Ukrainian reservists taking part in exercises near Kiev in late December (AFP/Sergei SUPINSKY)
Joe Biden has ruled out sending American soldiers to Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion, but a few hundred American soldiers are already deployed there, and the Pentagon may have to evacuate them.
The presence of American soldiers in Ukraine is nothing new: since 2015, American National Guard reservists have been rotating there to train and train the Ukrainian army, alongside soldiers from other NATO countries, especially Canadians and Germans.
Some 200 Florida National Guard reservists arrived at the Yavoriv International Training Center in western Ukraine at the end of November to participate in a training and assistance mission for the Ukrainian army.
They are “currently deployed to Ukraine on this rotational advise and assist mission, they are participating in training, and we expect that mission to continue,” Pentagon spokesman John Pentagon said on Tuesday. Kirby.
“We continue to observe the situation on the ground, and if we have to make decisions to protect our forces, we will do so,” he added, as the White House estimated on Wednesday that Russia could launch an attack. in Ukraine “at any time”.
Since 2015, the US National Guard – reservists who participate in disaster relief operations in the United States but also in training and training operations around the world – have carried out eight nine-month rotations in Ukraine .
The current National Guard rotation in Ukraine is scheduled to last until the end of June.
The center of Yavoriv is located in the far west of Ukraine, only about fifteen kilometers from the Polish border, and the American soldiers do not seem to be at immediate risk in the event of a Russian invasion.
This image taken by the Russian Defense Ministry shows its army during a joint military exercise with Belarus on September 13, 2021 east of Moscow. (Russian Defense Ministry / Handout)
According to Westerners, Russia has massed more than 100,000 men near its borders with Ukraine, in the east of the country. Russian troops also arrived Tuesday in Belarus, another country bordering Ukraine, officially for training maneuvers.
Russia denies any bellicose intentions with regard to Ukraine and says it is threatened by the strengthening of NATO in the region since the fall of the USSR.
– Special forces present –
In addition to these reservists, the US military has deployed elite special forces soldiers to Ukraine, where they are helping train Ukrainian special forces, a spokesman for the US Department of Defense told AFP. Lieutenant Colonel Anton Semelroth.
“For security reasons, we cannot disclose their number,” he added.
US Special Forces typically deploy small groups of elite soldiers, trained to operate in near autonomy.
US soldiers in western Ukraine during an exercise with many other Western armies on June 24, 2015 ( AFP / YURIY DYACHYSHYN )
They “play a big role in the development of the Ukrainian special forces by validating their training”, underlined the spokesman. “Our support and training is intended to strengthen relations (with Kyiv) and affirm the United States’ commitment to ensuring the success of a stable and free Ukraine.”
American soldiers are notably training their Ukrainian counterparts in the handling of the armament that Washington has provided to Ukraine, in particular small arms, patrol ships and Javelin anti-tank missile launchers.
The United States announced on Wednesday the release of an additional $200 million in security assistance to Ukraine, in addition to the $450 million released before the movement of Russian troops to the Ukrainian border at the end of the last year.
Asked last month about the possibility that American soldiers present in the country could participate in a possible conflict alongside the Ukrainian army, Defense Minister Lloyd Austin had evaded the question.
“I think that in situations like this, announcing red lines that should not be crossed only exacerbates the problem,” he told the trade journal Defense One. “We need to focus on ways to reduce tensions.”
These American soldiers present on the ground could play a role if an evacuation of American nationals in Ukraine proves necessary in the face of an advance by the Russian army.
The State Department estimates between 10,000 and 15,000 the number of American nationals in Ukraine.