President Biden appeared to let slip Monday that US troops are training Ukrainian forces in Poland — contradicting his national security adviser and creating more confusion about the 82nd Airborne’s mission in Eastern Europe during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Biden was trying to clarify remarks he made on Friday, when he told American forces in Poland: “You’re going to see when you’re there, and some of you have been there, you’re gonna see — you’re gonna see women, young people standing in the middle — in front of a damned tank just saying, ‘I’m not leaving, I’m holding my ground’.”
A White House official quickly told The Post that “the president has been clear we are not sending US troops to Ukraine and there is no change in that position.”
On Monday, under questioning from Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy, Biden insisted he had been misunderstood.
“I was talking to the troops. We were talking about helping train the troops in — that are — the Ukrainian troops that are in Poland,” he said. “That’s what the context [was]. I sat there with those guys for a couple hours. That’s what we talked about.”
“So when you said, ‘You’re going to see when you’re there,’ you were not intending to send US troops?” Doocy asked.
“I was referring to with — being with and talking with the Ukrainian troops who are in Poland,” the president insisted.
It was not immediately clear whether Biden misspoke or misused the word “training” to describe interactions between American and Ukrainian military personnel in Poland.
The Pentagon referred requests from The Post for clarification on the president’s Monday remarks to the National Security Council, which didn’t immediately respond.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) raised the possibility that Biden had revealed the existence of a classified American military training program in a public setting.
“It may be that he’s explaining secrets on national television,” Cruz told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Monday evening. “Every time he explains one thing, it gets worse and worse and worse, and we’ve got nuclear weapons pointed at each other. It is incredibly dangerous, this kind of presidential weakness.”
Last week, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters that “we do not have US troops currently training Ukrainians.
“We do not have US troops on the territory of Ukraine. We do, of course, have US troops defending NATO territory, providing reassurance to our allies, deterring Russian aggression,” Sullivan said.
“And, of course, the United States is playing a key role not just in the direct provision of military equipment to Ukraine but in the facilitation of military equipment provided by many of our allies as well,” he added.
The US has provided $2 billion in military aid to Ukraine, but has drawn the line at putting American boots on the ground in the country, believing that their presence could escalate the war. It is not clear whether Russia would view the US training Ukraine’s military as a similar escalation.
The 5,000 members of the 82nd Airborne were deployed to Poland in early February as hundreds of thousands of Russian troops were stationed along Ukraine’s border to bolster the presence of NATO troops and counter the Russian military buildup.
“The president has made clear that US troops are not going to be fighting in Ukraine. The troops that we have added to the already 80,000 that are based in Europe are going to reassure our allies and our partners to deter aggression against the alliance to conduct some joint training,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a briefing on Feb. 14.
Biden blurted out his Monday comments as he was peppered about a Saturday speech in Warsaw during which he said Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power.”
The White House scrambled to clarify that the president was not calling for regime change in his off-the-cuff comments near the end of a 27-minute speech.
On Monday, Biden refuted his staff, saying: “I’m not walking anything back.”
“I was expressing just what I said,” the president attempted to explain. “I was expressing the moral outrage I felt toward this man. I wasn’t articulating a policy change.”