Providing an assessment of the Russian forces, Austin told CNN correspondent Don Lemon in an exclusive interview conducted in the Bulgarian capital Sofia that the Russians “did not advance as quickly as they would have liked.”
Austin told CNN that the Russians had “suffered from logistical support” and that he had seen no evidence of “good employment of tactical intelligence,” nor of “the integration of air capability with a ground maneuver.”
“There are a number of things that we expect to see that we just haven’t seen. And the Russians really have some problems – they presented us with some problems. So, many of their assumptions have not been proven correct as they are in this fight.”
“I think (Russia) imagined that they were going to move very quickly and very quickly to take the capital. They couldn’t do that,” the Pentagon chief said.
Austin was also asked about China’s position on the war.
Russia has also requested military support and economic assistance from China, two US officials told CNN this week.
China has shown some openness to providing assistance to Russia, according to a US diplomatic cable to allies. Both Russia and Beijing have denied any such requests.
Austin told CNN it was “hard to say” what China would do and declined to speculate.
“I hope China does not support this abhorrent act of Putin, and I hope they recognize the need to respect sovereign territory,” he told CNN, adding, “We’ve made it clear that if they do, we think that’s a bad choice.”
Austin told CNN that Biden “has been very clear about the fact that we will not be involved in combat with Russia in Ukraine.”
The defense secretary said that if the United States were to set up a no-fly zone, it would require controlling the skies, engaging Russian aircraft, and taking out aircraft systems in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
“This means that we are in a fight with Russia. These are two nuclear-powered countries and no one wants to see them enter the conflict. This is not good for the region. It is not good for the world,” he said.
He said the United States is focused on providing the kind of assistance to Ukraine that “we know is making a difference” and we are doing “everything we can to defend every inch of NATO territory.”
At a press conference on Saturday in Sofia, Bulgaria, Austin said that Russia continues to make “incremental gains” in southern Ukraine and that Russia has used “brutal and brutal methods” in the way it has targeted civilians in Ukraine.
“Putin’s war of choice against Ukraine was tragic. The Russian invasion took a heavy toll on Ukrainian lives, including brave soldiers and many innocent civilians. However, Russian aggression galvanized the Ukrainian people, NATO and the free world.” Austin said at a joint press conference with Bulgarian Prime Minister Kirill Petkov.
Austin traveled to Europe this week, stopping in Belgium for a NATO defense ministers meeting before visiting Slovakia and Bulgaria as part of a trip to support NATO allies.
This story has been updated with additional developments and reactions.
CNN’s Radina Zhigova contributed to this report.
“Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver.”