WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday virtually threatened to impose war on Russia if it invaded Ukraine, which Washington considers imminent and Kyiv insists is not.
In a joint press conference at the Pentagon with US defense secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley urged Russia to stand down, warning “the military capability of Nato is very, very significant”. He went to the extent of outlining Nato power, saying the alliance has “approximately 130 brigades, not including US… 93 squadrons of fighters… 4 carriers”.
While maintaining that “war is not inevitable”, he put the onus on de-escalation on Moscow, saying the crisis has been “entirely engineered” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Milley also said Ukraine’s combat capabilities have improved since 2014, with the US providing additional support. If Russia chooses to invade Ukraine, it won’t be cost-free in terms of casualties or other significant effects, he warned.
Milley and Austin also invoked Article 5 of the Nato charter, which enjoins collective defence for the alliance, of which Ukraine is not yet a member.
Austin said Moscow has for months been deploying forces along Ukraine’s border at a “consistent and steady pace”, supported by Russian naval activity in the northern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea.
“We don’t believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine. He clearly now has that capability,” the US defense secretary added, amid reports of differences between the US and Ukraine over the seriousness of the Russian threat.
Earlier, major US news outlets, including CNN, withdrew reports of disagreements between Washington and Kyiv aired during a phone call from President Biden to his Ukrainian counterpart, in which he reportedly warned him that Kyiv could be “sacked” and asked him to “prepare for impact”. The report was sourced to a Ukrainian official who reportedly told CNN that the call between the two leaders “did not go well”.
But the White House pushed back saying Biden said no such thing and the two sides are on the same page. “This is not true. President Biden said that there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February. He has previously said this publicly and we have been warning about this for months. Reports of anything more or different than that are completely false,” White House NSC spokesperson Emily Horne said.
“Also, no one said “sacked”. “The only person who should be sacked is the anonymous source who is circulating an inaccurate portrayal of this conversation,” Horne told CNN.
A White House readout of the call said, “President Biden reaffirmed the readiness of the United States, along with its allies and partners to respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine. He also underscored the commitment of the United States to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“President Biden noted the United States has provided Ukraine with over half-a-billion dollars in development and humanitarian assistance in the last year, and is exploring additional macroeconomic support to help Ukraine’s economy amidst pressure resulting from Russia’s military build-up,” the White House statement added.