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Defense Secretary Says 'Conflict' Between Russia, Ukraine Is 'Not Inevitable'

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is expressing optimism that diplomatic talks could diffuse the stand-off between Russia and Ukraine.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Austin said, “Conflict is not inevitable. There is still time and space for diplomacy.”

“The United States in lockstep with our allies and partners has offered Russia a path away from crisis and toward greater security,” he added.

Austin vowed that the U.S. “remains committed to helping Ukraine defend itself through security assistance material.”

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Russia has amassed around 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, stoking fears that it is planning an invasion of the European nation.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a radio interview on Friday that his nation does not want to start a war.

“If it depends on the Russian Federation, then there will be no war,” he said, adding, “But I do not rule out that someone would like to provoke military action [around Ukraine].” 

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Still, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters there is “little ground for optimism” of defusing the tension after the U.S. rejected Russia’s demands.

Last week, President Joe Biden predicted that Russia would “move in” to Ukraine.

Additionally, he stirred up confusion when he said Russia would face consequences if it invaded but added, “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not do.” The president later clarified that any invasion would be “met with [a] severe and coordinated economic response.”

As Axios notes, “Moscow has said that if its demands aren’t met, it will opt for a ‘military-technical’ solution, but denies any intention to invade Ukraine.”

“While there’s a growing consensus among close watchers of Russia’s military that some sort of escalation is likely soon, the debate continues as to whether Russia would opt for smaller operations to destabilize Ukraine or a full-scale invasion toward the capital, Kyiv,” it added.

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