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Quest Means Business

U.S. Warns Ukraine That Latest Intel Points To Imminent Invasion; Biden Issues New Sanctions On Nord Stream 2 Builder; Key Ukrainian Power Plant Offline Due To Shelling; Pentagon Briefing On U.S. Troop Movement From Europe To Baltics. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired February 23, 2022 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: Good evening to you. I`m Richard Quest in New York, and there`s a ton of breaking news to bring to your attention.

We`re awaiting for briefings from the White House and the Pentagon. You can see them both there with the White House which is at the bottom. I don`t

expect that to happen until maybe 3:30 Washington time, which is in about 30 minutes from now.

But we are obviously keeping a track and watch very closely, and then The Pentagon is going to give us a briefing that could happen anytime now, and

when it does, we`ll bring it to you and stay with it for the most important moments, as we watch this most perilous of times in the Ukraine crisis.

U.S. officials are warning Ukraine of an imminent full scale Russian invasion. A senior Pentagon official says nearly a hundred percent of the

Russian forces along the Ukraine border are now there, those that would be necessary.

That same officials says 80 percent of them are ready to go. Over the last hour, the Biden administration announced new economic sanctions against the

company behind Russia`s Nord Stream 2 pipelines and the State Department spokesman, Ned Price said the latest move is justified by Russia`s



NED PRICE, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: As we have noted in recent days and recent hours, Russia`s invasion of Ukraine is beginning.

Hours after Russia recognized the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People`s Republic as quote-unquote "independent," President Putin authorized Russian

troops to enter those regions.

He has taken other steps that amount to a direct assault on Ukraine`s sovereignty.


QUEST: And now, we have M.J. Lee at the White House, Alex Marquardt is in eastern Ukraine in the village of Tehramastuk (ph) Let`s start.

M.J., the situation and the President`s reaction. We`ve had some sanctions yesterday, we had more of them. Where is this going?

M.J. LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: ... the U.S. continue to react based on what they are seeing on the ground there between the Russia and

Ukrainian border. What we saw today at least is the President announcing sanctions against the company that is building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Obviously, this is done in conjunction with Germany, which announced earlier in the week, that it would not certify this pipeline. So, this is

an attempt by the U.S. and its allies wanting to show and sort of punch Russia exactly where it is going to hurt them the most.

Now, the White House has basically said that these sanctions are going to be rolled out basically on a rolling basis, their message has been if

Russia continues to invade further, then we are going to be rolling out even more sanctions and those sanctions are potentially going to grow more


But I think an important question that all of this has raised for the White House is what role are these sanctions serving at this point? Because

remember, until those first series of sanctions were rolled out yesterday, the White House`s messaging had been look, we are going to hold back on

rolling back rolling out these sanctions because we want the threat of the sanctions to serve as a deterrent.

But what we have seen now is that the U.S. is determined that Russia has begun its invasion of Ukraine, so now what they are hoping is that the

threat of further sanctions could potentially deter a more big scale invasion into Ukraine.

So for example, a kind of invasion that would result in mass casualty, a kind of invasion that would take Russian troops further into Ukraine. But

at this point, it is just not clear that this kind of deterrence is actually being effective.

QUEST: M.J., I`ll let you go about your newsgathering duties. Thank you. To Alex, I`ve now got the right place where you are, you`re in Volnovakha,

which I`m sure you`ll correct me with my pronunciation but it doesn`t really matter how we pronounce it, the fact that it`s in the eastern part

of the country where there has been some shelling.

And I guess, if that invasion is imminent, you`re right where it is.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we`re told, Richard, that it`s pronounced Volnovakha. And you`re absolutely

right, we are very close to those two breakaway republics as they call themselves, we are in Donetsk province. We`re just about 12 and a half

miles, about 20 kilometers from that line of contact where there has been all of this fighting over the course of the past eight years, which has

left some 14,000 people dead.

But Richard, over the course of the past few days, there has been a significant spike in the violence along that line, which is just over 400

kilometers long.


There has been some of the biggest shelling in four years. There have been numerous -- dozens of ceasefire violations every single day, much of that

artillery fire emanating from that Russian-backed territory.

We were in a small village, just today, and we saw the scale of it. This was a village really have no note, that barely had anybody in it. And yet,

we were shown around by residents and he showed us his field behind the house, which had some 16 craters in it. And he said, all these artillery

shells had come in over the course of two days. So it just shows you how indiscriminate and random it is.

Richard, this invasion by Russia could come from any angle or all angles. We know that the Russians are to the north in Belarus, to the east in

Russia, to the south, along the water, and in Crimea. But you`re absolutely right, so much the focus is on these two breakaway enclaves where President

Putin has said he plans to send what he calls peacekeepers -- Richard.

QUEST: Now, Alex, just help us understand because it`s going to be important that we get the gist of the situation. If we look at the map,

again, of the area, we have, obviously Ukraine out to the West. We now have the disputed areas or at least the areas that have been claimed of Donetsk

and Luhansk.

Are those under separatists control at the moment? Are they under Ukrainian forces control? Is it a bit of both? What I`m trying to understand is, when

we talk about the invasion, where are we talking about? Russia? To these regions? Or these regions into Ukraine proper.

MARQUARDT: All of the above, Richard. So let`s just take one front at a time. To the north, you have Belarus, where for the past few weeks, there

have been what Russia has called exercises. Tens of thousands of Russian troops up there, exercising very close to the Ukrainian border.

Satellite imagery shows them creeping closer to that border, and that is directly above Kyiv. That`s why there is so much concern for the capital


To the east is where you find the bulk of the 150,000 Russian forces. They could come across through those two areas that they have been backing for

the past eight years, Donetsk and Luhansk, as you mentioned.

They could come in -- they could target the City of Kharkiv in the northeast, which is a primarily Russian speaking city, but it would could

be a significant target.

And then if you look at the south, Richard, there`s been a lot of speculation that President Putin may want to connect the peninsula of

Crimea, which of course, he annexed in 2014, with the rest of Russia and create what`s been called a land bridge, essentially a strip along that

southern coast.

We`ve seen Russia`s Navy, in the Black Sea, in the Sea of Azov, we`ve seen troops and helicopters in Crimea. So it really could come from all these

different angles. And what is interesting about President Putin`s claim, or rather recognition of independence of these two Republic`s yesterday was

that is, to your point, not just those areas where those Russian-backed forces control, which is only about a third of those two provinces, they

are laying claim to the entirety of both like those provinces, which here are called Ovilas (ph).

So Russia could say, you know, we have been called in by these separatists to protect them and that therefore push into where I am right now in

Donetsk and really start a fight with Ukrainian forces, because this is Ukrainian territory after controlled by Ukraine -- Richard.

QUEST: Alex Marquardt who is on the frontlines in Ukraine. Thank you, sir.

Now, the shelling that is taking place in eastern Ukraine has taken out a key power plant, electricity plant. The plant`s operator says a transformer

caught fire and the shelling made it too dangerous to repair.

The Luhansk plant is operated by DTEK, it is the region`s biggest source of electricity.

Maxim Timchenko is the chief executive of DTEK. He joins me now from Kyiv.

Sir, I`m grateful to you. There is much for us to cover.

First of all, what is the situation with that plant in the east that was hit or at least where there has been a fire? Is that situation now under


MAXIM TIMCHENKO, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, DTEK: Hello, unfortunately the situation is repeating what was happening in 2014. I just want to remind that this

power station is very close to the contact line, just several meters and shelling eight years ago was something that we experienced for several



And unfortunately, this is what is happening now. After three years of intensive shelling, where we lost all power produced by this power station,

we cannot have access to the power station to make all this checking and testing make assessment how much time and what we need to restore operation

of this power station.

QUEST: So as we now look forward, the fear, of course, is a full-scale Russian invasion, which the U.S. authorities say is imminent. If that is

the case, how will you keep literally the lights on?

TIMCHENKO: So what we should do, we just have to keep operating all our power stations. So I can say that DTEK is national company and we have

power station on eastern and western border.

Lugansk station, which is off at the moment is contributing not so much that we can have any real issues about lights in the territory of Ukraine.

Moreover, from tomorrow, we`ll start so-called isolation test when we disconnect from Russian and Belarus electricity grid, so that Ukraine can

be prepared for synchronization with the European grid.

And this is what we are planning to do for more than 10 years. So I think that all of this means that we can keep operating and make sure that there

is no any major disruption with electricity or heat supply.

QUEST: The connections -- the one thing we`ve learned over the years is the interconnectedness of the grids, and you talked about that then. If

Russia turned it off, and Belarus turned it off, would you be -- and if for example, your supply of natural gas was halted? Can you keep going?

TIMCHENKO: Definitely. My question is this, and this is basically what we are trying and preparing for. We have quite difficult winter season, but we

managed to bring enough coal from the United States and from other partners.

At the moment, when Russian stop all transportation of coal from Russian territory -- from Kazakhstan, then we have enough capacity in nuclear and

also in renewables, what we developed rapidly for the last several years, then we are quite ready for synchronization with our European partners and

European electricity grid. It means we increased by more than four times our cross border capacity.

So we are quite confident that we can manage it even without connection with Russia and Belarus.

QUEST: The situation is obviously very serious, and I`m assuming obviously your greatest concern is for your employees and those who will be facing

whatever comes your way.

What do you need? If somebody says to you, right, Maxim, what do you now need to help and see you through whatever comes?

TIMCHENKO: So first, what we need to do, we have to keep operating our facilities and our critical infrastructure. We have to strengthen what we

are doing now, our cybersecurity. And basically, this is what we check in systems already quite good in in attacks, the OS attacks, which we

experienced for the last month, and there is no disruption in our operations.

And then we have to have emergency plans. And basically, DTEK is quite experienced, it has already set from 2014-2015. So what we need from our

international partners is financial support and trust. So we keep our investment projects, we keep building one of the largest wind farm in

Europe, we invest more than $1 billion in the current year, and we just want our contractors and personnel to stay on field and keep working, and

we take full responsibility for the safety. So this is what we need.

And of course, financial support and development projects like we scale up this year with our American company, Honeywell battery storage, which is

critically important for us to keep developing renewables. So we hope that we can support from development finance corporation from the United States,

so these kinds of support.

We need trust and we want to keep investing into the sector.

QUEST: Trust and investment. Maxim, we`ll talk again as whatever happens does move forward. I`m grateful that you`ve spoken to us tonight. Thank

you, sir.


QUEST MEANS BUSINESS. We are bringing you the various chief executives, of course of companies that are relevant, those that are affected. The CEO of

Marriott International on the impact of the Ukraine crisis.


QUEST: The Chief Executive of Marriott says he is monitoring the situation in Ukraine by the hour, and Marriott has only one hotel in Kyiv, but it

operates 30 properties in Russia and there are half a dozen more in the works.

The Chief Executive, Tony Capuano told me the company is working to sanction proof its business in Russia.

And during our interview, he said the Ukraine crisis could hurt the pandemic recovery.


ANTHONY CAPUANO, CEO, MARRIOTT INTERNATIONAL: It is complex. We worry principally about the safety of our associates, the safety of our guests.

Part of what has driven this remarkable recovery in travel and our business is improving every day customer and traveler confidence in the safety and

the appeal of travel and this sort of political instability has the potential to really rattle that confidence and impact the pace of recovery.

QUEST: At what point will you close the Ukraine hotel for safety reasons?

CAPUANO: We`ve got teams on the ground there monitoring by the hour. We`ve got crisis committees on the phone. And as soon as we reach a point where

we think it`s unsafe for our associates and guests, we`ll make that difficult decision.

QUEST: And on the other side of that, if as is looking likely, the U.S. and allies introduce more draconian or more sanctions on Russia that will

have an effect on -- or could.

CAPUANO: It could.

QUEST: On how you generate and how you run your Russia business. You`re preparing for that, too, I imagine.

CAPUANO: We are. Although it is interesting with a footprint across about 140 countries, and a business model that has such modest real estate

ownership, you look at a portfolio like that. It is largely owned by Continental Europe and even Russian investors.

The vast majority of the associates working in the hotel are Russian associates. So it is a bit different than you might expect.

QUEST: Right? But if they for example, if the sanctions involved the transfer of funds and things like that.

CAPUANO: Of course.

QUEST: The sort -- because they`re going to hit them on the logistical side as well. Are you preparing?


CAPUANO: We are.

QUEST: And you`re not going to tell me anything.

CAPUANO: No I`m not, but we are preparing, and again because of the breadth of our global footprint, it is an ever increasingly complex world.

We`re having to deal with these sorts of challenges and riddles every day around the world.

QUEST: And the other challenge, I perceive, for you at the moment, forgive my presumption, China. Now, it`s not open. But obviously, there`s still

domestic travel and transportation within China, so that is still going on. But your ability to manage the Chinese portfolio must be very difficult.

CAPUANO: Well, again, it`s interesting, the biggest business complexity we`ve seen in recent quarters, at the end of the second quarter, when I did

our earnings call, I talked about the fact that China from a performance perspective had been the bright shining star, all three segments --

business, leisure, group were all back above 90 in levels.

You fast forward to the fourth quarter, every region in the world saw quarter over quarter improvement in performance, except China, because they

continue to pursue this zero COVID policy. We`ve seen overnight a hundred cities of significance close in Greater China and you can imagine the

impact that has particularly because those hotels, as you point out, are subsisting on domestic demand.

QUEST: And I`m guessing that you`re not expecting a major improvement on that front, pretty much until the end of the year.

CAPUANO: That`s our expectation. We`d love to be pleasantly surprised. But from a budgeting perspective, we`re assuming China will continue to follow

those policies through 2022.

QUEST: So the U.K. has lifted all COVID restrictions, other countries are doing the same, Australia is now open. Everything is getting ready for a

good summer in 2022.

If you`re not ready for this, you should be fired.

CAPUANO: We are ready. We are absolutely ready.

Leisure demand has shown no signs of slowing down, and if anything, we`re even more optimistic because that pace of leisure recovery has largely

around the world been fueled by domestic demand, and to your point as more and more international borders open, that pace of recovery and leisure is

going to be accelerated by all the cross border travel that`s coming.

So the biggest challenge we have most certainly in many markets is labor. We`ve seen tremendous pricing power in leisure destinations that have

recovered most quickly, which is terrific as long as we can meet that customer expectation.

QUEST: Tremendous pricing power. That`s a lovely way of saying we can keep the rates up.

CAPUANO: We can drive rate and customers I think are willing to pay those rates if we meet their expectations.


QUEST: And later in the week, you`ll hear Tony talk about where he is taking Marriott now he is the CEO, and we`ll talk about, of course, the way

the direction in the hotels that he now wishes to open.


Ukraine is urging its citizens to get out of Russia as the tensions mount. It`s getting harder to find a flight into the country. KLM has halted them

until further notice. The Lufthansa Group including Swiss International Airlines, Eurowings, and Austrian is halting flights to Kyiv and Odessa

until the end of the month.

And Air France has canceled all flights yesterday as a precautionary measure. The Latvian Carrier airBaltic says it will no longer fly to

Ukraine at night. But it`s added daytime services to Kyiv to meet demand.

Martin Gauss is with me, the Chief Executive. He joins me from Finland.

Martin, obviously you`ve obviously had the same discussions internally as all other airlines have. Why have you decided to keep your key flights for

the time being?

MARTIN GAUSS, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, AIRBALTIC: 24/7 we are in contact with the relevant authorities not only in Latvia, also internationally, also with

the conflict zone that you have, and we are monitoring every minute, and that`s why we took a decision to not overnight anymore, so these flights

are taken off, but we are serving Kyiv from Riga and from Vilnius. We also fly to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

And we have the demand currently in both directions, but we are monitoring it and we are fueling the aircraft so that it could even in the air, return

and we stay in touch with our aircraft all the time, so we are prepared for anything at any minute. But we are still offering the flights and we still

receive also significant bookings for both directions.

QUEST: And all this is happening of course as travel is returning in a sense. The rest of the network is picking up, do you worry and I suspect

will be reasonable, that the situation in Ukraine deteriorates that will put off passengers elsewhere.

GAUSS: We don`t see that yet. Actually, we have in the current week and we already have that conflict going on now in the media for a while, we saw

500 percent up in bookings compared to last year, which was our worst year, so we actually do not see that, of course, we fly to the Ukraine, we fly to

Russia, and if things would escalate there, that would have an impact.


But if we look at our overall program, we serve 80 destinations. I do believe we would offset that with additional frequencies into Mediterranean

destinations for the summer.

QUEST: And what is it -- as an airline and flying in a difficult part of the world, just coming out of the pandemic, what is it you now require?

What is it you need from policymakers, as they`re trying to put together what the post pandemic world looks like for aviation?

GAUSS: Of course, less restrictions on all the pandemic issues. As soon as restrictions are lifted, we see the bookings going up and we can actually

see this now as most European countries are now easing it or have given dates when they release restrictions, and that immediately leads to


So I think all airlines now see that we are coming out of this pandemic, and all we need is the stability that we are not bringing back rules, which

make it difficult to travel, but we see a surge in bookings now compared to last year and that is because people see that everything is opening in


So if it continues like this, I see a very positive spring and summer coming.

QUEST: Martin, thank you sir. Forgive me for keeping it briefer than normal. But we are waiting for the Pentagon briefing, which is due to start

in just three minutes from now. So I`m grateful for your time, sir, thank you.

Indeed when that Pentagon briefing happens as indeed the White House, we will be there because the news never stops, neither do we.

This is CNN.


QUEST: It is 3:30 on the eastern seaboard of the United States, Washington, New York, and you`re looking at pictures, live pictures coming

to us from the Pentagon, at the top, and the White House that`s the one that`s at the bottom and both are scheduled to have news briefings.


The Pentagon should be anytime now. They`re normally on time; 3:30, they said. They tend to be on the nose, when it does happen -- when either of

them happen, we`ll bring it to you. And we`ll bring it to you in all the important moments.

While we wait, I want to show you the markets because they are significant today and it is part of the wider story, bearing in mind that President

Biden sanctioned the company that makes Nord Stream 2 and the various people involved.

We`re at almost the lows of the day, roughly over 1 percent and 2 percent on the Nasdaq. So this is not surprising. One would be somewhat

extraordinary if the markets weren`t taking this in their stride. Oil, of course, will be higher as a result. We`ll show you the price of oil in a


The retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Col. Cedric Leighton is with me.

Good to have you, sir. Now as we`re waiting for these briefings, let`s get a bit of background and thoughts about this. When we talk about an invasion

being imminent, now is there likely to be -- horrible phrase, a softening up, if you will, by airstrikes, missile strikes -- before any troops would

move across from Russia?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Generally, Richard, that`s exactly what happens. Most of the time, when there is an invasion or

any type of troop movement that involves military conflict, you`re going to soften up, as we use in the military jargon, the target. And your do that

in modern warfare.

QUEST: Sir, I need to interrupt you. Admiral John Kirby is (INAUDIBLE).

ADM. JOHN KIRBY (RET.), PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: All right. Just a couple things to start with, everybody.

As the president mentioned in his remarks yesterday, at his direction, Secretary Austin ordered the additional movement of some U.S. forces

currently stationed in Europe to continue our support for NATO allies and the defense of the eastern flank.

These forces, comprised (sic) of aviation element and some ground forces, will move within, inside the European area of operations to NATO`s

northeastern and southeastern flanks in the coming days and we expect them to be in place later this week.

They include an infantry battalion task force of approximately 800 personnel, moving from Italy to the Baltic region; a movement up to eight

F-35 Strike fighters from Germany to several operating operations along the eastern flank; a battalion of attack aviation, specifically 20 AH-64 attack

helicopters from Germany to the Baltic region and an attack aviation task force, which is 12 AH-64 helicopters from Greece to Poland.

The additional personnel are being repositioned to reassure our NATO allies, to deter any potential aggression against NATO member states and

train with host nation forces, in the course they will continue to report to General Todd Walters, the Commander of U.S.-European Command.

These moves are temporary, I want to stress that, temporary in nature. And they part of the more than -- now 90,000 U.S. troops already in Europe,

that both there on rotational as well as permanent orders.

And of course, as you know, the U.S. maintains significant numbers of combat capable forces in Europe.

Relatedly, U.S. Army and Europe Africa will be kicking off exercise Saber Strike 22 later this month. The exercise runs through March with

approximately 13,000 participants from 13 countries. Saber Strike has been held every two years from 2010. This is the next year for it. It is

scheduled during the winter time to help demonstrate the ability to operate in austere conditions.

The Army 5th Corps will provide command and control for the exercise and conducting Saber Strike now we believe demonstrates that U.S. forces in

Europe can simultaneously support ongoing operations and regularly scheduled training without any degradation in support to our NATO allies

and partners.

Training events like Saber Strike are planned well in advance -- and this one was -- and demonstrate that NATO allies and partners are stronger

together and, through training and interoperability exercises, get stronger together.

Lastly, I think you may have seen that the secretary did approve a couple requests for National Guard support here in the Capitol region. He approved

that request yesterday. Those requests came from the D.C. government, their emergency management agency as well as the U.S. Capitol Police.


All told, among the two requests, about 700 Guards personnel and about 50 vehicles, they are designed for traffic support in anticipation of

potential challenges to traffic here in the D.C. area, with -- surrounding some potential protest activity.

I want to stress again that it`s relatively a small number here, about 700. And they will be supporting traffic support needs. That`s their goal,

that`s their mission and, with that, we`ll take questions.

QUESTION: John, the people are talking about this, a potential invasion by Russia, of a large scale, being imminent.

Can you talk about what the U.S. has seen today that may be different than what it has seen in recent days?

Why this has become sort of now imminent?

Have you seen Russian troops move into Luhansk and Donetsk, have you seen them move into that Donbas region and have you seen them move further into

Ukraine beyond those two regions?

KIRBY: OK, a lot there. On Donetsk and Luhansk, as you`ve heard administration officials say before, we do believe that marks the beginning

of an invasion.

And we certainly believe that additional Russian military forces are moving into that region, not beyond that region that we have seen. But we can`t

confirm with any great specificity the numbers and what the formations are, what the capabilities are. But certainly believe that`s happening.

As for your larger question, Lita, without speaking to specific timing, because only Mr. Putin knows what the timing is here, what I would tell you

is we continue to see him form his capabilities in such a way that leads us to believe that we are potentially close to some sort of action.

Again, what that action is going to be and exactly on what timeline, we can`t be sure. But what we see is that Russian forces continue to assemble

closer to the border and put themselves in an advanced stage of readiness to act, to conduct military action in Ukraine; again, at virtually any time


We believe that they are -- they are ready. I`ll just put it -- leave it at that, that they`re ready.

QUESTION: John, there are reports of a chemical plant in Crimea that`s been evacuated. This is the kind of location that was described to us by

Secretary Blinken as a possible staged provocation.

Are you seeing reports of any sort of preparations, either for an attack on a chemical plant -- or what are you seeing?

KIRBY: I don`t have any specifics on that claim. But it is of a piece of the kinds of ridiculous claims that we have seen the Russians make in

recent days of alleged provocations or assaults and attacks, unprovoked, on their people.

So again, no knowledge of this particular one. But again, we`ve been seeing this now over recent days, these claims of -- whether they`re acts of

terror or acts of violence, unprovoked shelling of Russian forces or Russian separatists -- all, again, that is of a piece of the playbook that

we have seen the Russians use time and time again.

I have no specific knowledge about this particular report but, again, it fits perfectly into the Russian disinformation playbook.

QUESTION: Did the U.S. government help protect the Ukrainian government from this denial of service attack, the cyberattack?

Did you help them with preparations for how to rebut, to get back online quickly after such an attack?

KIRBY: First, I don`t think we`re in a position to attribute these cyber disruptions that you`re talking -- I assume you`re talking about the

various government websites that were taken offline.

What I would tell you, broadly speaking, Jen, is that we have provided some cyber resilience training and assistance to Ukrainians. And I won`t go

beyond that in terms of these specific attacks.

Again, not in a position right now to attribute them to any one entity. I would just say, again, this is of a piece of a Russian playbook, which is

to disrupt in cyberspace.


Let`s see, anybody else -- Janey.

QUESTION: Thank you, John. I have a question on Ukraine (INAUDIBLE). If Russia unity (INAUDIBLE) weapons to invade Ukraine, what would the units


Secondly, if Russia were to use nuclear weapons in the same (ph) nation, what would be the impact on the Korean Peninsula, because there is a fear

that the North Korea would (INAUDIBLE).

Any comment?

KIRBY: Yes. I`m going to avoid speculating and getting into hypotheticals, particularly about the potential use of nuclear weapons, Janey. What we`ve

said all along, two things.

One, Mr. Putin has a lot of capability at his disposal right now, as I said earlier. They are ready to go.

And number two, if he decides to conduct a full-scale invasion here, again, bigger than what we`ve seen in just the last few days, this will be a war

of choice. He`ll be doing so with, you know, with diplomacy and options still left on the table.

And it won`t be bloodless. There will be suffering, there will be sacrifice. And all of that must and should be laid at his feet, because

he`s doing this by choice. How he does this, when he does this, we don`t know for sure.

But if he does this, this will be a war of choice and totally unnecessary.

And as for the impact of the region I just -- I couldn`t begin to speculate. Nothing`s changed, obviously, about our commitment to our South

Korean allies and we noted that the South Koreans also came out publicly yesterday, with a statement of support for Ukraine.

That was certainly noticed by the whole international community.

In the back there, Abraham.

QUESTION: Couple parts to this question, you just described a lot of different forces moving to the eastern flank.

Is any consideration of those forces going under NATO command and why not?

Also, the word is temporary, is pretty prominent there.

Is there a timeframe for temporary?

And is there any talk yet of the NATO rapid response of those U.S. forces getting activated?

KIRBY: OK. There`s a lot there. Right now they`re going to be under the command of General Walters in his U.S.-European Command hat. I don`t know

of any changes to that.

Temporary, I don`t have an exact timeframe on this. I want to remind you, that they were already in Europe, they`re simply repositioning elsewhere in

Europe. I don`t have a timeframe on how long that repositioning is going to be, except to say that it will be as long as we believe it`s necessary.

And the host nations, the new host nations that will be hosting these units, are willing to continue to have them. So this will be a constant

discussion with each host nation that they end up in, about where they go, how long they stay and what kind of training opportunities they will


This is really all about reassuring allies and partners and demonstrating that in tangible ways.

On your -- I lost your third question, dang it.

QUESTION: -- response force.

KIRBY: Oh, that`s a better question for NATO, Abraham, that`s not a question for the United States. That will be up to the NAC to decide, North

Atlantic Council to decide, not just the United States unilaterally, of course.

What I will tell you, is that, as you know, the secretary has put on a shorter alert tether our contributions to the NRF, the NATO response force.

So they are more ready to go if called upon.

So while I can`t give you any sorts of timing or certainty about whether the NRF is going to be activated, what I can tell you with certainty is

that, if it is, our contributions to the NRF will be ready to go and we will contribute fully.

QUESTION: But it`s still the United States, correct?


QUESTION: Is there much discussion within the Pentagon or within the National Security Council about whether all of Putin`s maneuvers and the

force build-up is a grand game of brinksmanship and he`s got no intention of invading, he just wants to show his muscle, getting the U.S. and NATO to

commit to not entering the (INAUDIBLE) Ukraine and to the alliance, in other words a game of brinksmanship, bluffing but not really an attempt to


KIRBY: We`ve seen no indication of that, Tony.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE), is it group think here, though, you`re all thinking, just assuming he`s going to do this?


QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) skeptically look at whether this is a bunch of BS brinksmanship, albeit on a grand scale.

KIRBY: Tony, we`ve been looking at this now for months and we`ve been talking to allies and partners for months. The secretary was just in

Brussels last week, meeting with all his counterparts in the alliance.

It`s not just the United States who is deeply concerned about the potential for war in Ukraine now. That other NATO allies feel the same way. We`ve all

been looking at this. I hope, we all hope, that we`re wrong about this.

But every indication we have is that he is poised to attack Ukraine again and, this time, with what could be significant military force. I mean, we

are talking about more than 150,000 troops that he has arrayed against that border.

And as I said earlier, we believe that they are now at a state of readiness, where they could attack at any time. That`s what we`re seeing

and that`s what we`ve been seeing, we`ve been talking about this very openly now for weeks.

We`ve seen, sadly and unfortunately, no indication that he`s willing to deescalate, move those troops back home and actually get to some sort of

serious diplomatic solution. Every indication, rather, that we see is quite the opposite.

QUESTION: China, a related question, is there any indication that President Xi has given his tacit or explicit approval to Putin for an


You recall there was speculation that an invasion wouldn`t happen until the Olympics were over. They`re over now.

Has China given a wink or nod?

QUESTION: I point you back to the February 4 statement that Xi and Putin put out, which certainly we took as tacit approval for what Mr. Putin is


You could point also to concerning comments by the Chinese foreign ministry yesterday, that made it clear that they weren`t going to support any, what

they called, unlawful unilateral sanctions against Russia and then blamed the United States for contributing security assistance to Ukraine, somehow

blaming us for this issue.

No mention whatsoever in their statement about the 150,000-plus soldiers and the threats that Mr. Putin has been lobbing against Ukraine for many

weeks, including just yesterday.

It -- we wonder, can it really be the Chinese policy now to support separatist movements over the sovereignty of nation states?

That`s an interesting twist, isn`t it?

QUESTION: Thank you.

Is there any -- I would like to go back to the movement of U.S. troop to the Baltic states and to the eastern flank.

Is there any consideration of sending more U.S. troop if there is an invasion and on the permanent basis, on this eastern flank, of NATO?

KIRBY: There is nothing -- there is no expectation at this time, Sylvia, that we`re going to move to more permanent basing on NATO`s eastern flank.

What we`re talking about now are short-term, temporary, rotational redeployments if you will.

As for your first question, whether there`s, I assume what you`re asking is are we going to send more troops from the United States to NATO`s eastern

flank. And I have no such announcements or movements to speak of today.

But as I have said repeatedly, we`re going to keep all options on the table. I`m not going to rule out that Secretary might want to consider

that, should there be a need. We`re looking at this day by day.

And just yesterday as you saw, we did reposition inside Europe and there are lots of options available to us to continue to look for ways to

reinforce that eastern flank.

QUESTION: But this will be temporary.

You don`t think about changing your posture in case of invasion?

KIRBY: Right now, we`re focused on reassuring the allies and we`re going to be in constant contact with them and consultation about what that looks

like and how you do that, how you do that, given the current tensions on the continent.

It`s too early to tell whether any of this is going to lead to some other, you know, longer-term posture changes. Certainly we are just not at that

point right now -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You mentioned before that, if this conflict breaks out, it would not be bloodless.


So I assume that`s also a somewhat of a caution to Russia, that it would not be bloodless for them and their troops.

Can you be any more specific, as this is assessed, is the Russian military, to use the expression, really 10 feet tall?

Or do you see some vulnerabilities for them here?

KIRBY: So clearly, if he chooses war, he chooses violence, which means he is deliberately choosing to put lives at danger -- soldiers` lives,

civilians` lives. And he will have to bear the responsibility for that.

And I think, I would hope, that he understands that some of those lives at risk are going to be his soldiers` lives and he`s going to have to answer

to Russian moms and dads about their soldiers that aren`t making it back home alive or are making it back with injuries.

He`s going to have to answer for that. And as for the 10 feet tall, look, I think getting into qualitative assessments here of militaries is probably

not the best exercise for me right now.

They have, as we`ve said, for a long time, significant combined arms capabilities arrayed against Ukraine right now. And they are ready to go

right now, should that be the way that Mr. Putin wants to go.

And we would obviously like to see that not happen. And would like to see him deescalate. We would like to see him make a better choice here, which

we still think there`s time to do and deescalate, move those troops back to garrison, move them back home. Keep them safe and not pursue a war of

choice, totally on what is his whim.

STARR: As we sit here today, are there still active, functioning channels of U.S.-Russian military-to-military communications?

Are you able to -- is, you know, the secretary, the chairman, are you able to pick up the phone?

And will your counterparts talk to you?

KIRBY: I would point to conversations that we`ve read out in just recent days, the secretary spoke with Minister Shoygu just a few days ago.

Chairman Milley --

STARR: I`m talking about right now.

KIRBY: I know; I`m getting there. Chairman Milley has had many conversations with General Gerasimov, his counterpart. And we have seen no

indication that those lines of communication between those two leaders are closed.

Now I don`t have any additional phone conversations to talk about today or to announce but we have seen no indication that there won`t be that

communication, should it be necessary.

QUESTION: How about more of like a tactical line of communication?

I don`t know if a deconfliction is the right term to use here, because there`s not a U.S. military component to this. Like --

KIRBY: That`s right.

QUESTION: -- flying over the same skies.

But what about something that might deconflict tactically on the ground, once Russia moves in?

It seems we keep hearing about the U.S. military moving more and more assets into that region.

Is that the -- is it appropriate for General Milley to be the one calling General Gerasimov, when we`re talking about potentially very quick tactical

movements on the ground?

KIRBY: I don`t think we`re at a point right now where that`s needed, because there hasn`t been a large-scale invasion yet of Ukraine. And

hopefully there won`t be, Court, so hopefully there won`t be any need for that kind of communication.

But you get to a really good point, which is the potential, if he decides to go in big in Ukraine, that puts Russian military forces right up against

the eastern flank of NATO, his western flank. And that`s an eastern flank, by the way, that we`re going to continue to reinforce and make more ready.

And so you do get into a potential there for miscalculation and miscommunication. We`re just not there yet, that we can speak to specific

deconfliction mechanisms and hopefully there won`t be a need for that. But it does raise a larger issue here, your question does, of the potential for

miscalculation here.

QUESTION: And given the fact that this is -- again, I know we talked about deconfliction; I think a lot of us think of Syria but this is a very

different situation. There`s not a U.S. military component within the potential invasion area.

KIRBY: Correct.

QUESTION: Would it be more appropriate for DOD or General Milley or State, like what would that -- who would be the one establishing that mechanism?

KIRBY: Again, we`re just not at that point right now, Courtney, so it`s difficult to answer that question.


And I`m not dodging it. It`s just we aren`t at that point right now. So I`d rather not speculate about who would be in communications with whom.

Again, as my answer to Barb, there is no indication we`ve gotten that there still isn`t the ability at the strategic level for leaders to talk.

QUESTION: John, you talked about, to build on Sylvia`s question, you talked about the F-35s and 32 Apaches -- well, it`s not just an aircraft

and a pilot.

How many people are associated with that, with those movements?

KIRBY: All told, if you add it up, you know, the infantry battalion we talked about, 800. Then another 200 crew pilots, maintenance that would go

with those aircraft elements we talked about.

So all told, the president announcement yesterday equates to about 1,000 people. Again, I stress two things. They`re being repositioned inside

Europe, not coming from the States and, two, these are temporary moves.

QUESTION: Just to build on Courtney`s question, doesn`t General Walters, in his NATO hat, can`t he speak to Gerasimov?

KIRBY: I would expect, yes, as SAC here, he certainly could. I know of no reason why he wouldn`t be able to do that. General Gerasimov is the chief

of defense so he is more appropriately General Milley`s counterpart. But I can`t imagine there would be a reason why, if General Walters wanted to

speak to him, that he couldn`t, in his NATO hat.


QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) given the fact that Russians have brought a variety of capabilities to the area, including cruise missiles, ballistic missiles,

do you still think that the arms provided by the United States would help Ukrainians to defend themselves against all these capabilities?


KIRBY: We are providing, again, lethal and nonlethal assistance to Ukraine. They`ve expressed their gratitude for that assistance. I would

remind you, well, a couple things, $650 million just this year alone and we`re still in discussions with them about what kind of support they might

need going forward.

And we`re in constant consultation with them about their needs and what we can provide.

It`s not just us, that`s my second point. Other nations are as well, stepping up to provide both lethal and nonlethal assistance to Ukraine.

Let me go to the phones here. I haven`t done that yet. Let`s see, Mike, "Washington Examiner."

QUESTION: Thank you for taking my question, Mr. Kirby. A little bit out of left field, but the 90 day period that General Michael Garrett had to look

into the strike from 2019 expires this weekend.

What details or (INAUDIBLE) take the question?

KIRBY: You know what, you broke up there, Mike.

Can you just repeat the last part of your question?

QUESTION: Yes, so the 90 day period for his investigation into the 2019 Syria strike expires this weekend.

Could you provide any update or take the question?

KIRBY: I know he is wrapping that up, Mike. I don`t have a specific timeline of when that`s going to be turned in and reviewed. I will take the

question and we`ll see if we can`t get you a better answer -- Tom.

QUESTION: Hi, I have two questions, one on Ukraine, one on the guard deployment.

Which would you like first?


KIRBY: You can decide, Tom.

QUESTION: The guard deployment is the easier one perhaps. There`s been reports of -- from -- and complaints and concerns by the District of

Columbia (INAUDIBLE) and Capitol Police. They don`t have the ability to remove trucks, tow trucks, in other words, to remove any trucks that impede

traffic situations.

Is there any Defense Department assets that could be made available to help them in this situation?

KIRBY: You know, I don`t really know, Tom. The requests we got was for some personnel and 50 vehicles to help with traffic flow. There`s been no

request of the department for tow truck capability -- and, frankly, not sure we have a lot of that, to be honest with you.


KIRBY: I honestly don`t know how many tow trucks we own but I don`t think it`s very many. So again, we`re focused on meeting the requirements that

they laid forth for help. And again, it was roughly 700 guardsman and 50 vehicles.

What`s your second question?

QUESTION: On Ukraine you and others talked about what the Russians are doing is out of their playbook, in other words everything they`re doing,

sort of is in their playbook.

Yet the massive development of the forces on the border, a type of overall attack that`s being projected possibly through Ukraine, that`s not the

blunderbuss approach they usually have taken, if you look at Georgia and Crimea and other areas.

What playbook are they emulating for this possible attack on Ukraine?

KIRBY: When we talk about the playbook, as you will, talking about the preparatory moves that we`ve seen them do in the past. And 2014 is a great

example of that.