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US puts 8,500 troops on 'high alert' for possible deployment to Ukraine

Other NATO countries are also sending reinforcements to Eastern Europe to confront Russia. Moscow, for its part, accuses Washington of increasing tensions in the region
PHOTO/The White House/Handout via REUTERS

PHOTO/The White House/Handout via REUTERS  -   U.S. President Joe Biden speaks to European leaders about Russia and the situation in Ukraine during a secure video conference from the Situation Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., 24 January 2022.

After ordering the withdrawal of non-essential diplomatic personnel in Kiev, Washington is beginning to prepare its troops for a possible deployment on Ukrainian territory. This has been confirmed by Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, who announced that approximately 8,500 US troops are on "high alert". Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defence, said that troops are prepared for rapid deployment in the event that NATO assistance is needed.

Senior Defense Department officials also presented President Joe Biden with several options regarding the current crisis in Ukraine. One such measure, The New York Times reports, involves sending 1,000 to 5,000 troops to Eastern European countries. Although White House press secretary Jen Psaki would not elaborate on the US newspaper's report during a press conference on Monday, Biden had previously stated that they would "increase the troop presence in Poland and Romania".

AFP PHOTO / Mauricio Campino /US Air Force
AFP PHOTO / Mauricio Campino /US Air Force - Airmen and civilians from the 436th Air Port Squadron palletising ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine during a foreign military sales mission at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.

Hundreds of US troops are currently in Ukraine to train national forces. Within these military units are "additional brigade combat teams, logistics personnel, medical support, aviation support, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and transportation", according to the Pentagon. In addition to soldiers, the US has supplied Ukraine with 170 tons of military equipment in the past two days, and Kiev is expected to receive more weapons in the near future.

Un soldado ucraniano se encuentra en la línea de separación de los rebeldes prorrusos, región de Donetsk, Ucrania, el lunes 10 de enero de 2022. La negativa de Alemania a unirse a otros miembros de la OTAN en el suministro de armas a Ucrania ha frustrado a los aliados y ha llevado a algunos a cuestionar la determinación de Berlín de enfrentarse a Rusia AP/ANDRY DUBCHAK
AP/ANDRY DUBCHAK - A Ukrainian soldier stands on the disengagement line of pro-Russian rebels, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Monday, Jan. 10, 2022. Germany's refusal to join other NATO members in supplying arms to Ukraine has frustrated allies and led some to question Berlin's determination to stand up to Russia.
Russia accuses the US of escalating tensions in the region

"It is this redeployment of troops and military build-up that will provoke the escalation of tension in the region," said Andrey Kartapolov, head of the State Duma Defence Committee, in response to the US military moves. For Kartapolov, it is the US that "is interested in escalating the situation and continues to destabilise it". "For us, this is alarming information," he added, warning that Moscow will respond to "growing threats" and take "appropriate measures".

El portavoz del Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov REUTERS/MAXIM SHEMETOV
REUTERS/MAXIM SHEMETOV - Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov

In a similar vein, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that NATO military deployments "lead to further escalation of tensions". "Keep in mind that all this is not happening because of what we, Russia, are doing," Peshkov stressed. "This is happening because of the actions of NATO and the United States and the information they publish," he added. 

Militares ucranianos depositando flores en la campana conmemorativa, situada en el territorio del Ministerio de Defensa en Kiev, mientras participan en el homenaje a la memoria de los militares ucranianos que murieron en este día por la libertad, la independencia y la integridad territorial del Estado AFP PHOTO /Ukrainian President press-service
AFP PHOTO /Ukrainian President press-service - Ukrainian servicemen lay flowers at the memorial bell on the territory of the Defence Ministry in Kiev as they take part in a tribute to the memory of Ukrainian servicemen who died on this day for the freedom, independence and territorial integrity of the state.

Washington makes these decisions, US officials have repeatedly said, to deal with the build-up of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border. In this regard, a Ukrainian Defence Ministry report has revealed that Moscow has deployed more than 127,000 troops in the border area. The US has also been warning for weeks of possible Russian aggression in Ukraine. Russia, by contrast, has repeatedly denied that it is planning an invasion or attack on its neighbouring country. "The information hysteria we are witnessing is framed by a lot of false information," Peshkov stressed. 

Un convoy de vehículos blindados rusos avanza por una carretera en Crimea, el martes 18 de enero de 2022 PHOTO/AP
PHOTO/AP - A convoy of Russian armoured vehicles drives along a road in Crimea, Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022.

Amid this situation, the Russian Navy has begun military manoeuvres in the Black Sea. "Twenty warships, gunboats and support vessels of the Baltic Fleet sailed from their permanent bases and entered designated areas of the Baltic Sea to perform various tasks as part of training," the Russian news agency Interfax reports.

Biden meets with European allies

Following a virtual summit between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and EU foreign ministers, Biden met with European leaders to "discuss diplomacy, deterrence and defence efforts". 

 Los miembros de la Organización del Tratado del Atlántico Norte desde 1949 AFP/AFP
 AFP/AFP - North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members since 1949

Present on the video call were European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, Polish President Andrzej Duda, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. The latter assured that the Alliance will continue to "protect and defend all allies, including by strengthening the eastern part of the alliance".

Fotografia de archivo,  bandera de la OTAN se ve durante el ejercicio militar del grupo de batalla mejorado de la OTAN Silver Arrow en Adazi, Letonia, el 5 de octubre de 2019 REUTERS/INTS KALNIMS
REUTERS/INTS KALNIMS - File photo, NATO flag is seen during the NATO enhanced battle group Silver Arrow military exercise in Adazi, Latvia, Oct. 5, 2019

Spain has sent two warships to the Black Sea, the frigate Blas de Lezo and the minehunter Meteoro, while Denmark has sent a military vessel to the Baltic. In addition, Copenhagen will deploy four F-16 fighter jets to Lithuania. France has considered sending troops to Romania and the Netherlands will provide two F-35 aircraft to Bulgaria.

The European Commission has also announced a 1.2 billion euro fund to help Ukraine cope with needs arising from the conflict with Russia.