U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said of the crisis with Russia and Ukraine, "There's no reason that this situation has to devolve into conflict." File Pool Photo by Rod Lamkey/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 28 (UPI) -- The Pentagon called Friday on Russian President Vladimir Putin to have his military stand down on Ukraine.
"We strongly encourage Russia to stand down and to pursue a resolution through diplomacy," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley said at a press briefing. "Armed force should always be the last resort. Success here is through dialogue."
Milley reiterated to reporters Friday that the United States has no intention of deploying U.S. troops against Russia. But he said the United States is increasing readiness in response to the massing of Russian troops near Ukraine.
"There's no reason that this situation has to devolve into conflict," U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said. "He [Putin] can choose to de-escalate, he can order his troops away. He can choose dialogue and diplomacy," Austin said in a press briefing.
But Austin said whatever path Putin chooses, the United States will stand with its allies and partners.
Austin said Russia has continued to deploy military forces for months near Ukraine's borders at a steady pace.
When French President Macron and Putin spoke by phone Friday about Ukraine, they agreed on the need to de-escalate the crisis.
An aide to Macron said during a press briefing, the call "enabled us to agree on the need for a de-escalation." The French government said Putin expressed no "offensive plans" and said he wanted to continue talks with Western allies.
According to a Russian readout of the call, Putin also told Macron that Western allies have refused to address core Russian security concerns, including "preventing NATO expansion, refusing to deploy strike weapons systems near Russian borders" and withdrawing allied forces to positions they held in 1997, before the alliance's eastward enlargement.
The Kremlin's readout of the call said Putin told Macron that he would carefully read the written response of Western allies and then decide on what action to take. Putin also said he wanted to continue talks.
As the United States warns of an imminent Russian invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky on Friday said Western allies were creating a panic.
In a press conference, Zelensky said Russia's military buildup is "dangerous," and if Russia attacks, it would cause "a horrible war." He asked why Russia felt it needed so many troops near Ukraine's border.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would "retaliate" if its demands to stop NATO's expansion are rejected.
On Russian radio, Lavrov said, "If it depends on the Russian Federation," war with Ukraine is ruled out. But he added there is no room for compromise on Russia's key national security demands that NATO halt its expansion.
The United States and NATO have rejected any Russian control over NATO expansion or Ukraine's sovereignty. The United States has repeatedly said NATO's expansion is non-negotiable.
Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops and various combat capabilities near Ukraine's borders while making demands that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO.
The Pentagon said the Russian military buildup continues.
"We continue to see, including in the last 24 hours, more accumulation of credible combat forces arrayed by the Russians in, again, the western part of their country and in Belarus," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said.