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Jan. 28, 2022, 6:10 p.m. EST

Pentagon chief Austin says Putin now has a full range of options for Ukraine

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Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday the buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s border has reached the point where President Vladimir Putin now has a complete range of military options, including actions short of a full-scale invasion.

“While we don’t believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine, he clearly now has the capability,” Austin told a Pentagon news conference.

Context: Russia says it won’t start a war as Ukraine tensions mount

Plus: Biden says Russian invasion of Ukraine in February remains ‘distinct possibility’

Don’t miss: Arrival of Russian medical units near would-be Ukraine front sends signal to West

Austin said Putin could use any portion of his force of an estimated 100,000 troops to seize Ukrainian cities and “significant territories” or to launch “coercive acts or provocative political acts” like the recognition of breakaway territories inside Ukraine. He urged Putin to de-escalate the tensions.

Austin spoke alongside Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said Russian forces near Ukraine include not only ground troops and naval and air forces but also cyber and electronic warfare capabilities, as well as special operations forces. He urged Putin to choose a diplomatic path over conflict.

“If Russia chooses to invade Ukraine, it will not be cost free, in terms of casualties and other significant effects,” Milley said.

Market Extra: How a Russian invasion of Ukraine could trigger market shock waves

Earlier Friday, the Kremlin said Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron that the West has failed to consider Russia’s key conditions of halting further NATO expansion, stopping the deployment of alliance weapons near Russian borders, and rolling back its forces from Eastern Europe.

The U.S. and NATO formally rejected those demands this week , although Washington outlined areas where discussions are possible, offering hope that there could be a way to avoid war amid the troop buildup near Ukraine.

See: Blinken says U.S. has offered no concessions in written response to Russia’s Ukraine preconditions

Despite that, U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could take military action against the former Soviet state in February. Russia has repeatedly denied having any such plans.

See: Putin’s ambitions are bigger than Ukraine, says Fiona Hill: ‘He wants to evict the United States from Europe’

Zelensky, however, sought to play down the war fears, saying Western alarm over an imminent invasion has prompted many investors in the country’s financial markets to cash out.

“We don’t need this panic,” he said at a news conference. “It cost Ukrainians dearly.”

Putin told Macron that Moscow will study the U.S. and NATO response before deciding its next move, according to a Kremlin account of their call. Earlier in the day, Putin held a weekly meeting of his Security Council, saying only that it would address foreign policy issues.

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