U.S. puts 8,500 troops on heightened alert amid Russia-Ukraine tensions thumbnail

U.S. puts 8,500 troops on heightened alert amid Russia-Ukraine tensions

The Pentagon announced Monday it has put up to 8,500 U.S. troops on heightened alert to deploy to Eastern Europe as tensions escalated over Russia’s military build-up on its border with Ukraine.

Defense Department press secretary John Kirby told reporters that “prepare to deploy orders” had been issued by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to troops stationed at several installations, although they have not yet been officially activated.

Most of the troops placed on alert are earmarked for NATO’s 40,000-member quick response force, or NRF, but Kirby said Austin is also preparing “for any other contingencies as well.”

“In the event of NATO’s activation of the NRF or a deteriorating security environment, the United States would be in a position to rapidly deploy additional brigade combat teams, logistics, medical, aviation, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, transportation and additional capabilities into Europe,” Kirby said.

The U.S. move came amid heightened tensions over Russia’s presence near Ukraine’s border. NATO announced Monday that it’s placing additional military forces on standby and sending ships and fighter jets to Eastern Europe to deter and guard against a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Later Monday, President Joe Biden conferred with European leaders in a secure video call to formulate a plan to handle new developments in the standoff.

The leaders “discussed their joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO’s eastern flank,” the White House said in a readout of the meeting.

On the call with Biden was European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Polish President Andrzej Duda, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Council President Charles Michel.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said before the scheduled call that Biden and the European leaders would “discuss diplomacy, deterrence and defense efforts.”

“We have been consulting with allies and deployments and refining plans for all scenarios,” Psaki said of the possibility of deploying troops. “We have always said we would reinforce our allies on the eastern flank and those conversations and discussions have certainly been a part of what our national security officials have been discussing with their counterparts now for several weeks.”

NATO said it’s adding forces in the Baltic area as a show of force intended to dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin from any possible designs he has on crossing into Ukraine.

“NATO allies are putting forces on standby and sending additional ships and fighter jets to NATO deployments in eastern Europe, reinforcing allied deterrence and defense as Russia continues its military buildup in and around Ukraine,” NATO said in a statement Monday.

The alliance said that Denmark sent a frigate to the Baltic Sea and is ready to send multiple F-16 fighter jets to Lithuania. Spain is sending ships, and France is prepared to send troops to Romania under NATO command.

The Netherlands is sending F-35 fighter jets to Bulgaria and putting a ship and land-based units on standby.

“The United States has also made clear that it is considering increasing its military presence in the eastern part of the alliance,” NATO added.

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