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The U.S. is giving Ukraine weapons and political support, but not troops

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

At his lengthy press conference yesterday, President Biden said he thought it more likely than not that Russian leader Vladimir Putin would move in on Ukraine. Biden also spoke about the possibility of a minor incursion and perhaps not a full-blown war. Now, all of this required some explanation afterward by the White House. But the president has been clear about one thing - he has ruled out sending U.S. forces into Ukraine. For more, we're joined by NPR national security correspondent Greg Myre. Greg, so how did the White House clarify the president's remarks?

GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Right. President Biden's comments did raise some questions about how the U.S. and NATO might respond to a Russian invasion. So shortly after he spoke, the White House put out a statement that said, quote, "if any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that's a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe and united response."

MARTINEZ: Now, let's break that down. What kind of military assistance is the U.S. currently providing to Ukraine?

MYRE: Well, Russia invaded back in 2014, and the U.S. has been providing assistance ever since. A lot of it's small arms, ammunition and, most prominently, these Javelin anti-tank weapons. All this runs at a little over $400 million a year of assistance. Britain is sending anti-tank weapons. Turkey has sold armed drones to Ukraine. All this would help the Ukrainians defend against Russian tanks and other armored vehicles, would allow them to harass the Russians, slow them down, perhaps inflict significant casualties, but it's just not at the level that would be decisive if Russia does send these more than 100,000 troops that it currently has near the border.

MARTINEZ: Has any country offered to send troops to help Ukraine?

MYRE: Well, I spoke about this with Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who's now at Stanford, and he said it's very important that the U.S. be crystal clear on this point.

STEVEN PIFER: You would not see American or NATO forces on the ground, fighting the Russians on Ukraine's behalf. I don't want the Ukrainian government to make a decision based on a miscalculation of how much help they can get from the West.

MYRE: So President Biden has specifically ruled out U.S. troops. We should note the U.S. does have very small contingents that rotate through Ukraine to work with their military. Right now, for example, there's more than a hundred members of a Florida National Guard unit known as Task Force Gator. They're currently in Western Ukraine, but they're there to train, not to fight.

MARTINEZ: All right. So if the Ukrainian military is on its own on this, could it withstand a Russian offensive?

MYRE: Probably not. The general view is that if Russia sends in a large force, it could probably take what it wants. But the question is, what does Russia want? Maybe President Vladimir Putin just wants a tighter grip on the eastern part of the country, near Russia's border, to sort of create a buffer zone and bleed Ukraine. Maybe he wants to go all the way to the capital, Kiev, to install a Russia-friendly leadership. Steven Pifer says he doesn't know what Putin will do, but he says the Russian leader does fear a Ukraine aligned with the West.

PIFER: If you have a Ukraine moving towards the West that fully consolidates democracy and then gets its economic reforms really in place so the economy begins to perform in the way it should, that's a nightmare for the Kremlin.

MYRE: So Ukraine is a long way before it becomes this kind of country. But Putin has been very clear for years that he believes Ukraine should be aligned with Russia and not with the West.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Greg Myre. Greg, thanks a lot.

MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Greg Myre is a national security correspondent with a focus on the intelligence community, a position that follows his many years as a foreign correspondent covering conflicts around the globe.
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