The Biden administration is in the early stages of discussions about sending special operations forces into Ukraine to help guard the US Embassy in Kyiv, several US officials tell CNN.
The discussions are in very preliminary stages and a proposal has not been presented to President Joe Biden for a decision, the sources added.
For now, the embassy and its limited number of personnel are protected by State Department diplomatic security officials. The discussion centers around whether an increase in security is needed if the number of personnel increase, and whether special operations forces are best equipped to fulfill those requirements.
The Wall Street Journal first reported that special operations forces are being considered for embassy security.
US Marines typically guard US embassies around the world, but in Kyiv, for now, there is a general agreement that the typical Marine Corps embassy guard personnel may not be suited to the uncertain security picture in Ukraine without additional forces, officials say.
Last week, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the Department of Defense was having conversations with the State Department about what their security requirements might look like.
“We are having that conversation with the State Department about what their security requirements might look like, but it’s ultimately up to the secretary of state to determine there or anywhere else around the world, how he wants to better secure and protect his diplomats, and if there’s a role we can play, then we will absolutely have that discussion with them,” Kirby said.
On Monday afternoon, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told a press conference at the Pentagon that talks about returning a small number of troops to Ukraine are “underway at a relatively low level.”
Those plans “have not made it to the Secretary or myself for that matter for refinement of courses of action and what’s needed,” Milley said. “At the end of the day any reintroduction of US forces into Ukraine would require a presidential decision,” he added.
But he made clear a final decision is some way off, “we’re a ways away from anything like that, we’re still developing courses of action and none of that’s been presented yet to the Secretary,” Milley said.
The US doesn’t believe Russia would overtly attack the embassy. But the concern is that Russia air defenses or missiles could inadvertently target the compound and the situation could dramatically escalate the situation, officials say. US officials say Russia has a thorough understanding on an official basis that the US uses military personnel to guard its embassies around the world and any presence should not be viewed as escalatory. Still, an introduction of US forces into Ukraine could raise concerns that it could lead to a perception of US escalation since Biden has been adamant that US ground troops will not fight in Ukraine.
The concern is that if special operations forces go into Ukraine, then the US must be able to provide a rapid means of getting them and embassy personnel out in a crisis. Currently, the only options are vehicle or rail transport to the border.
For now, there is no appetite at the Pentagon to provide air support such as helicopters or fixed wing transport. If that was done, it could rapidly escalate the US military footprint because of the need to then provide potential rescue and reconnaissance forces if a US plane was shot down down.
The new US ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, was confirmed by the Senate last week but she has yet to arrive in the country. She could enter without Marines or special forces protection, one source said.
The embassy was reopened last week after being closed for about three months.
“Today we are officially resuming operations at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “As we take this momentous step, we have put forward additional measures to increase the safety of our colleagues who are returning to Kyiv and have enhanced our security measures and protocols.”