If the conflict between Russia and Ukraine deepens, the United States should send more troops to reinforce its military presence in Europe, the head of Sweden’s armed forces says.
Gen. Micael Bydén, the Swedish supreme commander, spoke to POLITICO Thursday amid a visit to Washington where he met with counterparts including Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Russia’s menacing of Ukraine is top of mind for Sweden as well as neighboring countries. President Vladimir Putin has amassed nearly 100,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, which Moscow earlier invaded in 2014.
The United States and its European allies have warned Putin that Russia will face severe sanctions and other penalties should he attempt another incursion, and that they will not waver in their military support for Ukraine.
President Joe Biden has indicated, however, that he won’t send American troops to directly fight in that ongoing war.
Bydén, whose country is not part of NATO but works closely with the military alliance, said America should send military reinforcements to Europe if the Russia-Ukraine crisis takes a turn for the worse.
He didn’t define what he meant by that, but responded affirmatively when asked if he’d like to see more U.S. troops in his neighborhood should Russia take the step of once again invading Ukraine.
“If the situation — I wouldn’t say ‘require’ because that’s the wrong word — but if the situation would worsen, I do believe it would be good to have a bigger footprint,” Bydén said.
Asked where the troops should go, the Swede said, “probably where they are today. Because you have bases in Europe. It’s not like you’re not there. It’s more it’s more like… reinforce what you have… More people, more capabilities.”
Sweden does not host any U.S. military bases.
Poland has long been eager to add more U.S. troops to the 5,500 it already hosts under an agreement struck during the Trump administration. Latvia also has appealed for a bigger U.S. presence, either on a rotational basis or permanent, and has suggested it would pay some of the costs to base them there.
Bydén declined to say how many more troops the United States should send. He also declined to give details about his meetings with U.S. officials and what each side pledged to the other.
Asked for comment, a Pentagon spokesperson said: “The Department of Defense and the Sweden Ministry of Defense enjoy long-standing cooperation as highlighted in the 2016 Bilateral Statement of Intent. We also enjoy strong trilateral cooperation with Sweden and Finland, both of which are Nordic NATO Enhanced Opportunity Partners.”
The Swedish military leader stressed that European countries should step up their own coordination and actions in the event of a Russian move against Ukraine. But when asked if Sweden would join NATO, he noted that was not in his country’s current government’s plans.
“If we show that we are able to take care of what we should do, the chance to get support from [the] U.S. to a greater extent, more, a bigger footprint in Europe, I think… the chance would be much better.”
“I don’t take it for granted,” he added. “But the support from your country, the relationship, it’s one of the most important parts also for European security.”
Bydén expressed confidence in the ongoing intelligence sharing between the United States and his country. He also said he believes the United States is capable of maintaining strong ties with Europe even as it infuses more resources toward dealing with an increasingly assertive China.
“It’s not either/or for us,” he said. “And I wouldn’t expect the U.S. just to withdraw from Europe because of China, but it’s obvious that you also need to put more effort in that part of the world. I think you can do both.”
He also noted that China and Russia appear to be deepening their military relationship. “We see more of it than before, and it’s a very good question how far they have come,” he said.
Paul McLeary contributed to this report.
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