NATO sends military resources to Eastern Europe as the United States puts thousands of soldiers on standby

NATO Monday said it was sending additional fighter jets and ships to Eastern Europe, as the Pentagon announced it was putting up to 8,500 US troops on hold amid worsening tensions with Russia.

The European Commission has also offered a 1.2 billion euro ($1.36 billion) aid package to Ukraine to help Kyiv ease the economic impact it faces amid a buildup of 127,000 Russian soldiers on the Ukrainian border and fears that an invasion is imminent. Moscow rejects the claims.

“NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies, including strengthening the eastern part of the alliance,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said, as he welcomed the additional military support from Denmark, Spain and the Netherlands.

“We will always respond to any deterioration in our security environment, including by strengthening our collective defence,” he added.

The Kremlin accused NATO of exacerbating tensions through “information hysteria” and “concrete actions”.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense said it was putting up to 8,500 US-based troops on “high alert” to join a NATO response force that could be called into the crisis at the Ukrainian border.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said no final decision has been made on whether or not to deploy US forces. Standby status means troops will be ready to deploy by the end of the week, if called upon.

This “will ensure that the United States and our commitment to the NRF (Nato Response Force) is consistent with its readiness for rapid deployment … if activated,” Kirby said at a press conference.

Russia has already invaded Ukraine once, annexing the Crimean peninsula in 2014, and backed pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists fighting the Kiev government in the Donbass region.

High-level talks between Russia and Western capitals have failed to move things forward or ease tensions. Moscow has issued a series of controversial demands, including that NATO promises it will never allow Ukraine to join the military alliance. NATO rejected this request out of hand.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the financial aid – including emergency loans and grants – was intended to “help Ukraine now cope with its rapidly escalating needs funding because of the conflict”.

Although Ukraine is not a member of NATO or the EU, both have offered their support to Ukraine.

Late Monday, the leaders of the United States, Italy, Poland, France, Germany, the European Council, the European Commission and NATO met virtually to discuss the crisis .

President Joe Biden said the United States was in “total unanimity with all European leaders” and called the meeting “very, very, very good”.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said “leaders agreed on the importance of international unity in the face of growing hostility from Russia.”

“Leaders stressed that diplomatic discussions with Russia remain the first priority,” read a statement from Downing Street.

However, they also agreed that “should another Russian incursion into Ukraine occur, allies must adopt swift responses, including an unprecedented set of sanctions. They have decided to continue to closely coordinate such a response.”

An EU statement condemned “continued aggressive actions and threats against Ukraine and calls on Russia to de-escalate”.

“Notions of ‘spheres of influence’ have no place in the 21st century,” he said.

The EU said it remained committed “to the fundamental principles on which European security is based”.

“This includes in particular the sovereign equality and territorial integrity of States; the inviolability of borders; refrain from resorting to the threat or use of force; and the freedom of states to choose or modify their own security arrangements.

“These principles are neither negotiable nor subject to revision or reinterpretation. Their violation by Russia is an obstacle to a common and indivisible security area in Europe and threatens peace and stability on our continent.

The Danish foreign minister said the EU would be ready to impose heavy sanctions on Russia if it attacked Ukraine, but did not specify which sectors would be targeted.

The EU and US imposed economic sanctions on Moscow, hitting its energy, banking and defense sectors, after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

“There is no doubt that we are ready to react with comprehensive and unprecedented sanctions if Russia were to invade Ukraine again,” Jeppe Kofod said on arrival at the talks with the EU.

Speaking ahead of the talks, Ireland’s foreign secretary said Russia’s plan to hold naval exercises off the coast of Ireland was “not welcome” given the current tensions. The exercises, due to start in February, will take place in international waters, but in Irish-controlled airspace and within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

In accordance with legal requirements, Russia informed the Irish aviation authorities in advance of the planned maneuver.

“Now is not the time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what is happening with and in Ukraine at the moment,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said.

“It is important that I inform my colleagues of these intentions.

“Russia, under international law, can hold military exercises in international waters, but the fact that it chooses to do so on the western borders of the EU, off the coast of Ireland, is in our view something which is rightly unwelcome and unwanted now, especially in the weeks to come.

Updated: January 24, 2022, 10:40 p.m.

Mary I. Bruner