Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says the United States will do its due diligence to protect American troops should Russia again invade Ukraine.
“I think our troops will be fine,” Austin told ABC News in an interview on “This Week” that aired Sunday morning. “We will be very diligent in terms of thinking through the range of possibilities and putting the right things in place to ensure that we’ve done everything we can to protect our troops.”
Austin sat down with “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz while he was visiting American and Polish troops in Poland, where 4,700 U.S. paratroopers were deployed to support NATO allies in eastern Europe as Russia continues to amass its forces near the Ukraine border. Austin doubled down on President Joe Biden’s promise that U.S. troops will not enter Ukraine if Russia again invades.
“President Biden has been very clear about the fact that we are not going to employ forces in Ukraine,” said Austin. “We will make sure we do everything possible to protect our troops and Polish partners so there isn’t a spillover across boundaries.”
There are also about 20 Navy vessels deployed to the theater, and numerous Air Force assets currently flying over and around Ukraine.
More than 150,000 Russian troops, along with aircraft, Iskander ballistic missile systems, hospital units and other equipment arrayed around Ukraine’s border.
The U.S. paratroopers dispatched to Poland amid the ongoing Russian threat to Ukraine are building encampments and expected to train with Polish allies, while a small headquarters element has arrived in Germany and another 1,000 Stryker soldiers are setting up in Romania. While military officials have said these are temporary deployments, it remains unclear how long troops will stay in the region.
Thousands more soldiers are on heightened alert to deploy and would join the 40,000-troop international NATO Response Force, should it be activated.
Austin told Raddatz that Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine is indicative that an attack could come at any moment and does not fall in line with Russia’s claims that its forces are leaving the border.
“If they were redeploying to garrison, we wouldn’t see the kinds of things in terms of, not only combat power, but also logistical support, medical support, combat aviation that we’ve seen in the region,” Austin said.
Biden said Friday that he is convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to further invade Ukraine.
Russia has denied plans to invade Ukraine, but continued military exercises near the border Sunday. Moscow has stationed an estimated 150,000 troops along three sides of Ukraine’s border with units in Belarus to the north, the border with Russia on the east, and along the Crimean Peninsula to the south.
Vice President Kamala Harris said diplomatic conversations have all been about deterring Russia from invading a sovereign nation, but told reporters as she was leaving the Munich Security Conference that there is a “real possibility of war in Europe.”
“We all understand, including every country in Europe, what war in Europe looks like and what it can mean for the citizens of each of those countries,” Harris said.
Some American troops could help American evacuees in the event Russia does invade Ukraine, according to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby.