Sunday, June 4

US puts troops on standby for deployment to Europe as Ukraine’s allies weigh options

At the direction of President Biden, the Pentagon is putting some 8,500 US-based soldiers on high alert for possible deployment to Europe amid growing fears of a potential Russian military move into Ukraine.

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

“This is about reassuring our NATO allies,” Kirby said, adding that it is not intended to deploy troops to Ukraine itself.

Kirby said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has recommended Biden order up to 8,500 troops to prepare for possible deployment to Europe in light of signs that Russian President Vladimir Putin is not reducing his military pressure on Ukraine. .

Kirby said he was not prepared to identify the US-based units because they were still being notified.

“We have always said that 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 for several weeks,” said the press secretary of the White House, Jen Psaki. .

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

The Pentagon move comes as tensions have flared between Russia and the West over concerns Moscow is planning to invade Ukraine, with NATO outlining possible troop and ship deployments, Britain saying it would withdraw some diplomats from Kiev and Ireland. denouncing that the next Russian war games are cancelled. its coast.

Before the US announcement, the Western alliance statement summarized moves already outlined by member countries, but reaffirmed them under the NATO banner seemed to be aimed at showing resolve.

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The West is intensifying its rhetoric in the information warfare that has accompanied the Ukraine standoff.

Russia has massed roughly 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border, demanding that NATO promise never to allow Ukraine to join and that other actions, such as stationing NATO troops in former Soviet-bloc countries, be scaled back. Some of these, like any commitment to permanently ban Ukraine, are impossible for NATO, creating an impasse that many fear could only end in war.

Russia denies it is planning an invasion and says the Western accusations are simply a cover for NATO’s own planned provocations. The last few days have seen high-stakes diplomacy that failed to make any headway and maneuvering on both sides.

NATO said Monday that it is beefing up its “deterrence” in the Baltic Sea region.

Denmark is sending a frigate and deploying F-16 fighter jets to Lithuania, Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join NATO naval forces, and France is ready to send troops to Romania. . The Netherlands also plans to send two F-35 fighter jets to Bulgaria starting in 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 in our security environment, including by strengthening our collective defense.”

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said NATO and the United States were behind the escalation, not Russia.

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

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NATO’s announcement came as European Union foreign ministers tried to show a new show of unity in support of Ukraine and hide concerns about divisions over how best to deal with any Russian aggression.

In a statement, the ministers said the EU has stepped up preparations for sanctions, warning that “any further Russian military aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe costs.”

Separately, the EU also pledged to increase financial support for beleaguered Ukraine and promised to push through a special €1.2 billion package of loans and grants as soon as possible.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, saying the US would provide Russia with written answers to Moscow’s proposals this week. , which offers some hope that any invasion could be delayed by at least a few more days.

The West is nervously watching Russian troop movements and war games in Belarus for signs of an invasion.

Russia has already invaded Ukraine once, annexing the Crimean peninsula in 2014. It has also supported pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists fighting the Kiev government in the country’s eastern region known as Donbas.

Some 14,000 people have died in the conflict.

Asked if the EU would follow the US move and order the families of European embassy staff in Ukraine to leave, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc “is not going to do the same”.

The UK said it is withdrawing some diplomats and staff from its embassy in Kiev.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said an invasion was not inevitable, but “the intelligence is pretty grim.” He added that he believes “common sense can still prevail.”

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko said the US decision was “a premature step” and a sign of “excessive caution.” He said that Russia is sowing panic among Ukrainians and foreigners to destabilize Ukraine.

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Germany has not issued a similar order, with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stressing that “we must not contribute to further destabilizing the situation.”

At the EU meeting, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he would brief his counterparts on planned Russian war games 150 miles south-west of Ireland, in international waters but within Ireland’s exclusive economic zone. Ireland.

“This is not a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what is happening with and in Ukraine.” he said. “The fact that they choose to do it on the western borders, so to speak, of the EU, off the coast of Ireland, is something that, in our opinion, is simply not welcome.”

NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania said they plan to send US-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, a move backed by Washington.

In conversations with European allies throughout the crisis, administration officials said they have remained cognizant that Europe’s trade, energy and financial ties to Russia are far more important than they are to the US.

Russia’s fragile economy relies too heavily on energy exports.

President Vladimir Putin has made clear his ambition to diversify the economy, particularly in sectors such as defense and civil aviation, but US and European allies have a dominant position in the production and export of technologies, software and crucial equipment for Russia in those sectors.

Throughout the talks, European officials have stressed having a “legitimate analysis and understanding of […] what will really hurt Russia” and what the “collateral costs” might be, according to a second senior administration official.

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