“We obviously had trainers on the ground for a period of time. We hadn’t — then we pulled them back. We obviously have a significant military presence in a range of countries in the region, but I can see if there’s anything that we are looking ahead to,” Psaki said in response to a question.
The US Defence Department has acknowledged that Moscow is “expanding” its “target sets” in Ukraine, while referring to high-precision strikes carried out by Russian forces at military training facilities in the western part of the country on 13 March. Moscow says around 180 foreign mercenaries were taken out in the strikes.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki hasn’t denied the possibility of US military experts training Ukrainian fighters in European countries bordering Ukraine.
The White House spokeswoman also noted during a press briefing on Monday that American trainers, who had been “on the ground for a period of time” previously, have been “pulled back” for now.
When it was pointed out to her that crossing over of trained Ukrainian fighters from the neighbouring countries — Poland, Slovakia, Hungary or Romania (all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) — could be construed as an “escalatory” measure by Russia, Psaki avoided a direct response.
“I mean, I think, really, our focus right now is on providing them and continuing to expedite the military assistance to them,” Psaki responded.
“And the good news is that we still — through our coordination with them and our NATO Allies, we’re able to get them that assistance on the ground. They’re actively fighting now, so that’s where our focus really is at this point in time,” the press secretary added.
While the US President Joe Biden has until now maintained that the US troops won’t be deployed in Ukraine, successive American administrations have been secretly and openly helping the Kiev authorities since 2015.
According to media reports, besides having provided intelligence support and billions of dollars in arms to Ukrainian forces, experts from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have also provided training to their Ukrainian counterparts at a secret facility in the southern US.
The CIA also reportedly stationed its experts in eastern Ukraine to advise the nation’s paramilitary forces.
Apart from bilateral security, intelligence and logistical assistance, the US until recently was also providing support to Ukraine under NATO’s “Comprehensive Assistance Package (CAP)”, an initiative launched in 2016.
As per NATO, the CAP is aimed at bolstering “Ukraine’s ability to provide for its own security and to implement wide-ranging reforms in the security and defence sector, based on Euro-Atlantic principles”.
While NATO has been careful in not acceding to Ukraine’s several requests to impose a no-fly zone over Kiev in the wake of the launch of the Russian special military operation on 24 February, the Cold War-era military alliance says that it is providing “practical and political” support to the eastern European nation.
“The Alliance is helping to coordinate Ukraine’s requests for assistance and is supporting Allies in the delivery of humanitarian and non-lethal aid,” NATO states on its website.
However, the 30-member military bloc has acknowledged that it has been coordinating the response of its member states, who have sent billions of dollars worth of lethal military equipment, ammunition and other supplies to Ukraine to help it respond to the Russian military operation.
Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby on Monday clearly underlined that the American military and other assistance to Ukraine was not under the “rubric of NATO”.
“These are sovereign decisions that individual nations are making about ways to assist Ukraine,” Kirby remarked.
The eastward expansion of NATO, which has enlisted new members in the former Soviet Union’s territory in five separate waves since 1990, is one of the primary reasons for Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine.
Moscow has offered to put an end to its operations if Kiev enshrines a neutral status in its constitution, which is among the preconditions set by Russia.