- Mitch McConnell says he's encouraged by the White House's handling of Russian aggression in Ukraine.
- Donald Trump previously made the misleading suggestion that the current crisis wouldn't have happened under his watch.
- The Pentagon said on Monday that it has put 8,5000 US troops on heightened alert.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that the White House "is moving in the right direction" in considering a deployment of troops to Eastern Europe amid concerns Russia is on the cusp of invading Ukraine.
"They're preparing to take steps before an incursion and not afterwards," McConnell told reporters back in Kentucky, per a video from WYMT-TV. "It appears to me that the administration is moving in the right direction."
McConnell added that he has pressed the White House from the beginning to get Ukraine access to surface-to-air Stinger missiles and anti-tank weapons immediately; the US began sending Javelin anti-tank weapons to Ukraine in 2018 under a deal approved by the Trump administration.
McConnell also favors moving NATO and some US troops into Poland, Romania, and the Baltics — countries the US is pledged to defend via the NATO charter — as a further check on Russia's actions.
The Pentagon on Monday said that 8,500 US troops are on heightened alert over the Ukraine crisis, following reports that the Biden administration was weighing sending thousands of troops to Eastern Europe.McConnell told CNN on Monday that he'd spoken with White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan regarding taking actions prior to a potential invasion by Russia. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have both requested that top officials brief lawmakers directly as Russia shows no sign of backing down.
Russia in recent months has gathered roughly 100,000 troops on Ukraine's border, raising alarm across the West about the prospect of an invasion. The Kremlin has said it has no plans to stage a military incursion, but has dismissed calls from European leaders and the US to withdraw its troops from Ukraine's border.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has blamed the contentious dynamic on NATO, while making demands for binding security guarantees that both Washington and the alliance have dismissed as non-starters. This includes insisting that NATO prohibit Ukraine and Georgia, two former Soviet republics Russia has invaded in the past 15 years, from ever joining the alliance. NATO has remained adamant that its open-door policy is non-negotiable.
The US has sought to resolve the hostilities via diplomacy, but there haven't been any major breakthroughs in ongoing talks with Russia. The Biden administration has warned Russia that it would face severe consequences, including harsh new sanctions, if it invades.
McConnell's measured praise for Biden's approach to the situation stands in stark contrast with recent comments from former President Donald Trump, who on Monday claimed the Russia-Ukraine crisis would not be happening under his watch.
Trump was impeached in 2019, in part, for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden over baseless allegations while simultaneously withholding roughly $400 million in congressionally-approved military aid from Kyiv. According to the White House transcript of that call, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the country was interested in buying more Javelins, to which Trump replied: "I would like you to do us a favor though," and demanded he open an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
The Kentucky Republican also recently joined Republicans in criticizing Biden after the president last Wednesday seemed to suggest that a "minor incursion" by Russia into Ukraine would lead to a debate between the US and its allies over how to respond. Critics said this undermined the administration's generally hardline stance on the issue.
"Does this mean President Biden will not actually authorize the tough response that his own administration officials have spent weeks promising?" McConnell said last week.
The White House quickly clarified Biden's remarks, but McConnell said the damage couldn't be undone. Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, also took a veiled swipe at Biden over the comment, tweeting, "There are no minor incursions."