Pentagon chief Austin says it’s highly likely Russia will send tanks into Ukraine’s capital

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Sunday it’s “highly likely” that Moscow will soon send tanks rolling into the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, adding that he believes Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t bluffing about invading the former Soviet republic.

“If they were redeploying to garrison, we wouldn’t be seeing the kind of things in terms of, not only combat power but also logistical support, medical support [and] combat aviation that we’ve seen in the region,” Mr. Austin told ABC News.

In addition to its tanks and artillery arrayed along the border with Ukraine, Russia has set up logistics units and field hospitals in the area. The buildup contradicts claims that the Kremlin has been pulling troops back to the rear.

Russia is estimated to have more than 150,000 combat troops along its border with Ukraine and within Belarus, including artillery and rocket forces.

“If he [Mr. Putin] employs that kind of combat power, it will certainly create enormous casualties within the civilian population,” Mr. Austin said. “This could create a tragedy, quite frankly, in terms of refugee flow and displaced people. So this is potentially very, very dangerous.”

The Biden administration has promised to respond to an invasion of Ukraine with sanctions the likes of which Moscow has never experienced. Mr. Austin acknowledged that the average Russian will likely be hit harder in the wallet than Mr. Putin.

“The decisions that he’s making now will bring about a lot of pain and suffering on his comrades in Russia,” Mr. Austin told ABC news. 

Although some have criticized the Biden administration for not instituting a sanctions program against Russia earlier, Pentagon officials said it makes better sense to wait until an invasion.

“If you pull the trigger on that deterrent, well then it doesn’t exist anymore as a deterrent,” chief Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told “Fox News Sunday.” “These are going to be crippling sanctions, sanctions the likes of which we have not put in place before.”

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