(NewsNation) — The Pentagon will not describe Russia’s apparent attack on a Ukrainian nuclear power plant as a war crime yet, its spokesman told NewsNation Friday.
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the attack was clearly “not the behavior of a responsible nuclear power” in an interview with NewsNation’s “Rush Hour.”
“Hitting civilian targets is a violation of international law,” Kirby said. “There’s an investigation going on right now into Russia for potential war crimes; we’ll let that process play out.”
The damage to Europe’s largest nuclear power plant appears to be limited and there is no radioactive leakage after Russian forces shelled the facility, Kirby confirmed.
On Friday, Russian forces bombarded and reportedly seized the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in southern Ukraine. The attack ignited a fire and left onlookers wondering whether a nuclear catastrophe would ensue.
Though Kirby won’t call it a war crime, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv already had earlier Friday morning.
Earlier this week, the Pentagon postponed a scheduled ballistic missile test in a gesture intended to de-escalate nuclear tensions. The decision came just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin placed his nuclear forces on high alert.
Although U.S. forces are not engaged with Russian troops directly, Kirby said the U.S. is providing intelligence information to the Ukrainian military so that they can better defend themselves. He said the two countries were sharing intelligence prior to the war.
The U.S. will also continue sending weapons and ammunition to Ukraine. Kirby declined to say which specific weapons are being sent but said the list includes anti-tank weapons and materials that can be used against airborne targets.
will the u.s. get involved?
President Biden has maintained that U.S. troops will not engage with Russian forces in Ukraine, but Kirby emphasized his commitment to honoring NATO’s defense pact.
“An armed attack on the (NATO) alliance will be deemed an armed attack on all of us and so we’re going to respond,” said Kirby.
Ukraine is not a member of NATO but nearby countries including Poland, Hungary and Romania are.
The U.S. has deployed more than 10,000 troops to neighboring NATO countries to provide additional support. Those troops are in addition to the more than 80,000 American servicemembers that are either permanently based there or on rotational orders already, Kirby said.
Kirby did not rule out the possibility of sending even more U.S. troops to Europe, if necessary.
“There’s an awful lot of combat capability inside the (NATO) alliance and we are confident that Mr. Putin understands that,” said Kirby.
Will there be more sanctions?
The Biden administration has imposed a raft of sanctions in an effort to cripple the Russian economy and stymie Putin’s war effort, targeting everything from Russian banks to oligarchs’ superyachts — and Kirby said more could be coming.
“What we will do is continue to look for ways to give Ukraine the kinds of security materials they need to better defend themselves, and we’re doing it faster. Almost all the $350 million, the material equated with that package, has arrived in Ukraine and we’re doing it as fast as possible,” said Kirby.
The Biden administration has yet to sanction Russia’s oil sector, and with gas prices skyrocketing at home, the move could have severe political consequences.
what about the conoy?
For days, a massive Russian convoy has sat largely unmoved about 15 miles outside Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. The stalled convoy, which stretches out over 40 miles, has raised questions around Putin’s war planning.
“They have absolutely had fuel problems, sustainment problems, we even have indications that they’re having trouble feeding their troops,” said Kirby.
Kirby attributed much of the stall to the tenacity of the Ukrainian resistance and said Russia’s logistical issues are, in part, problems of their own making.
what’s the best outcome?
Ukrainian forces continue to hold major cities, including the capital Kyiv, but Russian troops are gaining ground in some parts of the country, specifically in the south. Experts fear Russian attacks, especially those on civilians, could escalate as the battle becomes drawn out.
Kirby believes there is still a diplomatic off-ramp for Putin to take.
“The best outcome here is for Mr. Putin to take his troops home, take them out of the country, de-escalate the tension, stop this invasion and permit no more violence inside Ukraine. That’s still an option available,” he said.