Austin stated that if a chemical or biological weapon were used, there would be a significant reaction not only from the United States but also the international community. I don't want speculate on what would alter our calculation. Hypothetical speculation is not helpful in this instance, but it is a serious step that we won't take lightly, as our president said.
Twenty-five days ago, Russia launched its invasion in Ukraine. Russian forces are still struggling to take control of Kyiv's capital but continue their brutal bombardment on civilians.
Officials from Ukraine have claimed that Russia has attacked a Mariupol art school, where 400 people were sheltering. This is the second attack on a public building in which civilians had been sheltering for less than a week. Russian forces attacked a Mariupol theater where more than 1,300 people were thought to have been present last week.
Russia's advance outside of major cities has largely stalled. However, there has been increasing concern from Ukrainian and U.S. officials about the possibility that Moscow might use chemical or biological weapons during the ongoing war.
Last week, the White House stated that Russia could use such weapons to escalate its attack on Ukraine.
Russian officials have, however, accused the U.S. secretly of developing chemical and biological programs in Ukraine. This claim was rebutted by the White House as ridiculous and part of Russia's attempt to justify its attack against Ukraine.
Austin stated that the U.S. has seen Russia in the past "raising problems and creating a pretext" so that, if they do something in the war space, they can blame it on someone else (either us, NATO, or Ukrainians).
He said, "This could be what we're currently seeing."
Austin stated that the U.S. expected Russia's attack on civilians in Ukraine to continue due to its stalled campaign. This was in response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempt to regain momentum.
"They are not being effective today in terms their maneuver forces on ground. He said that they were "essentially stalled". It's led to Putin moving his forces into a woodchipper.
Austin expressed gratitude to the Ukrainian people for their defense against Russia. He said they showed "significant resolve" as well as being effective in using weapons and equipment provided them by the U.S.
He stated that "what we have seen in the past was that the Ukrainians have responded, that they've used initiative to move things about on the battlefield and they've presented significant problems for Russia."
Since 2021, Ukraine has received $2 billion in security assistance from the Biden administration. Congress also approved $13.6 billion in humanitarian aid and military aid for Ukraine and its Eastern European allies earlier this month.
Yet, the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has urged the U.S. help establish a no fly zone over his country's skies. This is a move that President Biden opposed because it could further escalate tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
Austin said that the U.S. would work with allies to create the conditions for Ukraine to obtain equipment such as the Russian-made S-300 Surface-to-Air Missile Systems and "ensure that they have the capability to protect their skies moving forward."