U.S. military leaders on Friday urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to choose diplomacy over war as tensions continue to rise concerning Ukraine.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that Western defense officials reported Moscow was sending medical units to the Ukrainian front, where roughly 100,000 Russian troops were positioned and ready to invade if called upon.
"We strongly encourage Russia to stand down and to pursue a resolution through diplomacy," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley said during a press briefing at the Pentagon.
"Armed force should always be the last resort. Success here is through dialogue."
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also attended the briefing and put the onus on Putin to choose a peaceful solution.
"There's no reason that this situation has to devolve into conflict," Austin said. "[Putin] can choose to de-escalate. He can order his troops away. He can choose dialogue and diplomacy.
"Whatever he decides, the United States will stand with our allies and partners."
Austin said Russia had, for months, been deploying forces along Ukraine’s border at a "consistent and steady pace," with support provided by Russian naval activity in the northern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea.
"We don't believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine," Austin said. "He clearly now has that capability."
Milley warned of the human carnage that could result from war.
"There are many people, and highly dense population centers throughout Ukraine," Milley said. "If war were to break out on a scale and scope that is possible, the civilian population will suffer immensely.
"If Russia chooses to invade Ukraine, it will not be cost free, in terms of casualties or other significant effects."
Milley added that the U.S. currently has "zero offensive combat weapon systems, nor any permanent forces, not bases in Ukraine."
Austin said U.S. troops have not been moved in Europe, though troops were put on "higher alert."
"Conflict is not inevitable," Austin said. "There's still time and space for diplomacy."
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