NATO sends additional troops to Eastern Europe amid growing tension in Ukraine

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press conference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. Photo: Reuters

MOSCOW/BRUSSELS: NATO said on Monday it was putting its forces on standby and bolstering Eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets, in what Russia denounced as “hysteria” in response to its buildup of troops on the Ukrainian border.

The US Department of Defense in Washington said about 8,500 US troops were on heightened alert and awaiting orders to deploy to the region, should Russia invade Ukraine.

Tensions are high after Russia massed around 100,000 troops within range of its neighbor’s border, surrounding Ukraine with forces from the north, east and south.

Russia denies planning an invasion and Moscow cites the Western response as proof that Russia is the target, not the instigator, of the aggression.

President Joe Biden, pushing for transatlantic unity, held an 80-minute secure video call Monday with a number of European leaders from the White House Situation Room to discuss the Ukraine crisis.

Biden told reporters ‘I had a very, very, very good meeting’ with the Europeans, which included the leaders of Germany, France, Italy, Britain and Poland . He said there was “total unanimity”.

A White House statement said 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 strengthen security on NATO’s eastern flank”.

Welcoming a series of deployments announced by alliance members in recent days, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier that NATO would take “all necessary measures”.

“We will always respond to any deterioration in our security environment, including by strengthening our collective defense,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.

He told a press conference that the enhanced presence on NATO’s eastern flank could also include the deployment of battlegroups in the southeast of the alliance.

So far, NATO has around 4,000 troops in multinational battalions in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, supported by tanks, air defenses and intelligence and surveillance units.

US officials said the Pentagon was finalizing efforts to identify specific units it could deploy to NATO’s eastern flank.

One of the officials said up to 5,000 could be deployed, while a NATO diplomat said Washington plans to gradually transfer some troops stationed in Western Europe to Eastern Europe in the coming weeks .

Denmark, Spain, France and the Netherlands were all planning or considering sending troops, planes or ships to Eastern Europe, NATO said. Ukraine shares borders with four NATO countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania.

A Polish official said Warsaw would refrain from sending troops to Ukraine.

Growing tensions

As tensions rise, Britain said it was withdrawing some staff and dependents from its embassy in Ukraine, a day after the United States announced it was ordering family members diplomats to leave. American diplomats are allowed to leave voluntarily.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused the West of “hysteria” and spreading information “mixed with lies”.

“In terms of specific actions, we see statements from the North Atlantic Alliance on the reinforcement, withdrawal of forces and resources on the eastern flank. All of this leads to the fact that tensions are increasing,” he said. he declared.

“It’s not happening because of what we, Russia, are doing. It’s all happening because of what NATO and the United States are doing and because of the information they put out.”

Global stock markets skidded as the prospect of a Russian attack quashed demand for riskier assets such as bitcoin and supported the dollar and oil. The ruble hit a 14-month low against the dollar, and Russian stocks and bonds fell.

Russia has used its troop buildup to drag the West into talks after it made demands to redraw Europe’s security map. He wants NATO to never admit Ukraine and withdraw troops and weapons from former communist countries in Eastern Europe that joined after the Cold War.

Washington says those demands are invalid, but it is ready to discuss other ideas on arms control, missile deployments and confidence-building measures.

Russia is awaiting a written response from the United States this week after talks last Friday – the fourth round this month – failed to produce any breakthrough.

“Painful, violent and bloody”

Asked if he thought an invasion was imminent, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told broadcasters the intelligence was “pretty grim on this point” but “common sense may still prevail”.

He repeated Western warnings that invading Ukraine would be “a painful, violent and bloody affair” for Russia.

The United States and the European Union, suspicious of Russia’s intentions since seizing Crimea and backing separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014, told Russia it would face crippling sanctions if it attacked again.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels have warned Russia it will face “massive” consequences, but are divided on how tough Moscow should be and did not specify what the consequences might be. consequences.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy told EU President Charles Michel, who was also on the call with Biden, that it was important for Kyiv that the EU showed unity.

“Ukraine will not fall into the trap of provocations and, together with its partners, will remain calm and restrained,” his office said.

The European Commission, the executive body of the EU, has offered financial aid of 1.2 billion euros ($1.36 billion) to help Ukraine mitigate the effects of the conflict.

A source from the Russian delegation said political advisers from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany will meet in Paris on Wednesday for talks on resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine, in which some 15,000 people have been killed since 2014. Previous efforts have yielded no breakthroughs. .

Mary I. Bruner