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Excerpts On Ukraine From Defense Department Briefing



Published on 09 March 2014



by John Kirby, Press Secretary Rear Admiral

(WireNews)

Washington, D.C.

U.S. Department of Defense
U.S. Department of Defense

Below are excerpts on Ukraine from the March 7 Defense Department briefing. A transcript of the entire briefing is available on the Defense Department website.

U.S. Department of Defense
March 7, 2014
Department of Defense Press briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Presenter: Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby
March 07, 2014

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Good afternoon everybody. Just a couple of comments here at the top and we'll get right to your questions.

First, I wanted to let you know that secretary -- Secretary Hagel reached out by phone this morning with his Ukrainian counterpart, Minister of Defense Ihor Tenyukh. This was the first time that the two had chatted, and Secretary Hagel congratulated Minister Tenyukh on assuming his new post. The secretary also stressed the firm commitment of the United States to support the Ukrainian people and to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. He praised the performance and the restraint of the Ukrainian armed forces, who have not allowed the situation to escalate. Finally, he committed himself to keeping the dialogue open with Minister Tenyukh throughout these difficult times.

For our part, here in the Defense Department, again, I'd just remind you that our efforts are focused on demonstrating our commitment to our collective defense responsibilities under the North Atlantic treaty, and as Secretary Hagel said yesterday, we will pursue measures that reinforce those commitments to include the provision of additional support to NATO's Baltic air policing mission, and to our aviation detachment in Poland.

And with that, I'll take your questions. Bob.

Q: Two follow up questions to that, the second one being the aviation detachment in Poland. Can you clarify the numbers of aircraft and personnel who are going to be sent there, and then to your previous point about the secretary's phone call: did his Ukrainian counterpart make any requests for any type of U.S. security or defense assistance.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Okay. To your first one, we're still working our way through this with the -- with Polish authorities, Bob. I know I've seen press reporting out there on -- speculating on numbers of aircraft and that kind of thing, and I don't have anything to announce today. We're still in discussions with them about what the plus up is going to look like, but clearly we're committed to that. We know that the Poles are, as well, very interested in having us to add to the -- to the det. As you note, 10 people right now in a support aircraft coming in on a rotational basis right now.

So, we're still working our way through that, and as soon as we have something to announce, we'll do that.

Q: Considering making it a permanent rotation, or still...

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The parameters are all still under discussion right now. I mean, I think it's -- it's -- we're -- we're taking a look at all the various options and ways that we can plus up this det, make it more robust, but no decisions have been made yet, and soon as we have a mutual decision between us and Polish authorities, we will -- of course, we'll make that public.

On your second question, it was -- it was a good discussion. There -- it was a -- and it was a -- sort of a broad-based discussion on -- on terms of making sure that the -- that we can keep the dialogue and the level of cooperation, and the mil-to-mil relationship with Ukraine as strong as possible now and well into the future.

The -- the minister did ask, you know, for -- he asked the secretary to consider providing some advice and counsel to his troops with respect to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts. He made -- he said that -- that he knows the United States military is really good at that and that that's the kind of advice and counsel that they could use. And so it was -- it was a broad-based discussion about -- about sort of the advice and counsel that might be able to give them over the long term. And I think I'd leave it at that for...

Q: Just telephonically or sending some people over there...

(CROSSTALK)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, they didn't get into that level of detail. He just said, look, you're very good at this. And there was -- you know -- you know, technical assistance issues that -- that he raised, and I don't want to get into all the details right now, but, again, you know, we'll keep you posted if there's something to let you know.

Q: Can I just follow up on that? So he asked for these things, and you -- if I understood you right, there's the discussion about doing it over the long term. But does -- when Secretary Hagel speaks about doing it in the long term, does this current crisis have to be resolved before you can do this with the Ukraine military? Why long term? If they need humanitarian...

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, the -- the -- the specific issue on humanitarian assistance support was something that -- I mean, he just -- and I won't -- I won't speak for the minister. Just he believed that this is an expertise that they could -- they could benefit from and so asked for -- asked for, you know, some counsel on that.

Q: But is that for now? Is he asking for it in the near term?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: They didn't get into dates and specifics. It was -- again, it was sort of a broad discussion of assistance and things that the United States military could provide. Again, I don't -- I'm not going to get into the details of the -- of everything they talked about. And the secretary said that he would -- you know, that he appreciated the interest and that -- that he would -- that he would take their requests under consideration.

Q: Can I just ask you then, does this phone call become the, if you will, formal U.S. military endorsement -- you said mil-to-mil -- the formal -- formal U.S. military endorsement of the Ukraine military as it exists today after the -- now that the interim government and all of these issues are now in play? Is this now the endorsement of this Ukraine military with this government?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I don't know that I'd characterize that. I mean, we -- we've had a longstanding relationship with the Ukrainian military. That has continued throughout this crisis and -- and to today. I think that would be putting too fine a point on the conversation that they had today. We remain interested in maintaining a close relationship with the Ukrainian military, and I suspect that that will continue. Did that answer your question? Okay.

###

Q: Admiral, do you have any comments in regards with the interview of General Michael Flynn with NPR, where he was talking about the (inaudible) in regards with the movement of Russian troops?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I did not see or hear his interview, so, I mean, I -- I'd be loathe to speculate on an interview I didn't hear. But I think to your question, this came up on the Hill today [sic Tuesday, March 4], and Secretary Hagel was very clear in questioning with senators that -- that there was nothing sudden or new about Russian activity in Crimea or near the border of Ukraine. We were monitoring it. We were aware of it. We were tracking that.

Q: Are you still monitoring the situation in...

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The best we can, yes. We're still watching the situation very closely, of course.

Q: And something in regards to, the -- the destroyer that went to the Black Sea?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: The Truxton. Yeah, she's, as you've probably seen live footage of her transiting into -- into the Black Sea. U.S.S. Truxton's a guided missile destroyer. She's part of the strike group of the carrier U.S.S. George H.W. Bush. She's right now planned to be in the Black Sea for about a week or so, to conduct port visits and routine exercises with -- with partner nations there, and I think we've been very clear that this was -- this was an excursion for her that was planned well before her departure from the United States.

###

Q: When you said before you're closely monitoring the situation in Ukraine, have you seen the continued influx of Russian troops into Crimea? And what's the range of estimates of how big of the force actually is there right now?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'd -- I don't know that I'd characterize a continued flow. I mean, they have added forces over the last week or so. We don't have perfect visibility into the rate of change there, but -- and -- and our ability to provide an estimate is -- is somewhat limited, just based on our knowledge of the situation -- the situation on the ground.

But clearly, they have thousands of soldiers in the Crimea. Some estimates are up to near 20,000 of them. Again, we don't have perfect -- I can't give you a perfect number on that, but that's the -- that's the range at which we -- we believe they're at.

It's less important the number than it is what they're doing. It's -- it's a clear violation of lots of international obligations Russia has, not to mention the 1997 basing agreement with Ukraine, which prohibits them from the kind of activities they're doing.

So we're much more concerned about the activities, you know, blocking off Ukrainian naval bases by sinking patrol boats into the waterways and essentially establishing operational control of the Crimea.

Q: So the 20,000 (OFF-MIC there right now, including the...

(CROSSTALK)

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I'd say that's a -- that's a good estimate right now, but it's just an estimate. And as I said, we don't have perfect visibility on the numbers.

###

Q: Can I just ask you to explain your other remark on Ukraine, if I might, about the Russian troops, just for clarity.

You said they've added forces in the last week or so. Is that, when you say "added forces," is that different than the roughly 5,000 to 6,000, which was...

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I just meant that over the last, as we've all been watching this crisis unfold, you've seen it, you've reported it, they have continued to add troops into the Crimea.

Q: It's not beyond that.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: Okay. Thank you.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: OK. Louie.

###

Q: On Ukraine, I want to ask you, besides the F-15 and the F-16 movements to Poland and Lithuania, does the United States -- is the Pentagon planning anything else in the next three or four days, symbolic moves of aircraft or vessels?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, first of all, I wouldn't characterize it as symbolic. These are -- these are real missions here, the aviation det in Poland and the Baltic air policing mission. Those are the only two that we have to announce right now.

Q: Are there others in the works, though?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: None that I'm aware of, but I think we're going to continue to look for ways to demonstrate our commitment to NATO, so I'm not -- I'm not aware of any new ones now. Those are the two that we're focused on right now.

###

Okay, thanks, everybody

###

 


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Posted 2014-03-09 18:41:00