The United States will boost its military presence in eastern NATO members such as Poland and Romania if Russia sends more forces to Ukraine, President Joe Biden said Wednesday.
Biden has dismissed the idea that his administration would withdraw troops from former Soviet countries as part of a deal to defuse tensions with Russia, which has amassed military equipment and 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border.
“There’s no room for that,” he told a White House press conference. “We will actually increase the troop presence in Poland or Romania etc. if he moves because we have a sacred obligation with Article 5 to defend those countries because they are part of NATO. ”
But Biden also said America would not “permanently station” troops in former Soviet states.
Eastern European allies have been pushing for years for a larger US troop presence to provide greater deterrence against Russia. In 2018 Poland offered to name a military base after President Donald Trump in exchange for the permanent troop base in the country. And Lithuania is investing millions of euros in its military facilities to try to make rotational deployments permanent amid heightened fears over Russia.
Russia has been accumulating troops and equipment along its border with Ukraine since late last year. This week, Moscow said it was sending more troops to Belarus for a joint exercise, raising fears that Russia could attack Kiev from the north.
Asked if he thinks Putin will launch a military push into Ukraine, Biden replied, “I guess he’s going to move in.” Pressed on whether his administration or intelligence officials think an invasion is imminent, Biden said nothing is certain and even senior Russian officials don’t know what their boss will do.
“I suspect the side of the bed matters [Putin] gets up in the morning to know exactly what he’s going to do,” he said. “I don’t think he’s made up his mind yet.”
In Kiev, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that Moscow was ready to launch an attack “on very short notice.”
The US government is also trying to present a bipartisan front at home to condemn any further Russian invasion of Ukraine. A bipartisan group of senators, including four Democrats and three Republicans, trip in Kiev over the weekend to demonstrate to Putin that Congress is united in condemning his actions despite differences of opinion on how best to counter them, according to several senators who were part of the traveling delegation.
“We certainly have some honest political disagreements, especially when it comes to the Nord Stream 2 sanctions… this should not be mistaken by Vladimir Putin or Russia as disunity in our resolve to support the Ukrainian people and defend freedom,” Sen. Kevin Cramer, RN.D., said at a press conference .
Biden met virtually Wednesday morning with lawmakers who traveled to Ukraine and “welcomed the strong history of support for Ukraine from both sides of the aisle,” according to a statement from White House spokeswoman Jen. Psaki.
At the meeting, lawmakers “listened as much as we talked,” Cramer said, while Biden “listened intently…[and] shared a lot too.
Still, some Republican hawks have hurled partisan jabs at Biden’s handling of the situation and seized it as another opportunity to call the president weak on Russia.
Moscow’s military buildup on the Ukrainian border “is the result of a year of Joe Biden’s helplessness and incompetence toward Russia in particular, and foreign policy in general,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, R- Ark., during the press conference.
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, also criticized the president for “placating Putin” and failing to make emergency preparations to evacuate the 10,000 to 15,000 American civilians living in Ukraine.
“Putin doesn’t take this president, they don’t take his threats, and they certainly don’t take his leadership seriously,” Ernst said. “What I haven’t heard from this administration is what are we doing for Americans living in Ukraine? Again, haven’t we learned our lessons from Afghanistan?