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US says conflict in Ukraine not inevitable, door open for diplomacy with Russia

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said the United States remains committed to helping Ukraine defend itself through security assistance material

US Defence Secretary Lloyd J. Austin said on Friday that conflict in Ukraine “is not inevitable as there is still time and space for diplomacy” with Russia.

“The United States, in lockstep with our allies and partners, has offered Russia a path away from crisis and toward greater security, and the Department of Defense will continue to support those diplomatic efforts,” Austin said at a press conference which he addressed along with Chief of Defence Staff General Mark Milley. 

Austin also said the United States remains committed to helping Ukraine defend itself through security assistance material, and since 2014, had committed more than $2.7 billion in security assistance to Ukraine.

“That includes more security assistance to Ukraine in the past year, $650 million, than at any previous time. And so in December, President Biden authorized $200 million in assistance, which included additional Javelins and other anti-armor weapons, grenade launchers, large quantities of artillery and small arms ammunition and other equipment. Those deliveries are ongoing. Indeed, another shipment just arrived today,” he explained. 

Austin emphasised the fact that the United States would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with its NATO allies which includes reinforcing security on NATO's Eastern Flank.

“We've placed thousands of U.S. troops on prepare to deploy orders earlier this week. If NATO activates its response forces, these troops will be ready to go,” Austin explained.

The Defence Secretary said that the situation on Ukraine's borders was changing rapidly and the US would defend its national security interests in response to Russian actions.

“In addition to the significant economic and diplomatic costs that Russia will incur, a move on Ukraine will accomplish the very thing Russia says it does not want — a NATO alliance strengthened and resolved on its Western Flank,” Austin remarked. 

“And Mr. Putin can do the right thing, as well. There's no reason that this situation has to devolve into conflict. He can choose to deescalate, he can order his troops away, he can choose dialogue and diplomacy. Whatever he decides, the United States will stand with its allies and partners,” he remarked. 

He said Russia has been deploying forces to Crimea and along Ukraine's border, including in Belarus. It has progressed at a consistent and steady pace involving tens of thousands of Russian troops, and it is being supported by increased Russian naval activity in the northern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea.

He said while the US does not believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine, he clearly now has that capability and there are multiple options available to him, including the seizure of cities and significant territories, but also, coercive acts or provocative political acts like the recognition of breakaway territories.

Austin also said the US would not be taken in by the “disinformation” being spread by the Russian state media.  

Also read: There will be no war now between Russia and Ukraine—Ukrainian scholar Valentin Yakushik