An emotional Pentagon spokesman lashed out Friday at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “depravity” in Ukraine, questioning how any moral person could defend bombing hospitals and summary executions of innocent people.
John Kirby, the former US Navy admiral who has briefed journalists on camera five days a week since the war began on February 24, lost his composure momentarily as he spoke of atrocities committed in Ukraine.
“It’s hard to look at what he’s doing in Ukraine, what his forces are doing in Ukraine, and think that any ethical, moral individual could justify that,” Kirby said haltingly, when asked how the US government assessed the Russian leader’s mental state.
“I can’t talk to his psychology. But I think we can all speak to his depravity,” he said.
Kirby, spokesman for the State Department in 2015-2017 and for the Defense Department since early 2021, is known for his fluid, knowledgeable and fact-heavy answers to journalists, as well as for avoiding hyperbole and discipline to not say more than he is allowed to.
Since the administration of US President Joe Biden determined late last year that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine, Kirby has been the administration’s key public messenger on the conflict.
But he suddenly found himself at a loss for words Friday, looking grim and sad when reflecting on the two months of war.
He called Putin’s justifications for the invasion — that he is protecting Russians and that Ukraine was a font of Nazism — “BS.”
.@PentagonPresSec John Kirby gets emotional talking about war atrocities and Putin—“It's difficult to look at some of the images and imagine that any well-thinking, serious mature leader would do that. I can't talk to his psychology, but I think we can all speak to his depravity” pic.twitter.com/fHCw67D4Vh
— James LaPorta (@JimLaPorta) April 29, 2022
“It’s hard to square that rhetoric by what he’s actually doing inside Ukraine to innocent people, shot in the back of the head, hands tied behind their backs, pregnant women being killed, hospitals being bombed,” Kirby said.
“I mean, it’s just unconscionable and I don’t have the mental capacity to understand how you connect those two things.”
Before the war, Kirby said, “I don’t think we fully appreciated the degree to which [Putin] would visit that kind of violence and cruelty and depravity on innocent people, on non-combatants, on civilians, with such utter disregard for the lives he was taking.”
He then apologized for the rare show of emotion.
“I don’t want to make this about me. But I’ve been around the military a long, long time, and I’ve known friends who didn’t make it back. It’s just hard,” Kirby said.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv was hit by multiple Russian shellings Saturday, though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Ukrainian forces are making “tactical successes” in the region.
Although Ukraine has retained control of Kharkiv, the city has been repeatedly battered by Moscow’s forces and still faces daily attacks.
One person was killed and five were injured “as a result of enemy artillery and mortar strikes,” the Kharkiv’s regional military administration said on Telegram.
The shelling came as the United Nations continues to try to broker an evacuation of civilians from the increasingly hellish ruins of Mariupol.
The mayor of Mariupol said the situation inside the steel plant that has become the southern port city’s last stronghold is dire, and citizens are “begging to get saved.”
Mayor Vadym Boichenko added: “There, it’s not a matter of days. It’s a matter of hours.”