May 3, 2022
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby holds news briefing 5/02/22 Transcript
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby holds news briefing 5/02/22. Read the transcript here.
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John Kirby: (00:00)
… They’re all going to continue to make us, so I really appreciate it. Thanks very much.
Speaker 2: (00:03)
Thank you, sir.
John Kirby: (00:04)
Now go, you’re too tall. Thank you very much, guys.
Speaker 2: (00:09)
Thank you, sir.
John Kirby: (00:10)
All right, for that we’ll take questions. Lita, I think you’re first.
Thank you. John, 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 there left or there’s still a fragment, 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 this an opportunity for Ukraine to try to stage some counter attack?
John Kirby: (00:51)
Well, there’s an awful lot there, and with the caveat that we don’t have perfect visibility on all 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 Russians continue to pound Mariupol from the air, so the fighting in Mariupol is not done, certainly not from what we can see because they continue to bombard 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 you 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, that are in the Donbas. Did that get at everything?
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?
John Kirby: (02:20)
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 has been some evacuations of some civilians. We obviously urge the Russians to continue to work with the Red Cross and the 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 from Mariupol has not been won and is not over. Yeah.
Yeah. A couple of things.
John Kirby: (03:13)
Who are you?
Peter Martin: (03:15)
Sorry, say again?
John Kirby: (03:16)
Who are you?
Peter Martin: (03:17)
Pete Martin. You ask this every time, Peter Martin from Bloomberg-
John Kirby: (03:20)
Peter Martin: (03:20)
John Kirby: (03:22)
Well, see, you’re not here.
Peter Martin: (03:26)
First off, I wondered if you have any updates on potential security guarantees to Sweden and Finland or any update on negotiations with those two countries as they look potentially toward NATO membership?
John Kirby: (03:39)
Well, I’d say a couple of things. As we’ve said before, we support NATO’s open door policy, that’s one, too, but whatever discussions about NATO membership are going to occur, they’re going to occur between those two governments and 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. As for security guarantees, 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 would probably permit a broader, deeper discussion about their defense needs.
Peter Martin: (04:48)
I just wanted to ask separately, do you have any signs of any Chinese assistance to Russia in Ukraine? Is that still the same status as before?
John Kirby: (04:57)
See you no indications. Yeah. Jen?
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?
John Kirby: (05:26)
In terms of the howitzers going to Ukraine, 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 of the U.S. Department of Defense. Remember what we’re doing for Ukraine, Jen, is largely almost who presidential draw down 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 to Taiwan, and that’s all being done through the State Department.
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?
John Kirby: (06:28)
I have seen nothing that could help us corroborate that, no, I’m afraid not. Yeah.
Speaker 6: (06:37)
Can you tell us anything about Russian General Gerasimov’s visit to Ukraine? What was he doing there and did he come into harm’s way? Was he injured in an attack?
John Kirby: (06:46)
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.
Speaker 6: (07:11)
Is he there now?
John Kirby: (07:13)
I think I’ll let the Russian Ministry 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. Gordon?
Do you have any updates to the claims the Ukrainians have made on the drones taking out the ships and are those claims you can [crosstalk 00:07:43] here?
John Kirby: (07:42)
Can’t confirm those reports. I’ve seen the same video that you guys have seen, I think, online, and we’re not in a position to confirm that.
Okay. 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? Is the Pentagon still happy with the way industry has responded to any of this?
John Kirby: (08:11)
No new contracts to speak to, but as you know, there’s a threshold for what level of contracts we actually publicly announce, but no contracts to announce or speak to today. The only thing I would add is under the USAI, Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, we have talked to industry about the Puma UASs, but I don’t have any additional ones to speak to. Yeah.
Senator Blumenthal said in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. has 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? Are there any other of those kinds of resupply of some of these other things, like the M777s that you can talk to, how long it takes and where the U.S. stockpile is?
John Kirby: (09:06)
You’re going to have to let me take some of that, Court. I’m not an expert on how long it takes to make a howitzer. I’ll 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 any one particular system or set of munitions. Number two, with every draw down package, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs as well as the department make an assessment as to the impact on our readiness. It’s not about just how many of these do 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.”
John Kirby: (10:02)
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 draw down package, we make an assessment about the impact on our readiness. 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 draw down package.
Is there anything that’s written in legislation or anything that says 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 it-
John Kirby: (11:01)
I’m not aware of any legislation that requires a percentage of [crosstalk 00:11:05] a certain, no, I’m not aware of any. Now again, because look, 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. Not every piece of armament I is of the same operational strategic value as another, so again, it’s a holistic view here about readiness. 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.
John Kirby: (11:49)
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. As you saw the secretary and the 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 of the United States, but all those nations there because so many other nations are contributing systems and weapons to Ukraine. Of course, we’ll continue to do that going forward. So let me take a couple from the phones here. Edris?
Hey, John. Now that we’re more than two months 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 it 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 talk us through that?
John Kirby: (13:01)
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 that senior military officer is a representation of the Secretary of Defense inside all of our embassies. So 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, Edris, when the last attempt was. It’s been quite some time, certainly many weeks since we’ve attempted another communication with Minister Shoigu. There has not been much interest shown by the Russians in having that conversation. Mike Brest, Washington Examiner.
Mike Brest: (14:00)
Thanks for taking my question with Russia’s victory to [inaudible 00:14:05] from today, does the Pentagon believe Russia will make a stronger push to get a definitive victory between now and then?
John Kirby: (14:11)
I can’t speak for the Russian plans here, Mike. I think that is a question better put to the Ministry of Defense. I think when you’re asking them, I’d also urge you to find out when it is Mr. Putin’s 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.
John Kirby: (14:50)
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. Zelensky, to pull their troops out of Ukraine and to end the war, and they can do that today. Yeah, Joe.
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 parallel between Ukraine and Taiwan play into that conversation?
John Kirby: (15:45)
I’m not going to get ahead of the deliverables for the meeting. We’ll have a good read out of it, and 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 is with Japan, and very, very excited to have Minister Kishida 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.
John Kirby: (16:27)
I also fully expect that tensions with China will be on the agenda as you might expect, but to 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 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 self-defense needs through Taiwan, 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. Go ahead.
Speaker 12: (17:11)
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 in retaliation for the Qasem Soleimani strike, Mossad 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?
John Kirby: (17:47)
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 anecdote 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 maligned 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 maligned way in the Middle East region, and that is why even as this department continues to believe that no problem in the Middle East is easier to solve with Iran having a nuclear weapon.
John Kirby: (18:59)
So we continue to support the work of our diplomats as they try to get a new agreement here on their nuclear development. Even with all that support, we still have a fundamental obligation to protect our security interests in the Middle East, and those are our allies and partners there. That’s why we still have a robust presence on the ground and at sea in the Middle East. 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 quite frankly, because of Iran’s multiple destabilizing activities, that too, the threat too, changes every day.
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?
John Kirby: (20:08)
I’m not going to talk about that. Yeah, Rio?
Thank you. I want to ask you about North Korea. In March in the [inaudible 00:20:17] enhanced the readiness level among the [inaudible 00:20:20] defense forces in the region and increase their intelligence collection activity near North Korea, could you give us an update on that? Does that enhanced readiness status remain the same?
John Kirby: (20:32)
Without getting into specific intelligence issues, Rio, 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. 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. Okay. Yeah, and the back there.
Speaker 14: (21:05)
Oh, thanks, John. I’d like to return to Ukraine for a moment. A couple of days ago I covered the moment when Congress had just approved the Lend-Lease Act for Ukraine. They’re told 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 foreign military sales or foreign military aid? And does it mean that, for example, like it was during the Second World War, that arms will go separately and something like lors like Humvees will go through Lend-List?
John Kirby: (21:43)
Yeah. So it’s pending legislation. The President hasn’t signed it yet, so I’m not going to get ahead of the President here. If and when he signs that, then, 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 draw down 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. 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. Yeah. Warren?
I just wanted to follow up on Bloomberg’s question, just broadening it up beyond China [crosstalk 00:22:41]
John Kirby: (22:41)
[crosstalk 00:22:41] Bloomberg here?
Have you seen other countries provide arms or equipment to Russia? If so, which ones or do you assess that Russia’s still just going and burning through its own inventory?
John Kirby: (22:57)
I’ve seen no indication that they have gotten external assistance from a third nation. To remind, 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; more than 120 battalion tactical groups, a large portion of their Air Force and other capabilities that they had available to them. 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.
Lara Seligman: (24:13)
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?
John Kirby: (24:26)
We certainly think that it could be, Lara. Nobody knows how long this is going to go. 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 experienced fighting one another.
John Kirby: (24:58)
Because the Russians are going to be concentrating now almost all of their remaining combat power in the Donbas in the south, 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 that wouldn’t be the smart thing to do for us to try to circle a date on the calendar and say, “Well, we think it’s going to take that long.” We just don’t know. Again, it’s our hope that it doesn’t go on it at all, just that it could stop now. Again, Mr. Putin has shown no proclivity to want to do that. Matt Saylor from ABC.
Lara Seligman: (25:46)
Can you hear me? Just to follow up, what then would that require in terms of U.S. and NATO troop presence in Europe? Does this mean additional deployments? Does this mean we keep the posture we have now for the foreseeable future? What does this mean [crosstalk 00:26:06]
John Kirby: (26:06)
I remember that our additional troop presence is in Europe because of 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 our Article 5 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 changed security environment in Europe because of Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. 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.
John Kirby: (26:55)
We’ll evaluate this from week to week, as we have been doing to see whether we have it about right. When there’s significant addition 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 to 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.
Matt Saylor: (27:27)
Is there an updated number, or an estimated number on the amount of civilians that are still left in Mariupol?
John Kirby: (27:33)
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. Okay. Looks like that’s about it for today. Thank you, everybody. We’ll see you tomorrow.
Speaker 18: (27:53)
Schedule a tour.
John Kirby: (27:53)
They are tall.
Speaker 18: (27:53)
Is that a requirement, guys?