John Kirby: Russian soldiers should ‘not agree to fight in Ukraine’

Last updated on October 20, 2022

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Thursday that his advice to fighting-age men in Russia would be to “not fight” in Vladimir Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine.

“They should not fight, not agree to fight in Ukraine. And many of them have obviously left the country and some of the others are bravely resisting efforts to be mobilized and to be called up inside their own country,” Kirby said on CNN.

Kirby’s comments come as Putin has ramped up efforts in recent weeks to escalate the war, on Wednesday declaring martial law in four regions of Ukraine that Moscow illegally annexed. Kirby said the new security measures from Putin show that he “has dwindling options available to him” and that there is “increasing popular discontent” about the war and the way he’s fighting it.

While Putin’s invasion of Ukraine remains hugely popular in Russia, hundreds of thousands of citizens fled the country after the Russian president announced on Sept. 21 a partial mobilization that would draft at least 300,000 additional soldiers. Other people hoping to avoid the draft are hunkering down and avoiding public places as they hear of widespread reports of forced conscriptions, even for men who are above the age limit for mobilization.

Kirby said on Thursday that Russia is putting mobilized reservists that have just been called up into the fight “with maybe a week’s worth of training and some small arms and ammunition and that is it.”

“They are being thrown into a fight against an enemy, though smaller, is much better equipped, much higher morale, better leadership, better command and control. And it’s not a place where a lot of Russian soldiers want to be right now,” Kirby said.

The NSC spokesperson also commented on Iranian military sales to Russia, which U.S. officials have said they would penalize Iran for through sanctions. Kirby said although the White House is not in a position to “independently verify” that Iran has given Russia drones — which Iran has denied — “the pictures speak 1,000 words.”

“We have said for months that we knew Iran was looking to provide these kinds of capabilities to Russia,” Kirby said. “Now you see all these images out there of these capabilities being used inside Ukraine. It’s another example of just how isolated Iran is from the rest of the world, but also Russia, and how much now [Putin] has to lean on another country like Iran for this kind of capability.”