The Defense Department placed thousands of U.S.-based troops on a heightened alert level Monday, preparing them for a quick deployment to Eastern Europe amid a buildup of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border and stalled diplomatic talks to defuse the crisis.
The roughly 8,500 troops are meant to serve as the U.S. contribution to NATO’s Response Force, a multinational force of some 40,000 American and European military personnel, should NATO activate it in response to a further incursion into Ukraine by Russia.
But President Joe Biden hasn’t deployed troops, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby stressed during a press conference.
According to Kirby, the “prepare to deploy” order is a demonstration of the commitment of the United States to the NATO alliance, and will shorten the time needed to deploy U.S. forces to Europe, should that become necessary.
U.S. officials have previously said that troops deployed to Europe would be used to bolster NATO’s eastern flank, rather than in direct combat with Russia.
“The Defense Department maintains significant combat-capable forces forward in Europe that will be used to defeat aggression if necessary,” Kirby said.
Europe braces for war
The alert level comes as the international community has bolstered its support for Ukraine in the face of continued Russian aggression.
British officials said earlier this month that the United Kingdom had begun supplying Kyiv with anti-tank weapons to help defend itself against a possible Russian invasion.
“We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light anti-armor defensive weapon systems,” British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Parliament, adding that a small number of British troops would travel to Ukraine to train the Ukrainians in their use.
The Biden administration on Thursday granted approval for three Baltic NATO members — Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia — to send American-made Javelin anti-tank weapons and Stinger air-defense systems to Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal reported.
And on Saturday, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv tweeted that a 200,000-pound shipment of “lethal aid,” part of a $200 million package approved by Biden in December, had arrived in Kyiv. The shipment included ammunition for Ukrainian forces.
Moscow has denied any plans to further attack Ukraine, as it did in 2014, but has continued to build up a military presence on the country’s borders with some 100,000 Russian troops now encircling Ukraine on three sides, including from Belarus.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has also warned of “military action,” should his demand that NATO block any effort by Ukraine or other Eastern European nations to join the alliance not be met.
The demand is a non-starter for Biden, who has said that those choices lie with the alliance and the countries seeking membership.