Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday expressed concern at “reports of unusual Russian military activity near Ukraine.”
“We’re monitoring the region very closely,” Blinken said. “As we always do, we’ll continue to consult closely as well with allies and partners on the issue.”
He added: “And as we’ve made clear, any escalatory or aggressive actions would be of great concern to the United States.”
Blinken said the Biden administration continues to support “de-escalation… in the region, and diplomatic resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.”
In a warning to Russia, Blinken said Biden administration officials “know it’s playbook,” pointing to Ukraine’s escalation in 2014 under the Obama administration.
“Our concern is that Russia may make a serious mistake of attempting to rehash what it undertook back in 2014, when it amassed forces along the border, crossed into sovereign Ukrainian territory and did so claiming falsely that it was provoked,” Blinken said.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Ukrainian officials Wednesday, where he “emphasized the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Meanwhile, as the Biden administration expresses its concern about the activity, House Republicans are looking for a harder line approach – with GOP members of the House Armed Services Committee urging President Biden to deploy troops to the region.
In a letter to the president, led by the top Republican on the committee Rep. Mike Rogers and the top Republican on the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, Rep. Mike Turner, they urged the administration to “take immediate and swift action to provide support to Ukraine in the form of intelligence and weapons.”
“We also urge your administration to deploy a U.S. military presence in the Black Sea to deter a Russian invasion,” they wrote, adding that Russia’s behavior “is becoming more aggressive” and “has intensified rhetoric critical of Ukraine on topics ranging from Ukraine’s military modernization and military partnerships to Ukraine’s admission into NATO.”
“Although Russia’s intentions are uncertain, the presence of Russia’s elite 1st Guard Tanks Army lends credibility to concerns that Russia is planning additional incursions into Ukraine territory,” they wrote.
“Your administration cannot ignore Russia’s continued threat to international law and Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty,” they added.
The Republicans reminded the administration that, in September, they committed $60 million in military aid to Ukraine due to a “major increase in Russian military activity along its border.”
“Since then, Russia’s apparent military activity has continued to increase in intensity,” they wrote, adding that it is “imperative that the U.S. fulfill its commitment to a key partner by increasing lethal aid to Ukraine in order to deter and repel a renewed Russian incursion.”
The Republicans also urged the administration to “immediately consider an appropriate U.S. military presence and posture in the region and to initiate appropriate intelligence sharing activities between the U.S. and Ukraine to prevent the situation from escalating further.”
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said last week that about 90,000 Russian troops are stationed not far from the border and in rebel-controlled areas in Ukraine’s east. It said specifically that units of the Russian 41st army have remained in Yelnya, about 160 miles (260 kilometers) north of the Ukrainian border.
Russia has cast its weight behind a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s east that erupted shortly after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and has left more than 14,000 people dead. Russia has repeatedly denied any presence of its troops in eastern Ukraine.
Earlier this year, a massive buildup of Russian troops in the country’s west raised concern in Ukraine and in the West, fueling fears of an escalation of large-scale hostilities.
Russian officials said the troops were deployed for maneuvers, casting them as part of measures to counter security threats posed by the deployment of NATO forces near Russian borders. Russia and the alliance also have blamed each other for conducting destabilizing military exercises near the borders.
Rogers, appearing on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Wednesday, pressed for U.S. military aid to Ukraine.
“We’ve not asked anybody to go to war with Russia, or send troops to Russia for Ukraine for the purposes of going to war with Russia,” Rogers explained. “But it is incredibly important that they be providing lethal weapons and intelligence.”
Rogers, pointing to the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal of U.S. military from Afghanistan, warned that “both Russia and China are now looking at threatening their neighbors – including Taiwan, including Ukraine – countries that are important to our allies.”
He added: “Ukraine is a democracy. Russia is an authoritarian regime that is seeking to impose its will on a valuably elected democracy in Ukraine.”
“We’re on the side of democracy,” Rogers continued. “We’re not for authoritarian regimes and changing borders by tanks.”
He added: “Russians are not showing up on the border with ballot boxes, they are showing up with tanks.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.