Russia invaded its neighbor, Ukraine, in February 2022. Since that time, US involvement in the conflict has continued to grow. At every step of the way, President Joe Biden and his White House have made promises on the limits of that engagement, and time and time again, those promises have been broken.
Reporters in the White House briefing room have asked about the ever changing limits, the lines that keep being drawn then crossed, and what they have heard back are excuses and equivocations.
"That's called World War 3," Biden said in March 2022 when asked if the US would provide F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine.
"The idea that we’re going to send in offensive equipment and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews — just understand, don’t kid yourself, no matter what y’all say, that’s called World War III," Biden said.
Biden was asked outright in January 2023 if the US would send F-16s to Ukraine.
"No," he said.
Ukraine's President Voldymyr Zelensky had been asking for the jets, but for the Biden administration, this was basically a non-starter — or at least that's what they said. Reasons for not sending them included the lack of training for Ukrainian pilots and their lack of knowledge to maintain the high-tech jets.
On March 16, 2023, the White House repeated the promise that F-16s would not go to Ukraine. This came as Poland sent some of their Russian, MiG-29 jets to aid the war effort. US National Security Council spokesman, John Kirby, said that Poland's plan to send jets did not change the US policy. That "doesn't change our calculus with regards to F-16s," Kirby said.
Yet, on March 4, Ukrainian fighter pilots were trained on F-16 simulators in Arizona. This was called a "familiarization event." A defense official said at the time, "This event allows us to better help Ukrainian pilots become more effective pilots and better advise them on how to develop their own capabilities."
By May, Biden authorized the sending of F-16s to Ukraine from US allies in the G7 who had their own stock of the jets. The administration seems to think that because the US didn't directly send the planes, but instead allowed others to send them, this wasn't a breach of policy. Russia warned that they saw this move as a US and allied escalation in the conflict.
Biden authorized the sending of Abrams Tanks to Ukraine in January. This is despite his administration having previously claimed such a move would lead to global conflict. In March 2022, Biden said that "The idea that we're going to send in offensive equipment and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews, just understand, that's called World War 3, okay?"
The commitment to send tanks in January 2023 made many recall these remarks, and numerous fact-checkers rushed to deny they happened. They instead claimed Biden didn't ever says sending tanks to Ukraine would be an indication that World War 3 was imminent. However, Biden directly said sending "offensive equipment," including "planes and tanks" would be "called World War 3."
The reversal of that sentiment, and the plan to send the equipment, appeared to be an appeasement measure to Germany. They were sending their own Leopard tanks to Ukraine, and essentially wanted another ally in on the risk. The German concern was that Russia would see this as a threat, or an act of war. Biden said the plan to send tanks offered "no offensive threat to Russia."
The reason behind not wanting to send the Abrams tanks, according to defense officials, was essentially logistical. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that repair and fueling were the primary concerns. Another official, Colin Kahl, said "The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment." Going on, he said that "we should not be providing the Ukrainians systems they can’t repair, they can’t sustain, and that they, over the long term, can’t afford, because it’s not helpful."
That was not, however, matched by Biden's initial statement on the tanks, which clearly indicated that tanks would be an escalation of hostlities which could drag the US further into war with Russia, and create a global conflict.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in September 2022 that where tanks were concerned, the administration was "not ruling anything out." The refusal to send tanks wasn't necessarily a broken promise, but it was an area where the administration continuously indicated that it was not in the best interest of the United States, Europe, nor the Ukrainians to send the tanks. Yet eventually, under pressure from Zelensky and allies, the US capitulated and committed to the manufacturing of 31 tanks for Ukraine's war effort — the number needed to equip an entire battalion.
As part of that commitment, the US promised to "work to establish a comprehensive training program," saying that "tanks are complex systems that require a significant amount of training and maintenance. So, DoD is currently working through the mechanisms to deliver the fuel and equipment Ukraine will need to operate and to maintain the Abrams."
When asked about the change in policy, a senior official with the Biden White House, speaking on background, told reporters that "one of the things that we’ve been trying to do is do the best we can to evolve the capabilities we’re providing with — to Ukraine with the war itself."
The official went on to say, "[K]eeping unity inside the alliance and with our partners has also been really important for us. And so, coupled with this near-term commitment that the Germans have made on Leopards, you know, we think that this contribution by us with the Abrams represents the long-term commitment."
Shortly after the invasion, on February 28, 2022, then White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked about munitions. "There are reports of illegal cluster bombs and vacuum bombs being used by the Russians," a reporter asked. "If that’s true, what is the next step of this administration? And is there a red line for how much violence will be tolerated against civilians in this manner that’s illegal and potentially a war crime?"
In response, Psaki said that yes, the use of cluster bombs would be considered a war crime. "It is — it would be. I don’t have any confirmation of that. We have seen the reports. If that were true, it would potentially be a war crime," she said.
Cluster bombs, which release bomblets, are banned under a 2008 treaty signed by some 108 nations. The main issue is that when released, many of the bomblets don't detonate, which essentially means that they leave behind landmines. These can be found years later by unsuspecting civilians who simply happen upon them where they lay. The likelihood of future, unintended casualties long after the end of the war are what make use of these bombs considered a war crime.
The message on what these bombs are, and what they signify, has since changed radically. On July 7, 2023, it became clear that the US would be providing cluster bombs to Ukraine so that they could use them against the very same enemy we said would be engaging in war crimes if they used them.
News came earlier in the week that Biden was considering the authorization of cluster bombs being sent to Ukraine, and then word came that he had approved it. In part, his approval, he said, was because Ukraine was running out of ammunition. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said as much when he addressed the press.
Sullivan said that Ukraine needs more ammunition, but that it hasn't yet been produced, and that it would take time to manufacture the munitions they need. So in the meantime, to provide a "bridge," cluster bombs would be sent.
In defense of the weapons, Sullivan said that Russia is already using them, and Russia uses cluster bombs more likely to leave undetonated explosives behind. "Ukraine has been requesting cluster munitions in order to defend its own sovereign territory. The cluster munitions that we would provide have dud rates far below what Russia is doing — is providing — not higher than 2.5 percent," he said.
The implication, based on the words of the White House since the beginning of this conflict, is that the US is now engaged in war crimes only justified because the enemy of Ukraine is doing it too.
In May 2022, Biden told reporters on the south lawn of the White House, "We're not going to send to Ukraine rocket systems that can strike Russia." Yet Ukraine is making demands for the equipment, and as with tanks, fighter jets, and cluster bombs, it's reasonable to believe that Ukraine will get its way.
The US has provided Ukraine with over 30 HIMARS rockets (High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems), and aids Ukraine by providing coordinates for targets. Ukrainian forces provide US military officials with the target they wish to strikeand then the US supplies exact coordinates. Ukraine does this in order to not waste munitions provided by the US.
However, Ukraine wants rocket systems that can travel further. They have been asking the US for the Army Tactical Missile System, which can travel up to 185 miles. They promised they wouldn't use them to strike within Russia.
A Ukrainian official said that the arrangement where Ukrainian forces seek coordinates from the US before firing rockets is essentially a fail-safe. "You’re controlling every shot anyway, so when you say, ‘We’re afraid that you’re going to use it for some other purposes,’ well, we can’t do it even if we want to."
A US official shot back that this was "not true," and that "Ukrainians run targets by us for approval," meaning that Ukraine, once in possession of the long-range rockets, could do as they please with them, including not run the targets by the US.
It is believed that if Ukraine had longer range missiles they would target strategic Russian positions in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014 and now claims as part of Russia. For Zelensky, there is no end to the war without reuniting Crimea with the rest of Ukraine.
US forces in Ukraine
Biden gave a speech in March 2022 in which he promised that "our forces are not engaged and will not engage in conflict with Russian forces in Ukraine."
"Our forces are not going to Europe to fight in Ukraine, but to defend our NATO Allies – in the event that Putin decides to keep moving west," he said.
"For that purpose," Biden stated, "we’ve mobilized American ground forces, air squadrons, and ship deployments to protect NATO countries including Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia."
In March of 2022, Biden addressed troops in Poland and said they would be able to see the conditions of Ukraine. He also mentioned that troops had already been to the country. "Look at how they're stepping up," Biden said. "You're going to see, when you're there, and some of you have been there, you're going to see women, young people, standing in the middle, in front of the damn tank, just saying, 'I'm not leaving. I'm holding my ground.' They're incredible."
A series of documents leaked by National Guard Airman Jack Teixeira to his friends on a Discord server showed that the US and our UK allies already have special forces teams on the ground in Ukraine. The leak also revealed there are no peace talks in sight, nor does the Biden administration believe the war will end quickly.
After the leak, the Pentagon was asked about the implication that there are US forces in Ukraine. ABC News reported that there were special forces operating out of the US embassy in Kyiv. According to an official they spoke to, "in addition to providing assistance with the oversight of U.S. equipment and supplies being sent to Ukraine, the team has assisted Ukrainian military planners with operations that have resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of Russian military casualties."
The leaked documents stated that there were 14 special operations forces from the US in Ukraine by February 2023, and that there were 97 special operations forces from five allied NATO countries, including the UK.
War with Russia?
The biggest promise made by the Biden administration is that the US will not go to war with Russia.
The US has been backing Ukraine with security assistance in the form of military equipment, armaments, and munitions.
These include: 8,000 Javelin and 1,600 Stingers, 160 howitzers and 38 High Mobility Artillery Rocket systems, 109 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and tanks, more than one million rounds of artillery ammunition; more than 100,000 rounds of 125mm tank ammunition; and 100,000 rounds of small arms ammunition.
The US has also provided helicopters, Unmanned Coastal Defense Vessels, and counter-UAV systems and equipment.
The US has provided humanitarian assistance; democracy, human rights, and anti-corruption assistance. The latter includes "$220 million for Ukraine to support media freedom and enable Ukrainian media outlets to continue operating during the war, to counter disinformation, increase the safety and security of activists and vulnerable groups, strengthen democratic and anti-corruption institutions, and support accountability for human rights abuses and violations of international law."
Additional funding has been given for diplomatic initiatives to hold Russia "accountable;" to engage in economic sanctions against Russia; and to provide energy assistance and security along with economic assistance.
This has been a multi-billion dollar investment in helping Ukraine fend off Russia, and Biden has promised that the US would see it through to the end. But what that end looks like, or how it would be defined, is not only unclear but has not been addressed by an administration that continues to break its promises to the American people.