US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Friday that Russian President Vladimir Putin has the capability to launch a military offensive against Ukraine, as he called on Russia to stand down on Ukraine.
In a briefing with reporters, Austin said Moscow has for months been deploying forces along Ukraine’s border at a “consistent and steady pace.”
“We don't believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine,” Austin said, according to The Hill. “He clearly now has that capability.”
The Defense Secretary added that conflict was not inevitable, adding that there was still time for diplomacy. He said the US remains in “lockstep” with its NATO allies and has “offered Russia a path away from crisis and toward greater security.
“There's no reason that this situation has to devolve into conflict,” Austin said. “[Putin] 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 our allies and partners,” he continued.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden warned Ukraine's President that there is a "distinct possibility" Russia could take military action against Ukraine in February.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he had held a lengthy conversation with Biden about the tensions between Ukraine and Russia.
“Discussed recent diplomatic efforts on de-escalation and agreed on joint actions for the future. Thanked President Biden for the ongoing military assistance. Possibilities for financial support to Ukraine were also discussed,” he tweeted.
Later, a senior Ukrainian official told CNN that Biden had told Zelensky that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is now virtually certain and that his country needs to "prepare for impact”.
However, National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne denied that Biden had made such comments, explaining that the US President had merely amplified concerns that administration officials have been making for some time.
"President Biden said that there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February," she said. "He has said this publicly and we have been warning about this for months."
Biden has warned Putin that an attack on Ukraine would be met with severe economic consequences for Moscow.
The US President said earlier this week that he would consider personally sanctioning Russian President Vladimir Putin if Russia invades Ukraine.
Meanwhile on Friday, Zelensky sought to downplay the threat of a Russian invasion.
“Do we have tanks on the streets? No. When you read media, you get the image that we have troops in the city, people fleeing … That’s not the case,” he said.
While he would not rule out a future military conflict with neighboring Russia, he slammed Washington’s recurrent claims that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is “imminent.”
“I’m the president of Ukraine and I’m based here and I think I know the details better here,” he said.
(Israel National News' North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Israel National News articles, however, is Israeli time.)