenskyy, to pull their troops out of Ukraine, and to end the war. And they can do that today.
Q: On the defense secretary's meeting with his Japanese counterpart this week. What are the deliverables going to be from that meeting? And how much will parallels between Ukraine and Taiwan play into that competition?
MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to get ahead of the deliverables for the meeting. I mean, we'll have a good readout of it. You guys will have access to the opening comments for that. We're looking forward to this. This is one of the most important alliances we have around the world. It's with Japan. And very, very excited to have Minister Kishi come see us in person. He attended virtually, but he attended the Defense Consultative Group Meeting in Ramstein on Ukraine.
So, I fully expect that issues regarding Ukraine and how Japan and how the United States are going to continue to support Ukraine will be on the agenda. I also fully expect that tensions with China will be on the agenda, as you might expect. But the degree to which there's an interplay between the two, I think we'll just let these two ministers talk before we get out ahead of that.
I would just offer if I might, and you heard the secretary has said this publicly that we've got to be careful drawing too many comparisons between Taiwan and Ukraine. Completely two different scenarios. Nothing's changed about our continued adherence to the One China policy; nothing has changed about our continued dedication to continue to support Taiwan's self-defense needs through the Taiwan Relations Act. It's a different situation. And I think we all need to be careful before drawing too many parallels.
Jen, I already got you.
Q: Just a question regarding Iran. In the last few weeks, Iran has said that they don't have any plans to abandon their plot to assassinate and rate retaliation for the Qasem Soleimani strike. Mossad is also saying, and that's according to the Prime Minister's Office in Israel, that a plot to assassinate a U.S. General in Germany was foiled. And also, in the last week, China and Iran furthered their military cooperation. So, how does this Iranian provocative activity change our force protection posture when it comes to overseas deployments?
MR. KIRBY: We always look at our force protection overseas, particularly in the Middle East. And we change it routinely based on whatever the existing security threat is. I would just tell you a couple of things without getting into the specific anecdotes you cited there and I'm not going to talk about intelligence. But nobody here at the department is oblivious to the fact that Iran continues to be a malign actor in the region. They continue to support terrorist groups; they continue to develop a ballistic missile program. They obviously, even as they sit in negotiations, continue to develop certain nuclear capabilities. And they are harassing shipping and clearly pose a threat in the maritime domain. You pick it. There's an awful lot there that Iran is doing in a malign way in the Middle East region.
And that is why even as this department continues to believe that Iran without a nuke -- no problem in the Middle East is easier to solve with Iran having a nuclear weapon. So, we continue to support the work of our diplomats as they try to get a new agreement here on their nuclear development. But even with all that support, we still have a fundamental obligation to protect our security interests in the Middle East and those of our allies and partners there. And that's why we still have a robust presence on the ground and at sea in the Middle East. And we're constantly reviewing that as well, whether we have that right, based on the threat.
So, look, force protection, and the security of our footprint remains a paramount concern for the secretary. And of course, he has a lot of experience in that part of the world. So, he watches this very, very closely. But we don't talk about, nor should we talk about on any given day, how it changes because of Iran's multiple destabilizing activities, that, too, the threat, too, changes every day.
Q: John, just a follow-up. The Mossad said that it foiled an attack by Iran on a U.S. General in Germany. Who was the U.S. General, and when did this take place?
MR. KIRBY: I'm not gonna talk about that.
Q: Thank you. I want to ask you about North Korea. In March, the INDOPACOM enhanced their readiness level among -- among their missile defense forces in the region and increased their intelligence collection activity near North Korea. Could you give us an update on that? Does that enhanced readiness status remain the same?
MR. KIRBY: I will just, without getting into the specific intelligence issues, we obviously you saw us talk about increased ISR capabilities that we were going to be applying in the wake of these now multiple recent tests by the North Koreans. And we're still doing that. And we're constantly looking for ways to get smarter and to get better information, as well as to make sure we're sharing that with the South Koreans.
OK. In the back there.
Q: Oh, thanks, John. I'd like to return to Ukraine for a moment. A couple of days ago, I covered the moment when Congress just approved the Lend-Lease Act for Ukraine. And they talked about the political importance of this. But I'd like to ask you about the military perspective. Do you have any plan or any strategy? Which equipment, which arms might be provided to Ukraine using the Lend-Lease? What will be the difference between, you know, foreign military sales or military aid? And does it mean that, for example, like it was after -- during the Second World War, that arms will go separately, and something like Humvees, will go through Lend-Lease?
MR. KIRBY: Yeah. So, it's pending legislation. The President hasn't signed it yet. So, I'm not gonna get ahead of the President here. If and when he signs that then it becomes law, and then we'll execute it. And then I'm sure we'll be able to talk about it in more detail.
What I can talk about is what we're doing right now. And what we're doing right now is continuing to send over the weapons and material of the last two presidential drawdown authorities, what we're calling seven and eight, which was very, very focused on artillery, particularly and some radar capabilities, as well as some unmanned capabilities. The kinds of things that we know that they need because they've told us they need in the Donbas and in the south. And so that's what we're focused on right now. And I just don't want to get ahead of legislation that hasn't been signed into law by the President.
Q: I just kinda wanted to follow up on Bloomberg's question, just broadening it up beyond...
MR. KIRBY: Is there a guy from Bloomberg here?
Q: Have you seen other countries provide arms or equivalent to -- to Russia? If so, which ones? Or do you assess that Russia is still just going and burning through its own inventories?
MR. KIRBY: You know, I've seen no indication that they have gotten external assistance from a third nation, that they -- and to our mind, I know we talked about this an awful lot, unfortunately, over the last couple of months, but they had assembled an awful lot of their own organic combat power outside Ukraine before the 24th of February. You know, more than 120 battalion tactical groups a large portion of their air force and other capabilities that they had available to them and as they concentrate now in a smaller geographic area, they still have a lot of that combat power left. I'm not at all suggesting that they haven't suffered casualties; they have, they haven't suffered losses, they certainly have. But they still have a not-insignificant amount of their combat power still available to them. So, they still have quite a bit to draw on. I just haven't seen any indication that they're trying to draw on external sources from other governments or other countries.
Let's see. Lara Seligman?
Q: Hey, John. Thanks for doing this. I wanted to ask you, from U.S. and NATO perspective, does DoD see this situation in Ukraine as a long-term fight?
MR. KIRBY: We certainly think that it could be, Lara. I mean, nobody knows how long this is going to go. And again, I'll say it again; I'll keep saying it every day; it could end today. It could end right now. This is a war of choice that Mr. Putin decided to wage on his own while he still had diplomatic options on the table. So it could end now. There's no reason for it to go a single other day.
That said, because the Donbas is a region that the Russians and the Ukrainians have had experienced fighting one another in because the Russians are going to be concentrating now almost all of their remaining combat power in the Donbas and in the south. And because Ukrainians have clearly shown no interest in capitulating and not fighting for every inch of their territory, there is a distinct possibility that this could go on for quite some time. But it wouldn't be the smart thing to do for us to try to circle the date on the calendar and say, well, we think it's going to take that long. We just don't know. And again, it's our hope that it doesn't go on at all, that it can stop now. But again, Mr. Putin has shown no proclivity to want to do that.
Q: Can you hear me? Just to follow up, what -- would then does that -- would that require in terms of U.S. and NATO troop presence in Europe? Is this additional -- does this mean additional deployments? Does this mean we keep the posture we have now for the foreseeable future? What -- what does this mean practically?
MR. KIRBY: ... that our additional troop presence is in Europe because of the -- the need to make sure that we can defend NATO territory. And to make it very clear to Mr. Putin that the United States takes Article V commitments to NATO seriously. That is why we've added capability to Europe not specifically tied to events on the ground in Ukraine; it's really tied more towards the changing security environment, the changed security environment in Europe, because of Mr. Putin's invasion of Ukraine. And so, we've added about 20,000 or so troops on temporary orders to the Eastern Flank of NATO. I have no announcements or changes to that posture to make today or to speak to today. We'll evaluate this from week to week as we have been doing to see whether we have it about right.
And when there's significant additions or changes to it, we'll certainly talk about that. But I wouldn't want you to come away thinking that our posture in Europe, in terms of bolstering NATO's eastern flank, is tied directly. The decisions about that are tied directly to what the tactical situation is in the Donbas or in the south. That is not the purpose for them to be there.
Let's see. Anymore? Yep?
Q: Is there an updated number or an estimated number on the amount of civilians that are still left in Mariupol?
MR. KIRBY: I don't. I think I got that question right at the beginning, and I just don't have an accurate number. You'd be getting a much better sense of that by talking to the Ukrainian government; they would have a cleaner sense. We're just not on the ground there.
OK, looks like that's about it for today.
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