WASHINGTON (AP) - President Joe Biden has no plans to respond to a further Russian invasion of Ukraine by sending combat troops. But he was able to pursue a number of less dramatic but still risky military options, including support for a Ukrainian resistance after the invasion.
The rationale for not directly joining a Russia-Ukraine war is simple. The United States has no treaty obligation to Ukraine, and war with Russia would be a huge gamble given its potential to expand into Europe, destabilize the region, and escalate to the frightening point of risking a nuclear exchange.
Doing too little also has its risks. This may indicate an acceptance of future Russian action against other countries in Eastern Europe, such as the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, although these three as NATO members have security guarantees from the United States and the rest of the alliance.
Foreign Minister Antony Blinken, who is in Europe this week to speak with Ukrainian officials, consult with NATO allies and then meet on Friday with his Russian counterpart, has claimed "an unwavering US commitment to Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity." But he has not publicly defined the limits of this commitment.
So how far can the United States and its allies go to help Ukraine defend itself if the build-up of Russian forces along Ukraine's borders leads to an invasion?
WHY NOT A RUSSIAN INVASION COMPETITES?
Going to war with Russia in Ukraine could tie up US forces and resources for years and take a tough toll alive with an uncertain outcome at a time when the Biden administration is trying to focus on China as the main security threat.
On Wednesday, Biden said it was his "guess" that Russian President Vladimir Putin will end up sending forces into Ukraine, though he also said he does not think Putin wants total war. Biden did not address the possibility of deploying U.S. ground troops in Ukraine to stop an invasion, but he had previously ruled it out.
Biden said he was unsure how Putin would use the forces he has assembled near Ukraine's border, but the United States and NATO have rejected what Moscow calls its main demands - a guarantee that the Western alliance will not expand further. east. Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 following the ouster of Ukraine's Moscow-friendly leader and also intervened in eastern Ukraine that year to support a separatist uprising. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting there.
Efforts in Ukraine are high - militarily and politically. Lawmakers have intensified their criticism of Biden's approach to Putin. Late. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, accused Biden of "twisting and reconciliation," but he has not called for the sending of combat troops. Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat sitting on the House Intelligence Committee, called for an urgent "non-stop air transport" of military equipment and trainers to Ukraine.
Philip Breedlove, a retired Air Force general who served as the top NATO commander in Europe from 2013 to 2016, said in an interview that he does not expect or recommend that the United States send combat troops into Ukraine. Instead, Washington and its allies should look for ways to help Ukraine defend its own airspace and territorial waters where it faces overwhelming Russian supremacy, he said.
"These are things we should consider as an alliance and as a nation," he said. "If Mr Putin is allowed to invade Ukraine and it has little or no consequence, we will see more of the same."
WHAT ARE THE BID'S OTHER OPTIONS?
Due to the country's clear military inferiority, Ukraine could not prevent Russian forces from invading. But with the help of the United States and others, Ukraine might be able to deter Putin from acting if he was convinced the costs would be too high.
"The key to thwarting Russian ambitions is to prevent Moscow from gaining a quick victory and to raise the economic, political and military costs of imposing economic sanctions, securing political isolation from the West and increasing the prospect of a prolonged uprising that is grinding away. the Russian military, ”wrote Seth Jones, a political scientist, and Philip Wasielewski, a former CIA paramilitary officer, in a January 13 analysis for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The Biden administration has suggested that it think in similar directions.
HOW DOES THE UNITED STATES SUPPORT THE UKRAINE'S MILITARY NOW?
Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby says there are about 200 National Guard soldiers in Ukraine to train and advise local forces, and on Tuesday he said there are no plans to increase their numbers. There are also an unknown number of US special operations troops providing training in Ukraine. Kirby would not say whether the U.S. troops would withdraw in the event of a Russian invasion, but he said the Pentagon would "make all the appropriate and correct decisions to ensure our people are safe in all circumstances."
The administration said Wednesday it is providing an additional $ 200 million in defensive military aid to Ukraine. Since 2014, the United States has provided Ukraine with about $ 2.5 billion in defense assistance, including anti-tank missiles and radars.
HOW CAN THE UNITED STATES HELP UKRAINE AFTER AN INVASION?
It is not clear. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said last week that the United States would "dramatically increase" support for Ukraine's "territorial integrity and sovereignty." But he did not explain how it could be done.
The administration says it is also open to sending military reinforcements to NATO allies on the Eastern Front who want US security.
Jones and Wasielewski say that in addition to implementing severe sanctions against Russia in the event of an invasion, the United States should provide Ukraine with a wide range of military assistance at no cost. This will include air defense, anti-tank and anti-ship systems; electronic warfare and cyber defense systems; small arms and artillery ammunition and other items.
"The United States and NATO should be prepared to offer long-term support to Ukraine's resistance, whatever form it takes," they wrote. This help could be provided openly with the help of U.S. troops, including special forces, or it could be a CIA-led secret operation approved by President Biden, they added.
That would involve the risk of putting American personnel on the line of fire - and dragging the United States into the very battle it is determined to avoid.