The Associated Press reported on Monday that a small number of U.S. troops have been moved to Ukraine to begin inspecting Western-supplied weapons. While the soldiers will not be fighting Russians on Ukrainian soil, the news could be considered an escalation as NATO troops have so far assisted Ukrainian forces in neighboring territories.
Citing a senior U.S. defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the Associated Press confirmed that American troops will also be accounting for all Western weapons and ammunition arriving on Ukrainian soil. The official would not say how many troops had been sent to Ukraine or how close they are to the front lines, but did confirm that the troops cannot perform necessary inspections “close to the front lines.”
The report also said that several inspections have already taken place as a coordinated effort between the U.S. Defense attaché and the Office of Defense Cooperation, located in Kyiv.
Why U.S. Troops in Ukraine Now?
The Pentagon and the Department of State revealed a new round of military aid last week worth $275 million, alongside an accountability plan designed to track the use of all Western-supplied weapons. The plan follows criticism of the Biden administration over a lack of oversight of how military equipment is used and an accusation from Republican House minority leader Kevin McCarthy that the White House is handing over a “blank check” to Ukraine.
The Department of State released the full details of the plan last week, promising to “ensure that Ukraine has the weapons it needs to defend its territory against Russia’s further invasion” and to implement end-use monitoring measures designed to “mitigate the risk of illicit diversion” of equipment in Ukraine.
Under the plan, U.S. troops will help the Ukrainian government monitor and account for the most advanced conventional weapons. The United States will also encourage allies to adopt new methods designed to monitor and investigate suspected weapons trackers, build the capacity of law enforcement officials and analysts in Ukraine to share information regarding interdicted weapons, and enable Ukraine to properly document and account for weapons delivered by allies.
Why This Matters
Even though U.S. soldiers won’t be fighting in Ukraine, the mere presence of soldiers from a NATO country is a significant development in the conflict. The decision also poses a conundrum in the event that any American soldier is injured as a result of a Russian strike.
It’s unclear what could happen if U.S. soldiers are killed by a Russian strike, but it could be considered an attack on NATO. An attack on NATO could trigger a military response from NATO countries, which in turn could translate into a full global conflict with Russia. That being said, the United States has probably already prepared for this eventuality. If it is an intentional strike on U.S. soldiers, therefore, it could spell trouble for Russia.
If U.S. soldiers are killed or injured indirectly, meaning Russia did not purposely direct a strike at the U.S. soldiers, things may pan out quite differently.
Russia’s response to the news also matters. Russian President Vladimir Putin may consider the presence of NATO soldiers in Ukraine an escalation in the war – though, even if he does, he may not have much power to do much about it, knowing that he is running short on advanced weapons and may not be able to count on the military support of China in the event of a larger conflict.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.
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