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Jan. 24, 2022, 3:43 p.m. EST

U.S. places up to 8,500 troops on heightened alert for possible deployment amid Russia tension

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Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — At President Biden’s direction, the Pentagon is putting about 8,500 U.S.-based troops on heightened alert for potential deployment to Europe amid rising fears of a possible Russian military move on Ukraine.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Monday no final decisions had been made on deployments, which he said would happen only if the NATO alliance decides to activate a rapid-response force “or if other situations develop” in connection with tensions over Russia’s military buildup along Ukraine’s borders.

“What this is about is reassurance to our NATO allies,” Kirby said, adding that no troops are intended for deployment to Ukraine itself.

See also : Putin’s ambitions are bigger than Ukraine, says Fiona Hill: ‘He wants to evict the United States from Europe’

Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recommended to Biden that up to 8,500 troops be ordered to prepare for potential deployment to Europe in light of signs that Russian President Vladimir Putin is not de-escalating his military pressure on Ukraine. Kirby said he was not prepared to identify the U.S.-based units because they were still being notified.

“We’ve always said we would reinforce our allies on the eastern flank, and those conversations and discussions have certainly been part of what our national security officials have been discussing with their counterparts now for several weeks,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Later Monday, Biden was to hold a video call with several European leaders on the Russian military buildup and potential responses to an invasion, the White House said.

See also : How a Russian invasion of Ukraine could trigger market shock waves

The Pentagon’s move comes as tensions have soared between Russia and the West over concerns that Moscow is planning to invade Ukraine, with NATO outlining potential troop and ship deployments, Britain saying it would withdraw some diplomats from Kyiv, and Ireland denouncing upcoming Russian war games off its coast.

Prior to the U.S. announcement, the Western alliance’s statement summed up moves already described by member countries, but restating them under the NATO banner appeared aimed at showing resolve. The West is ramping up its rhetoric in the information war that has accompanied the Ukraine standoff.

Russia has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border, demanding that NATO promise it will never allow Ukraine to join and that other actions, such as stationing alliance troops in former Soviet bloc countries, be curtailed. Some of these, like any pledge to permanently bar Ukraine, are nonstarters for NATO — creating a deadlock that many fear can only end in war.

Also read : Russia-Ukraine tensions mean Europe’s natural-gas volatility unlikely to fade

Russia denies it is planning an invasion, and says the Western accusations are merely a cover for NATO’s own planned provocations. Recent days have seen high-stakes diplomacy that failed to reach any breakthrough and maneuvering on both sides.

NATO said Monday it is bolstering its “deterrence” in the Baltic Sea region. Denmark is sending a frigate and deploying F-16 warplanes to Lithuania; Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join NATO naval forces; and France stands ready to send troops to Romania. The Netherlands also plans to send two F-35 fighter aircraft to Bulgaria from April.

NATO will “take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies,” Secretary-General jens Stoltenberg said. “We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defense.”

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was NATO and the U.S. who were behind the escalating tensions, not Russia.

“All this is happening not because of what we, Russia, are doing. This is happening because of what NATO, the U.S. are doing,” Peskov told reporters.

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