By Sam Easter

GRAND FORKS — Leaders from the Upper Midwest are still hoping to avoid the outbreak of war in Eastern Europe, even as Russia masses troops near Ukraine’s border — and as U.S. troops are placed on high alert.

With Russian troops poised on the border of Ukraine — and lots of talk of U.S. troop movements, sanctions and more — the future of eastern Europe hasn’t looked so cloudy in decades. That’s led to all kinds of wild speculation. What would happen, after all, if Russia triggered a ground war? What would happen to Ukraine?

And one of the most pressing questions: What would happen to U.S. troops?

“There are a lot of questions going on around that, but number one, we should never put our troops in an unwinnable situation,” Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., said. “That absolutely has to be first and foremost as our priority.”

And if Russia invades Ukraine?

“It certainly doesn’t mean moving troops to Ukraine,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who joined a congressional delegation to Ukraine amid the crisis earlier this month. “But it would certainly mean, at the very least, an increase in providing weapons — lethal weapons that will have an impact on Ukraine’s ability to defend itself.”

The comments come as the U.S. attempts to chart a course that repels a potential Russian invasion while still avoiding war in Europe — preserving peace, trade stability and democratic values.

“Both our allies and our adversaries are watching this,” Cramer said. “The whole goal here is to deter aggression. Doing nothing might very well facilitate aggression.”

Complicating matters is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline — a gas artery from Russia to the German coast that would make Berlin more economically dependent on Russian President Vladimir Putin. Cramer has been opposed to the pipeline’s completion and use.

“We want to pass a unified message, so let’s pass a sanctions passage that has meat to it, that has increments in its implementation, starting with something like Nord Stream 2 immediately — not after an invasion takes place,” he said.

A Russian troop buildup near Ukraine has stolen headlines for weeks .

“Putin’s military buildup represents the most serious security threat to the region in decades,” Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement provided by his office. “We should adhere to the principle of peace through strength to deter Russia, that includes utilizing strong sanctions as well as working through NATO to shore up the alliance’s eastern flank. We need to ensure Putin never finds a weak spot to attack the most successful security alliance in history.”

Republicans have also seen the moment as a stumble for President Joe Biden, roundly criticizing his comment that a “minor incursion” into Ukraine might not merit as strong a response as a larger one.

“Last week during his press conference, Biden essentially gave Putin a green light to take action in Ukraine,” Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn., said in a statement provided by her office. “Biden ran on foreign policy experience, yet he has mismanaged foreign interactions time and time again.”

A member of the office of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., referred the Herald to some of her past comments on Ukraine. Like Cramer, she also traveled to Ukraine with U.S. officials amid the Russian troop buildup.

“We know the administration from every level, the U.S. administration from the secretary of state to the president himself, have pledged to help this country,” she said.