President Biden said Friday that he’s sending US troops — but “not too many” — to Eastern Europe amid concern about a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“I’ll be moving troops to Eastern Europe and the NATO countries in the near term. Not too many,” Biden said at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland after returning from a trip to Pittsburgh.
Biden did not identify which countries will host the US troops, but he’s repeatedly ruled out deployments inside Ukraine, which is not formally a US ally, not a member of NATO.
The Pentagon announced Monday that 8,500 US forces were placed on “heightened alert” for potential deployment to Eastern Europe as part of a NATO show of support for smaller members of the military alliance.
Three former Soviet republics — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuanian — and several former Warsaw Pact countries, such as Poland, are members of NATO after decades under Moscow’s control during the Cold War.
In related moves, Denmark is sending a frigate to the Baltic Sea and dispatching four F-16 fighter jets to Lithuania. Spain also is deploying ships and possibly sending fighter jets to Bulgaria. France is weighing troop deployments to Romania, and the Netherlands is sending two F-35 fighters to Bulgaria.
The Biden administration also is in the process of sending lethal aid to Ukraine, including five Mi-17 helicopters that formerly belonged to Afghanistan’s military. And the US State Department this month granted permission to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to donate to Ukraine Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday that it’s unclear if Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided whether to invade Ukraine.
The US says Putin has massed about 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders. The Russian leader is demanding that Ukraine be barred from ever joining NATO, but the alliance has declined to do so.
On Thursday, the White House scrambled to deny an Ukrainian official’s claim to CNN that Biden told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that a Russian invasion of his country was almost certain and that he should be ready for a “sack” of the capital city Kiev.
Zelensky rebuked Biden last week for suggesting that a “minor incursion” by Russia might result in less severe sanctions due to disagreement among NATO allies.
Biden horrified Ukrainian officials with the remark — with one saying that the American president may have given Putin a “green light” to invade.
In 2014, when Biden was vice president, Russia invaded the Crimean peninsula and then annexed the territory from Ukraine following a disputed referendum. Putin’s government also allegedly supports a pair of pro-Russia breakaway states in eastern Ukraine.