US President Joe Biden is weighing the deployment of troops, warships, and aircraft to NATO allies in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states amid increased tensions with Moscow over the possibility of a Russian “invasion” of Ukraine.
According to administration officials, senior Pentagon officials presented Biden with a variety of options that would move US troops closer to Russia. A Saturday meeting at Camp David, the US president’s Maryland-based retreat, saw Defence Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confer with the president through video conferencing.
NATO intelligence claims that Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian-Russia border and some Western analysts are suggesting that an attack is imminent. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied the allegations and has suggested that the West is using Ukraine for its own ends.
The US Department of State ordered all families of officials at the US Embassy in Kyiv to leave the country and has told Americans in Ukraine to find arrangements to leave the country as soon as possible. COVID-19 and a potential Russian military engagement were the cited reasons.
One reported option would see between 1,000 to 5,000 troops shifted closer to the Russian border, with the ability to dramatically increase the US military presence should NATO deem it necessary.
A ramp-up of the US military presence in its NATO allies closest to Russia would represent a shift away from the administration’s previous approach that favored sanctions and diplomacy. Biden is expected to make a decision as early as next week.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Russian officials earlier in the week and was given a list of Russian security concerns. Moscow would like NATO to stop its eastward expansion and not house offensive military weapons in countries on their border. The US has yet to formally respond.
If Biden were to approve the troop deployments, some would come from the United States while others would come from less vulnerable parts of Europe.
Thus far, deploying troops to Ukraine has been ruled out by the Biden administration. Ukraine is not a member of the NATO military alliance. The situation is already causing members of the US military hierarchy to reconsider their activities with their easternmost NATO allies.
Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “We need joint exercises in Poland, the Baltic States, Romania, Bulgaria, to show Putin that we’re serious”, adding, “Right now, he doesn’t see we’re serious”.
Others believe troop deployments will do little to resolve the situation.
Jim Townsend, a former top Pentagon official for Russia policy, said, “It’s too little too late to deter Putin. If the Russians do invade Ukraine in a few weeks, those 5,000 should be just a down payment for a much larger US and allied force presence. Western Europe should once again be an armed camp”.
The United States Air Force has been monitoring the Russia-Ukraine border with increased frequency since December 2021. Of particular interest is any indication of nuclear weapons near the border. The US and its NATO allies have military advisers in Ukraine. Washington has indicated, should a purported invasion occur, that they would move their military advisors out of the country.