NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, U.S. Air Force General Phillip Breedlove, told the Associated Press Wednesday that American troops could be deployed to Eastern Europe.
Breedlove has been asked to draft countermoves to respond to Russia’s troop buildup along the Ukrainian border. He said that in drafting those measures he wouldn’t "write off involvement by any nation, to include the United States.”
Russian troops took control of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March. Citizens there then voted in a referendum to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. Since that time, the United States and its NATO allies have been concerned that Russia may move further into Ukraine or other countries.
Breedlove said the response from NATO will likely involve many forces.
"Essentially what we are looking at is a package of land, air and maritime measures that would build assurance for our easternmost allies," he said. "I'm tasked to deliver this by next week. I fully intend to deliver it early."
The NATO commander also noted that such a response must be done carefully so as not to provoke Russia.
"The tougher piece is, how do we do the assurance piece on the land," the general said. "Because these are measures which are more costly [and] if not done correctly, might appear provocative. And everything we are trying to do in the air, on the ground and at sea we are trying to completely characterize as defensive in nature.”
The U.S. has gone to great lengths to minimize that provocative appearance. The Obama administration has only agreed to send food rations to Ukrainian troops thus far.
According to The Daily Beast, the White House also recently decided not to share U.S. satellite images with Ukraine. Those images would give the Ukrainian military important intelligence about the Russian troop buildup along its border.
That was seen as a significant move by the current administration because analysts now believe that the buildup is a definite sign of an impending invasion, as opposed to simple readiness exercises.
Stephen Blank, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, said the presence of mobile military hospitals was a telltale sign.
“Mobile military hospitals mean preparation for war, it means they are preparing to take casualties,” he said.
Breedlove said the time it takes to plan will not reflect a shortage options but rather the planning around how to tread lightly in the face of the estimated buildup of 80,000 Russian troops.
"There is not a shortage of what we can us.,” he said. "It's how do we use this in a measured way that indicates defensive capability so that we don't provoke. And that's what we will be working on,"