Top Defense and State Department officials will brief lawmakers this Thursday on the latest moves by Russian forces near Ukraine as tensions in the region continue to rise amid fears of a looming large-scale military conflict.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley, Secretary of State Blinken Antony Blinken and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines are scheduled to meet with the lawmakers to update them on the latest military intelligence and answer questions about planned White House response.
Senators will meet with the officials on Thursday morning, while House members will hear from them on Thursday afternoon. The meetings are set to take place in a classified setting, and are not open to the public.
In addition, officials from the Treasury and Commerce Departments are expected to be on hand to detail plans for economic and trade sanctions against Russia should they attack Ukraine.
The briefings come after promises last week by White House officials to communicate more closely with members of Congress on what kinds of equipment, personnel and other assistance are being sent to the region to aid Ukrainian forces.
For the last several months, Russian troops have been massing on the border with Ukraine in what many security experts fear is the prelude to another invasion.
Relations between the two countries have been strained since the forced annexation of Crimea by Russian forces in 2014. More than 4,000 Ukrainian defense forces and several hundred Russian troops were killed in that fight.
A Ukrainian military assessment shared with Military Times last week showed more than 109,000 Russian ground troops on alert in the area, with another 21,000 Russian naval and aviation troops arrayed around Ukraine.
President Joe Biden has repeatedly warned that any further invasion of Ukraine by Russia would trigger serious consequences, but also said he would not send U.S. troops to fight there.
However, about 8,500 American service members have been put on alert for possible deployment to areas around Ukraine in response to the Russian actions.
This weekend, a delegation of 10 House Democrats and Republicans led by Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., visited Kyiv to discuss the security situation with local leaders. The trip was the latest in a series for congressional visits in recent weeks.
“While we hope Russia will pursue diplomacy and dialogue as a path to peace, we were there to reassure Ukraine that we will go to great lengths to diplomatically deter and punish the aggressive path Moscow is pursuing,” said Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa. and one of the members on the trip.
“We will push for stronger sanctions and additional security assistance. We also want to reassure our NATO Allies in the east that our commitment to their security is ironclad.”
Numerous lawmakers in recent weeks have backed sending additional military equipment and financial aid to Ukraine in an effort to further deter Russia’s leaders from considering an invasion.
The White House has already sent about $200 million in defensive military equipment to Ukraine, but lawmakers could consider options to increase that amount in coming debates.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.