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Biden administration officials to brief senators on Ukraine-Russia crisis

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Three thousand U.S. troops are on their way to Eastern Europe. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby announced the move yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN KIRBY: These are not permanent moves. They are moves designed to respond to the current security environment. Moreover, these forces are not going to fight in Ukraine.

INSKEEP: The key there is not permanent moves because nobody can say for sure where this crisis is going. Russian forces remain on Ukraine's border as Russia makes demands of the NATO alliance. As we wait for that diplomacy, two of President Biden's top advisers take questions from the Senate today. One is the secretary of state, Tony Blinken, another the secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin. And Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island will be at the briefing. Good morning.

JACK REED: Thank you very much, Steve.

INSKEEP: Do you go into this hearing with real questions - doubts about the administration's response?

REED: I think the administration's response to date has been extremely well coordinated. They have engaged successfully NATO and our European allies. They have also began diplomatic discussions with Russia in several forums, the latest being the United Nations in which there was a strong showing by the international community of their disapproval of the Russian activities along the Ukraine border. I think also they've looked at the problems potentially of supply shortages if we impose sanctions and they've been working internationally to - in the energy markets to do that. So both in terms of their military preparedness, their diplomatic engagement and their preparations for potential sanctions, I think it's been well done.

INSKEEP: We'll just remind people, when you talk about supply shortages, Russia, as we've reported, supplies an awful lot of natural gas to Western Europe and so one question is, if a conflict led to Russia cutting back or cutting off supplies, could Western Europe be taken care of? You're saying the administration is on that. Let me ask about aid directly to Ukraine. How much lethal aid has the U.S. been able to provide to Ukraine? And what, if anything, has limited what the U.S. can provide?

REED: Well, last year we provided $650 million in security assistance to Ukraine, and that's more than any year since 2014. And the items include systems like the javelin, which is an anti-tank system, grenade launchers, counter-battery, more radars. So - and a significant amount of ammunition. So we have done a great deal to try to improve and build up the capabilities of the Ukrainian forces. In addition, our other countries have contributed military weapons systems and support. So we've made improvements.

INSKEEP: Everything you've described, Senator, of course, is preparation for the possibility of a Russian invasion, trying to be ready to endure that and to push back with sanctions. But we heard an interesting bit of analysis yesterday from Moscow - from an analyst there, Dmitri Trenin, who argued that he doubted an invasion would come at all, or at least that Putin intended one. Although who knows? Things could happen. He felt that Putin's goal was to use his troops on the ground to provoke a discussion with the West about his country's security concerns. And the analyst argued that, in fact, Putin has succeeded. Do you think that's right, Putin has gotten what he wanted here?

REED: I don't think he's gotten what he wanted. I think if he is engaged in and wants to be engaged in serious discussions about security matters, then that's - that, I think, is an important step forward. We can deal with the issues of the Russians' periodic massing of troops along the Ukrainian border. We can deal with the issue of locations of missiles on both sides. I mean, the nature of a negotiation would be that we would reach a mutually acceptable agreement, and I think that would provide more stability in Europe. So if that's his goal and we can accomplish that, I - and particularly avoiding conflict, then I think that might be beneficial for all.

INSKEEP: The U.S. says that it cannot possibly meet Russia's demand that the - commit to never, ever, ever admit Ukraine to NATO. But it sounds like you think there might be something the United States - some reassurance the United States could provide Russia short of that.

REED: Well, I think, again, there has to be mutual reassurances. These periodic, you know, massing of troops and, you know, drumbeats of conflict that the Russians do are unacceptable. And I think we have to engage - in fact, we've neglected, unfortunately, over the last several years, serious arms control. And in the context - the world context, we also have to bring in the Chinese eventually. So, you know, if this is a springboard to serious diplomatic negotiations, then that's a path we could take. But we want to make it very clear to the Russians that we will not stand idly by if they use force in many different forms in the Ukraine.

INSKEEP: There's just about 10 seconds left here, but there's a question about sanctions. The administration talks of sanctioning Russia further if they invade. Some senators want to sanction Russia regardless. In a sentence or two, do you want to sanction Russia regardless?

REED: I think the sanctions as based upon their behavior is the strongest way to do it. It will engage more of our European and world allies. And also it will - you know, it will be something that the Russians cannot use as a provocation to take further steps.

INSKEEP: Democratic Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, who will be at a Senate briefing on Ukraine later today. Senator, thanks.

REED: Thank you very much. Bye now. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.