Russian state media gleefully trumpeted a gaffe by U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who said in a Thursday press briefing that he hopes the Soviet Union will not soon invade Ukraine.
Moscow’s state-sponsored news outlet, RT, seized on the misnomer, chiding Austin for referencing the long-defunct communist federation.
“Despite the Soviet Union having collapsed around three decades ago, the hammer and sickle could soon be flying back over Ukraine, America’s top military official appears to have suggested amid claims about a Russian attack,” RT wrote in a Thursday article.
Austin made the remarks during an official visit to South Korea, while responding to a reporter’s question about large numbers of troops now stationed in Russia, just inside the country’s western frontier.
“The best case,” Austin said, “is that we won’t see an incursion by the Soviet Union into Ukraine.” A Pentagon video of the comments show that Austin did not correct the gaffe, and depicts moderators closing down the press briefing.
The state-controlled RT poked fun at Austin, featuring on Dec. 2 a lead story entitled “‘Soviet Union’ could invade Ukraine, Pentagon chief claims.”
The outlet noted that the USSR, a collective of 15 republics, disbanded in 1991.
“Ukraine and Russia were founding members of that country, which was led by Ukrainian politician Leonid Brezhnev for a large part of its existence,” RT wrote.
Austin, 68, began his military service in 1975, while the Soviet Union was intact. He remained in uniform through 1991 and beyond, retiring from the Army in 2016.
Austin’s remarks come amid heightened tension over the notion that Moscow plans to invade neighboring Ukraine. The fears are fueled by the presence of Russian troops and military equipment just inside the border.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on Wednesday addressed the concerns while speaking with reporters at a press conference in Latvia.
“We don’t know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade,” Blinken said. “We do know that he’s putting in place the capacity to do so in short order, should he so decide. We must prepare for all contingencies.”
Moscow has dismissed suggestions that Russia is primed to invade. Such claims are “hysteria,” Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov has said.
Russian troop movements within Russian territory “should not cause concerns in anyone, because Russia is not a threat to anyone,” Peskov said.