Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby’s Interview with CNN

April 24, 2022

Live from U.S. Air Force Headquarters in Europe

Ramstein, Germany

JOHN BERMAN (CNN): Joining me now, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby.

John, thank you so much for joining us. We heard just a short time ago from Germany where you are, from the defense secretary, saying that Ukraine can win. My question to you: What is winning?

PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: I think winning is very clearly defined by a — a Ukraine whose sovereignty is fully respected, whose territorial integrity’s not violated by Russia or any other country, for that matter. I mean, and they can win, as the — as the secretary said, and they — they certainly believe that they can do it, and these countries here, all 40 of them that are — are here to talk about Ukraine’s defense needs also believe in that. So — so winning is certainly in the cards. Now, ultimately, whatever the victory looks like, it’s going to be defined by President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people, appropriately so. But you can see from the — from the meeting today, it’s not just the West, John. It’s not just NATO. There are countries from all around the world, including the Indo-Pacific region who are dedicated to trying to helping Ukraine win this war.

BERMAN: Is Ukraine winning?

KIRBY: They have certainly defeated Mr. Putin’s strategic objectives thus far. He did not take Kyiv or Chernihiv or any other city in the north. They have had some limited progress in the south, and there is a — an active fight going on in the east in the Donbas region. But it’s hard to look at this fight, which is clearly not over, John, and we need to be mindful of that. But it’s clearly — but it’s hard to look at this fight and — and — and preclude that — that Russia has won, the Mr. Putin achieved his objectives. He has not. The Ukrainians have beaten him back at almost every turn, and what we’re trying to do here today in Germany is make sure that deterrence to come, that Ukraine can continue to beat them back.

BERMAN: Does winning include removing Russian troops, including from the regions where separatists and some Russians were clearly occupying before the most recent invasion?

KIRBY: I — I think President Zelenskyy has spoken to this himself, and ultimately, he has to define what victory ultimately looks like. But he has said himself he wants no Russian forces, no Russian troops, any part — in any part of Ukraine. And we — course, we’ve not — the international community has not approved of or — or — or authorized or — or accepted their occupation in the — in Crimea or in the Donbas region. Mr. — Mr. Zelenskyy has been clear: He wants all Russian forces out of his country. It is a sovereign state.

BERMAN: So you are in Germany now with the defense secretary. Yesterday, while still in Poland, the defense secretary said that a goal of the United States is to see Russia weakened militarily, going forward. What exactly does that mean? Explain that.

KIRBY: I think he was reiterating what the administration has been saying now for quite some time, that Russia continues to isolate itself. Its economy is in tatters. Its military has been depleted in many ways — not completely, but certainly, they have suffered casualties and they have suffered losses in this invasion of Ukraine. They are a weaker military. They are a weaker state right now. They — and again, further isolating themselves. What we want — and again, you’ve heard this from President Biden, as well as the national security adviser — we want Russia not to be able to threaten their neighbors again in the future. That’s what we’re talking about here.

BERMAN: But what that means — and — and forgive me, but it sounds different than what’s been said over the last couple months. What that means is it sounds like the secretary is saying he wants to see Russia weaker than they were in December, for instance. True?

KIRBY: He — he — he doesn’t want a Russia — he doesn’t want a Russia that is military-capably — -capable to do these kinds of things in the future so that — he doesn’t want to see a Russia that can invade its neighbors and threaten and coerce other countries on the continent and — and — and use rhetoric, such as what you’ve heard from Minister Lavrov earlier about the potential specter of — of nuclear war. We don’t want a Russia that’s capable of — of asserting that kind of malign influence in — in — in Europe or anywhere around the world.

BERMAN: Does that mean weaker than now?

KIRBY: It is already a weaker military, John, and we don’t want to see Russia able to conduct this kind of invasion again in the future.

KIRBY: You brought up what Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said, raising the specter of nuclear war. Do you think he was threatening the United States with those statements?

KIRBY: This is not the first time since this invasion that Russia has used that kind of escalatory rhetoric. It’s obviously unhelpful, not constructive and certainly is not indicative of what a responsible nuclear power ought to be doing in a public sphere, talking about the — the potential threat of — of nuclear war. Now, one thing I will agree with Mr. Lavrov is that a nuclear war cannot be won and it shouldn’t be fought. There’s no reason for the current conflict in Ukraine to get to that level at all.

Now, we’re watching this very closely, John, as you know. We’ve talked about this before. We don’t see anything out there that would make us change our strategic nuclear deterrent posture and our ability to defend the homeland or — or those of our allies and partners. We’re comfortable that we’ve got the right postu re here. But that kind of rhetoric is — is clearly not called for in the current scenario.What is called for is Mr. Putin ending this war, which he could do today, John. If he just sat down in good faith with Mr. Zelenskyy, moved his troops out of — out of Ukraine and ended this — the — this illegal invasion.

BERMAN: I want to ask you about the reports we’re getting out of Moldova of explosions in the Transnistria region. That — that’s over here, so people can see it on the map here. What do you think? What do you know…

KIRBY: Yeah.

BERMAN: … about what’s going on there? Who — who’s blowing up what?

KIRBY: Yeah, we — obviously, we’ve seen these reports of these explosions. It’s difficult to know at this early date, John, exactly what happened here or who’s responsible. We’re watching this as best we can, but it — it’s just too soon to — to know exactly what the significance here is.

BERMAN: And just so our audience knows, Moldova, of course, an independent nation. There is an — a breakaway region, Transnistria, which is more or less controlled by — by Russian-backed separatists. That’s where the explosions went off. What’s not known at this point is who set them off. Do you fear it could be a Russian provocation?

KIRBY: Well certainly, we’re going to be looking to see if that’s — if that’s the case. I mean, we can’t rule anything in or out at this time, John. But look, we obviously respect Moldova’s right to be a sovereign nation, as you just detailed. We want to see that sovereignty respected, as well.

What — what’s at stake here not — in Ukraine — and — and — and Secretary Austin said this earlier — isn’t — isn’t just Ukraine’s sovereignty, although that’s what everybody’s most concerned with. It’s the idea of sovereignty, John. It’s — it’s — it’s the rules-based international order that so many nations — in fact, so many nations that are here today around this table have helped put in place and helped provide security for and stability for, and that’s what we want to see continue here. So obviously, we’ll watch what’s going on in Moldova. We — again, too soon to know exactly what — what’s in the offing here. But — but clearly, the whole world — and you can see it today here in Ramstein — the whole world is standing up for the very idea of sovereignty.

BERMAN: John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, great to see you. Thanks so much for joining us.

KIRBY: Thank you.