WASHINGTON: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin now has the military capability to act against Ukraine, as it builds up forces near the post-Soviet country’s borders.
“While we don’t believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine, he clearly now has that capability,” Austin told reporters.
He said “there are multiple options available to including the seizure of cities and significant territories, but also coercive acts and provocative political acts like the recognition of breakaway territories.”
Austin spoke amid fragile Russia-U.S. diplomacy in a broader East-West standoff over Ukraine. Moscow has demanded NATO pull back troops and weapons from Eastern Europe and bar Ukraine from ever joining the military alliance.
Washington and its NATO allies reject that position but say they are ready to discuss other topics such as arms control and confidence-building measures.
Austin told reporters that the United States remains focused on countering Russian disinformation, including anything that could be used as a pretext for attacks against Ukraine.
Speaking alongside Austin, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said Russian formations near Ukraine extended beyond ground, air and naval forces to include cyber warfare and logistics capabilities.
Austin said the United States was committed to helping Ukraine defend itself, including by providing additional anti-armor weaponry.