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Proposed Policy for Military Contractors in Ukraine Draws Criticism

Numerous experts and politicians fear that the decision might escalate the conflict and be counterproductive to U.S. interests.

President Biden Meets With Visiting Ukrainian President Zelensky At The White House

Following reports that the Biden administration is seeking to allow U.S. military contractors to deploy to Ukraine, ostensibly for the purpose of servicing American-made equipment, backlash has been brewing among foreign policy realists, both politicians and experts. 

Will Ruger, the President of the American Institute of Economic Research and Trump nominee for ambassador to Afghanistan in 2020, highlighted the dangerous position that American contractors might be placed in by this policy change.


“The idea of having American contractors in harm’s way would create the possibility of inadvertent or intentional targeting that results in casualties to our countrymen; such casualties could put pressure on the administration to sink deeper into the war,” Ruger told The American Conservative

“We don’t want to see a repeat of past experiences where we slowly sunk deeper and deeper into conflicts that were unnecessary from the standpoint of our vital national interests,” he added. “American casualties, even by contractors, would create too high a risk.” Ruger suggested that the U.S. instead “avoid taking any steps that would further our involvement in a conflict that implicates few vital national interests.”

Anatol Lieven, the Director of the Eurasia Program at the Quincy Institute, also highlighted the danger posed to Americans. “The Russians will definitely try to kill U.S. contractors,” Lieven told TAC. He added that such an occurrence would not be wholly unprecedented; in Syria, the U.S. killed the mercenaries of the Russian Wagner group, and Russia has targeted former French Foreign Legionnaires fighting on behalf of the Ukrainian army.  

Zachary Paikin, a Research Fellow in the Grand Strategy Program at the Quincy Institute, who has written about the risks of such the proposed policy in the past, told TAC that the Biden administration’s move will not necessarily change Moscow’s perception of U.S. involvement in Ukraine. Rather, it will reinforce the dominant perception in Moscow which views “this war not as a Russo–Ukrainian conflict but as a direct conflict with NATO occurring on Ukrainian soil.” 

Paikin added that the “degree of Western involvement and risk-taking has increased throughout the conflict.”


“Russia has been careful to calibrate its responses so far,” he cautioned. “Just because we haven’t seen substantial horizontal [geographical] or vertical [intensity of the conflict] escalation so far doesn’t mean we can extrapolate this trend indefinitely into the future.” 

Elaborating on the risks of escalation from either this policy or another, Paikin said, “At some point, a genuine red line may be crossed, even if inadvertently. I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but it’s better to err on the side of caution—I don’t think this war can go on indefinitely at the current threshold of violence and restricted to the current geographic scope.” 

Joe Kent, a Republican candidate for Washington’s competitive Third Congressional District, zeroed in on the issue. “The Biden administration publicly considering deploying U.S. contractors to Ukraine is escalatory and reckless,” Kent told TAC. “The introduction of ‘contractors’ and/or ‘advisors’ is how Vietnam and other disasters have begun.”

Kent added that “regardless of what parameters are put on U.S. contractors they would rightly be viewed as combatants by Russia, putting Americans in direct combat with Russia,” which “would be war” between Russia and America. 

Kent also connected the issue of escalation in Ukraine and the potential for nuclear war to the political stakes of the November election. “Only one political faction and only one leader is talking about ending global conflict and nuclear war, and that is President Trump,” he argued. “Biden has proven that his strategy, or lack thereof, only leads to an escalation of conflict.” 

Kent added that “voting for President Trump is a vote against nuclear war with Russia” and that “we need to end the killing in Ukraine as soon as possible.”

It seems as if the Biden administration has yet to make a final decision concerning the policy. At a June 28 press conference, the Pentagon’s Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh commented that “we have not made any decisions when it comes to U.S. contractors,” and emphasized that “there will not be any U.S. troops on the ground in Ukraine.” Singh declined to comment further.