As Russia was amassing as many as 100,000 troops along the Ukraine border in December, the White House shot down a proposal by the US military to send a “few hundred” additional special operations personnel to Ukraine to provide training on unconventional warfare over fears the move would provoke Moscow, according to a report.
The Biden administration was hoping that a diplomatic resolution to the military standoff could be reached and was concerned that the influx of US troops in the former Soviet state would derail the effort, Politico reported on Sunday.
The report said a Pentagon official briefed the Senate Armed Services Committee that the plan was ditched over those fears.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin planned to talk directly to President Biden about the mission, the report said.
At the time, the US was sharing intelligence information with NATO allies about a possible Russian invasion into Ukraine.
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A White House spokesperson told Politico that “no such plans” for such a training mission “were ever presented” to the White House or the National Security Council.
A Defense Department official denied that Biden and the White House did not “cancel any planned training activities for Ukraine until US forces were repositioned in February.”
The officials would not discuss whether informal discussions were held with the White House or whether the Capitol Hill briefings were held.
The US advisers would have instructed Ukrainian forces in guerrilla tactics, a separate operation from formal training in military tactics at the Yavoriv Combat Training Center in western Ukraine, the report said.
Ilan Berman, a senior vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council who has consulted with the CIA and State Department, criticized the decision.
“This is part of a larger story in which the White House pulled its punches in the lead-up to the conflict, when we already saw that the Russians were amassing troops,” Berman told Politico. “Based on either incorrect assumptions about what Vladimir Putin wanted to do or based upon worries about provoking Putin — he didn’t need any provoking! — it’s one example of these calculations leading to a more passive approach than we could have taken.”
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Saturday that he had authorized up to $200 million in military assistance to Ukraine, bringing the total security assistance provided by the administration to more than $1.2 billion.
While much of the military aid consists of defensive equipment like Javelin anti-tank missiles, the president has repeatedly said that he does not intend to have US boots on the ground in Ukraine.
The administration has also rejected pleas from President Volodymyr Zelensky to establish a no-fly zone over his country because it may draw the US into a wider war with Russia.
It has also scrapped an offer from Poland to send Soviet-era MiG-29 jet fighters to Ukraine over the same fears.