Ukraine: 3,000 American soldiers arrive in Europe. Will it make a difference?

Some 3,000 US troops began arriving in Poland and Romania this week to impress on Moscow that invading Ukraine is a risky proposition.

In addition to massing soldiers on Ukraine’s borders, Russia’s aggression ranges from cyberattacks to reported plans for a fake video creating a pretext for President Vladimir Putin to invade.

Why we wrote this

American troops in Eastern Europe mainly send a message, both to Vladimir Putin and to NATO allies. Whether the mission could evolve – and what would constitute success – remains to be seen.

Given Mr Putin’s clear intention to push Western forces back into his backyard – and his desire to get a promise from NATO that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, will never be allowed to join – US troop movements represent the largest response to date. with tough tactics.

But beyond sending a pointed message, it’s unclear what US troops in the region might accomplish. The small size of this deployment limits the potential scope of the mission, although analysts have speculated the extent to which troops could become involved in overrunning combat if Russian tanks start rolling. Nor have the evaluation criteria been defined.

“Our forces don’t need to be held hostage by Russian deployments, but the troops in Romania and Poland could very well stay there for a while,” says Rajan Menon of the Defense Priorities think tank.

BRUSSELS

Some 3,000 US troops began arriving in Poland and Romania this week, in a bid to impress upon Moscow that invading Ukraine is a risky proposition.

“Those [U.S. troop] are unmistakable signals to the world that we stand ready to reassure our NATO allies and to deter and defend against aggression,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said during a briefing with reporters. last Thursday.

In addition to massing soldiers on Ukraine’s borders, Russia’s aggressions to date range from cyberattacks to reported plans for an elaborately faked video showing Ukrainian troops killing Russian-speaking civilians, easily creating a pretext for President Vladimir Putin saves the day through an invasion.

Why we wrote this

American troops in Eastern Europe mainly send a message, both to Vladimir Putin and to NATO allies. Whether the mission could evolve – and what would constitute success – remains to be seen.

Given that Mr Putin has made it clear that he wants to push Western forces and armaments back into his backyard – and secure a promise from NATO that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, will never, ever be allowed to join the Western military alliance – the US troop movements represent the most significant response to heavy-handed tactics to date.

“Maybe what we’re doing is sending a message that [Mr. Putin’s] intransigence – this completely contrived crisis that you put forward – will now cause the very thing that you are trying to correct, by moving more forces into the forward area,” said retired General Philip Breedlove, former commander supreme ally of NATO, postulated in a virtual chat organized by the Atlantic Council last week.

But beyond sending a pointed message, it’s unclear exactly what US troops in the region might accomplish — and what the measure of success will be. The relatively small size of this deployment limits the potential scope of the mission, although analysts have speculated the extent to which troops could become involved in overrunning combat if Russian tanks start rolling. Nor has an end point been set: barring unforeseen hostilities in the wider region, what will allow US forces to return home?

“A diplomatic statement”

To this last question, Mr. Kirby endeavored to expose some approximate parameters. “The measure of success is that NATO’s eastern flank is properly positioned and ready to defend itself. And that we’re part of that defense – that’s the measure of success here.

Pentagon officials have also been careful to stress that they do not believe conflict is inevitable and that the United States has no intention of sending troops to fight in Ukraine.

Indeed, they have shown little interest in escalating tensions. When asked, for example, if the deployment of American troops signaled that the Biden administration had come into possession of alarming new information indicating that Russia was about to invade Ukraine, Mr. Kirby suggested that was not the case.

“This is not an intelligence assessment of what Mr. Putin will or will not do,” he said. “We still don’t believe he made the decision to invade Ukraine further.”

Patryk Ogorzalek/Agencja Wyborcza.pl/Reuters

US soldiers disembark from a US Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III at Rzeszów-Jasionka Airport in Poland, February 8, 2022.

There were also exciting questions about whether troops from the 82nd Airborne Division would parachute into their new bases in a spectacular show of force. “I don’t foresee it being a tactical operation in that regard,” Kirby said.

That’s not to say U.S. military officials haven’t taken note of some troubling developments in recent weeks.

When Russian soldiers began massing on the Ukrainian border, for example, the troop formations were “large, non-tactical” and “easy to see from space, easy to see for journalists,” Mr. Breedlove – in other words, a plausible approach. bluff.

Yet in recent weeks they have morphed into “more tactical formations,” including field hospitals, fuel depots and logistics trains, raising questions about what precisely the Russians have planned.

Pentagon officials admit they aren’t sure either. Mr Putin “gives himself many options, many more capabilities”, Mr Kirby said. “For what purpose exactly? We don’t know at the moment.

Even so, US officials do not seem particularly alarmed, judging by the number of troops headed to Eastern Europe. “In terms of combat capabilities, it’s pretty minimal considering what they would be up against,” says retired Colonel Peter Mansoor, executive officer to General David Petraeus during the Iraq War and now a history professor. at Ohio State University. “In that sense, the deployment is a diplomatic statement.”

Lessons from the Korean War

The fact that the troops are intended to send a message of solidarity to NATO partners, however, does not prevent them from doing “practical things” such as training with allied military personnel, gathering intelligence, assisting in border patrols and ” coordinate with civil authorities to plan to restore electricity or other essential services,” notes Kori Schake, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

And if the Biden administration was interested in “really changing the Russian calculus,” it could also bring in fighter jets, said retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander who also participated. to the Atlantic Council discussion.

Should Russia decide to launch a ‘massive air offensive, you can be sure that it would not hesitate’ to ‘wag its wings and beat its chest’ into the airspace of other Eastern European countries. ‘Is also,’ General Clark said – in which case NATO allies might need further reassurance from the United States. “The Russian military is arrogant and full of themselves because they have new equipment, they’ve been successful in Syria, and they know how the US Air Force works.”

Yet despite this apparent hubris, the lessons of the 20th century should serve as a warning to Russia, Clark added, citing the example of the Korean War.

America had declared that South Korea was not part of its “defensive perimeter”, and upon hearing this, North Korean leaders had approached China with their plans to invade Seoul. Beijing warned them against this, saying: “‘You better be careful because the Americans are unpredictable and they could still intervene,'” Mr Clark said. North Korea nevertheless proceeded and “of course President Truman ordered the invasion”.

In other words, while US troops will almost certainly not fight the Russians in Ukraine, their arrival in the region could cast doubt in Mr. Putin’s mind that that could change if things got particularly bad.

The Pentagon, for its part, has not ruled out the possibility that US forces could travel to Ukraine to conduct “noncombatant evacuations” if necessary.

Beyond all these messages to Moscow, sending US troops to Eastern Europe is also a decision designed for domestic consumption, notes Rajan Menon, director of the Grand Strategy program at the Defense Priorities think tank.

“It shows that the Biden administration has done everything humanly possible to show resolve, short of sending US troops to fight in Ukraine,” he adds.

“If there is an agreement reached with Putin, [Mr. Biden] will certainly be criticized, but he will be able to say that diplomacy has avoided a war and that he has delivered a clear message of deterrence.

As geopolitics unfolds, US troops will likely remain in place. “Our forces don’t need to be held hostage to Russian deployments, but the troops in Romania and Poland could very well stay there for a while,” Prof Mansoor says.

These rotational deployments are generally around nine months and after that these units could be replaced by others. “Deploying 3,000 more troops to Eastern Europe,” he adds, “is not a heavyweight for the US military.”