No, SECDEF Austin did not threaten to send US troops to fight in Ukraine

Your uncles, cousins, and sons are not being sent to fight against Russia.
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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III testifies before the House Appropriations Committee-Defense on March 23, 2023. (U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Alexander Kubitza/Defense Department)

In case you were worried, the U.S. military is not preparing to send troops to fight in Ukraine if Congress fails to approve more military assistance for the Ukrainians.

A rumor began to circulate  after former Fox News personality Tucker Carlson posted on X last week that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had warned lawmakers that “We’ll send your uncles, cousins and sons to fight Russia” if Congress failed to approve more funding for Ukraine.

It should be noted that a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Carlson in 2020 because the general tenor of his show makes it obvious to viewers that Carlson is “not ‘stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses.”

Still, many veterans have been understandably worried that the United States could be pulled into Russia’s war against Ukraine, especially after President Joe Biden issued an executive order this summer that allowed the Defense Department to mobilize up to 450 members of the Individual Ready Reserve in case they were needed to deploy to Europe.

National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson was adamant on Tuesday that the Biden administration is not considering becoming a belligerent in the Ukraine war.

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“As President Biden has said repeatedly, we have no plans to send U.S. troops to Ukraine to fight against the Russians,” Watson told Task & Purpose.

A U.S. official told Task & Purpose that Austin had not threatened to send American troops into battle over a funding fight. Instead, he warned members of Congress about the consequences if Russian President Vladimir Putin succeeds in subjugating Ukraine.

“Secretary Austin highlighted that U.S. forces might be forced into a fight to defend NATO on the ground in Europe if Putin wins against Ukraine,” said the U.S. official, who declined to elaborate further because the meeting was held behind closed doors. 

A source familiar with Austin’s Dec. 5 meeting with lawmakers told Task & Purpose that Austin repeated an argument often made by Biden administration officials that, should Putin win in Ukraine, he might next attack members of NATO.

defense secretary lloyd austin
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (Department of Defense)

X  has included a reader’s note under Carlson’s post with a link to a story from The Messenger which reported similar comments from Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, following the Dec. 5 meeting.

McCaul warned that if Putin wins in Ukraine, he’ll target Moldova, Georgia, and possibly the Baltic states, which are members of NATO, causing the U.S. to have to deploy more troops to the region, The Messenger reported.

“That’s what we’re trying to avoid,” McCaul said.

Task & Purpose was unable to reach Carlson for comment. Emails sent to the press contact for his new company Tucker Carlson Media bounced back.

Even before Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine, Carlson has consistently been seen as supporting  Russian goals. In March 2022, the Kremlin urged state-run media to include Carlson’s comments about Russia and Ukraine as often as possible, according to Mother Jones.

Carlson is often cited by Russian propaganda and his post about Austin allegedly threatening to send U.S. troops to war has been widely reported by Russian media, said Olga Lautman, an expert on Russia and Ukraine who works with the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C., and The Institute for European Integrity in Brussels, Belgium.

Russia, meanwhile, has openly discussed invading the Baltic States and seeking revenge against Poland, which is also a member of NATO, Lautman told Task & Purpose.

In July, Putin claimed that Poland wanted to expand its territory into Belarus, warning that Russia would respond to any Polish incursion “with all the means at our disposal.” Putin also said that the Warsaw government needed to be reminded that parts of Germany that Poland absorbed after World War II were a “gift from Stalin.”

When asked on Tuesday what evidence the Defense Department has that Putin could target NATO countries, Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, said “past performance is usually an indicator of future performance.”

“The concern here is yes: If Putin were allowed to win, Russia won’t stop,” Ryder told reporters during a news briefing. “They will move on to other countries and attempt to either invade or destabilize. And so, this does put us in a situation where NATO could be threatened and U.S. requirements and commitments under Article 5 [of the North Atlantic Treaty] would be something that we obviously take very seriously.”

UPDATE: 12/12/2023; this story was updated with a statement from National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson.

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