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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that he believes Russia’s military capabilities have already been weakened by the war in Ukraine — and that the United States wants to deter Moscow from launching such an attack ever again.
“We do want to make it harder for Russia to threaten its neighbors and leave them less able to do that,” Austin told reporters at a news conference at Ramstein Air Base in Germany following a meeting with U.S. allies after a weekend trip to Kyiv, Ukraine, where Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken sat down with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Austin said the casualties among Russian forces have been “pretty substantial,” and that the two-month offensive has left Russia's military depleted.
“They’ve lost a lot of equipment,” he said. “They’ve used a lot of precision-guided munitions. They’ve lost a major surface combatant. So they are, in fact, in terms of military capability, weaker than when it started.”
“It will be harder for them to replace this capability as they go forward because of the sanctions and the trade restrictions that have been put in place,” he added. “So we would like to make sure again that they don’t have the same type of capability to bully their neighbors that we saw at the outset of this conflict.”
On Monday, Austin said the U.S. wants to “see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine” — comments that were seen by some experts as a strategic shift in the Biden administration’s approach to the war.
But Austin and Blinken said a weakened Russia was one of its goals all along.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, Blinken said the U.S. wants to ensure that Russia’s war in Ukraine is “a strategic failure for the Kremlin” and hopes it will serve as “a powerful lesson for those who might consider following its path.”
Speaking on state television Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the West not to underestimate the risk of a nuclear conflict with the Kremlin.
Asked Tuesday about those comments, Austin said it was “unhelpful and dangerous to rattle sabers” and “something we won’t engage in.”
“Nobody wants to see a nuclear war,” he said. “Nobody can win that.”