The Pentagon on Friday called on Russia to stand down on Ukraine as tensions rise over the threat of a Russian military invasion.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a briefing with reporters said Moscow has for months been deploying forces along Ukraine’s border at a “consistent and steady pace,” which has been supported by Russian naval activity in the northern Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea.
“We don’t believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine,” Austin said. “He clearly now has that capability.”
Russia has amassed at least 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, and the United States has warned in recent weeks that Putin could attack at any moment. President Biden has warned Putin that such an attack would be met with severe economic consequences for Moscow.
The Kremlin has denied any intention of seeking to invade Ukraine, but weeks of diplomatic dialogue aimed at diffusing the conflict has largely proven unsuccessful. As diplomatic talks continue, NATO has moved to bolster its security forces along the eastern flank, as Ukraine shares borders with four alliance members.
Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed that there was no reason for armed conflict.
“It’s the policy of the United States government to continue to support an independent Ukraine and their goals. And we are continuing our efforts to enhance their ability to protect themselves,” Milley said.
“We strongly encourage Russia to stand down and to pursue a resolution through diplomacy,” he continued. “Armed force should always be the last resort. Success here is through dialogue.”
The US has called for a meeting of the United Nations Security Council to address Russia’s behavior and the build-up of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border.
A senior administration official on Friday told reporters the US wants to get UN members on the record.
“It basically boils down to the question of whether there should be a path of war, or whether there should be a path of diplomacy,” the official told reporters in a briefing.
“I think the expectation is that members of the Security Council will be weighing in on this question and supportive of a diplomatic approach.”
The official said that no concrete measures or a joint statement are expected to come out of the council meeting. Russia, as one of five permanent members of the council, holds power to veto such measures in the council. The other permanent members are United States, France, United Kingdom and China.
As US lawmakers scramble to iron out a sanctions package against Russia ahead of a potential invasion, the head of Ukraine’s parliament sent a letter to several US senators outlining specific demands for what those sanctions should look like.
Ruslan Stefanchuk, chairman of Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada legislature, thanked the senators for supporting Ukraine, and stressed the importance of already adopted laws to support Ukraine in combating Russian aggression, according to a statement from the parliament.
According to Axios, which first obtained the letter, the request was sent to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, Robert Menendez and James Risch, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations panel. The letter was also sent to Rob Portman, Jeanne Shaheen, Chris Murphy, John Cornyn, Lindsey Graham and Ben Cardin.
The senators have lately taken part in a meeting over Zoom to try to figure out the details for legislation on sanctioning Russia.