Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said there is “no question” that American lives are “going to be at stake” if conflict breaks out between Russia and Ukraine amid escalating tensions between the two countries.
Greta Van Susteren asked Panetta in an interview to be aired on Sunday if he anticipates U.S. troops being used in a support capacity or actual fighting.
“I think the president is, I’m sure, thinking of them in a support capacity. But let’s face it, right now there are military advisers, U.S. military advisers in the Ukraine working with the Ukrainians to try to develop their capabilities. And so if something happens, there’s no question that U.S. lives are also going to be at stake here,” Panetta said.
The Obama-era Defense secretary said that he did not believe that sanctions against Russia “are the issue that is going to turn this around,” though he noted that certain sanctions could be used to hurt the country.
“But I think this comes down still to a military issue because I think what will persuade Putin is whether or not, if he engages in war, he could get a black eye. And one thing bullies don’t like to do is to get a black eye,” Panetta explained. “And I think that’s where our strongest leverage is.”
“So I think supply to the Ukrainians, moving our forces up into NATO, deploying our aircraft and our ships … I think that’s the most important deterrent we have right now with regards to Russia,” he added.
Panetta estimated that Russian President Vladimir Putin had three options on how to proceed amid the rising tensions: invade Ukraine; negotiate an agreement with regards to Russian security; or keep troops amassed at the border, which would be “a continued version of the status quo.”
“I don’t think that this can go on for a long period of time. It wears you down. You’ve got troops at the high readiness who are located there,” Panetta said of Russia’s troops near the Ukrainian border. “That really takes a lot out of a unit to be constantly prepared to engage. And I don’t think that that can be a position that they take indefinitely. I think that Putin within the next few weeks has to make a decision what path he’s going to take.”
The comments from Panetta come as President Biden on Friday told reporters that a small number of U.S. troops would soon be deployed to eastern Europe.
“I’ll be moving troops to Eastern Europe in the NATO countries in the near term,” Biden said at Joint Base Andrews upon returning from a trip to Pittsburgh. “Not too many.”
More than 100,000 Russian troops have been amassed at the Ukrainian border amid international concerns that Russia is readying itself to invade the former Soviet nation. Russia, for its part, has denied such intent.